Mobile management on the rise, but many companies still at risk

Basic device management is being sold as loss leader

Mobile device management illustration

There's a lot of confusion, disruption and even turbulence in the market for enterprise mobility management (EMM) software, which is used to manage smartphones and tablets and the data and apps running on them.

The EMM market is growing robustly eight years after the emergence of the first iPhone, with fewer than half of all U.S. workplace devices under management, according to a recent survey by analyst firm J. Gold Associates.

There are still dozens of small EMM vendors along with about 10 large ones, even after several consolidations in recent years. Among them were VMware's purchase of AirWatch in 2014, IBM's buying FiberLink and Citrix' acquisition of Zenprise in 2013.

About 40 million mobile devices are under EMM management in the U.S., and that number is expected to grow to 62 million in 2017, according to Gold Associates research.

Choosing a vendor and software management products is increasingly complex for IT managers, who must deal with the crush of smartphone and tablet users at work while still protecting the company's sensitive data.

"EMM vendors are not all that different and are all trying to do the same thing, basically," said Jack Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates, in a telephone interview. His firm did a Web-based survey of 300 businesses based in the U.S. in April, asking questions about their use of EMM. (Gold is an occasional columnist to Computerworld.)

"Our survey found that EMM brand loyalty isn't that high, and that companies are willing to switch EMM vendors pretty readily," Gold said. "Often, these companies picked a vendor because they needed something done in a hurry. Maybe it was because somebody on staff got an iPhone and there was a decision to give iPhones to other workers. The IT guy might have a week to do something to protect data and he's only going to buy 50 licenses."

Quite often, the software price isn't an issue, so an IT manager might pick a vendor based on whether the vendor is well known. "It's usually something like, 'I've heard of AirWatch or another company; let me call them,' " Gold said.

While the procurement of EMM is often haphazard, it behooves buyers to think more strategically, Gold said. Buyers should consider how EMM fits into a larger corporate role of managing the sensitive data that runs in many places, including on devices used by workers in the field and at work. They should not concern themselves only about managing the devices or the apps running on them.

The latest trend in new EMM products is to manage the data on the devices, not just the apps or the devices themselves, Gold said. The EMM software will encrypt the data, which might be a part of an Oracle database or just a single file.

An IT manager can set policies for which data is allowed to be seen by the end user of a smartphone or tablet, and can even say whether the data can be forwarded or edited. "It could be customer data or even a medical file," Gold said. "It's better to protect the data because it's very hard to protect devices and the many apps out there."

Losing a smartphone could cost a company $200, but a hospital losing sensitive data like an X-ray of an important patient could result in a $10 million lawsuit, Gold noted.

The EMM survey "indicates that the market will continue to be turbulent and one where vendor loyalty will be a mixed bag at best," Gold wrote in his latest technology brief.

Gartner's Magic Quadrant

Research firm Gartner has evaluated EMM vendors for several years and last week issued its latest "Magic Quadrant" report for 12 of them.

The report listed five companies as "leaders" in EMM — AirWatch by VMware, MobileIron, IBM, Citrix and Good Technology. Those companies were followed by SAP as a "challenger" and Soti, Microsoft and Sophos as "visionaries." The remaining three — BlackBerry, Landesk and Globo — were listed as Gartner's "niche player" quadrant.

BlackBerry, which released its latest Enterprise Service 12 (BES12) last November, "should meet many organizations' requirements for cross-platform management," Gartner noted in its report. "BES 12 is a good fit for organizations that plan to support BlackBerry devices for the foreseeable future and are satisfied with a capable EMM product for non-BlackBerry devices."

Despite such language, BlackBerry Chief Operating Officer Marty Bear took offense in a blog with Gartner's ranking of BlackBerry's EMM capabilities. "We were a little disappointed by the limitations of the influential annual vendor survey," he noted.

Bear criticized Gartner for gathering its information on EMM vendors in early 2015, which ignored moves by BlackBerry in the past three months to release BES 12 Cloud and to acquire mobile content management provider WatchDox. Gartner also didn't mention BlackBerry's Android for Work support.

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