Magazine Article | June 19, 2012

Profit From Managing Mobile Field Force Deployments

By Brian Albright, Business Solutions magazine

With the proliferation of devices and platforms, mobile device management can increase your value to field service customers.

As the adoption of field service and sales automation solutions expands, and small and midsize businesses struggle to integrate a wider array of mobile devices into their operations — smartphones, tablets, rugged computers — the need for robust mobile device management (MDM) has increased. Requirements for MDM are also changing because the number of platforms in the mobility space is expanding. Thus, resellers must offer MDM options that can support a range of solutions.

“No longer is MDM a ‘nice-to-have’ tool; it is quickly becoming a key need for any enterprise mobile deployment,” says Gregg Anderson, mobile business development manager at Psion. “Being aware of the key offerings and technologies and being able to speak intelligently to prospects about these solutions is critical to building credibility with your customers and providing the complete solution.”

Employees also are bringing their own mobile devices into the enterprise, and even in the field service space some smaller companies are trying to leverage this “bring your own device” (BYOD) trend to help improve performance (and cut costs) within their mobile deployments. That, in turn, puts more pressure on the MDM solution — and the VAR or integrator.

“With the current number of smartphones increasing in the consumer space, I think it is natural to see field workers looking for ways to use their personal device in the enterprise environments,” says Marco Nielsen, director of services at Enterprise Mobile, a business unit of Intermec Technologies. “People are asking, ‘Why can’t I use this new, cool smartphone that I’m already carrying to perform the same business functions?’ With BYOD, there is a wave of new solutions to manage, secure, and protect, because there is corporate data on the devices.”

VARs and integrators can bundle their field service offerings with device management, because the functionality to remotely manage these devices can be easily implemented over existing networks. “The opportunity is enormous,” says Matt Belange, vertical marketing manager for transportation and logistics at Honeywell. “In lean times, enterprises aren’t investing in IT headcount, but are tasking IT with managing a more mobile workforce. Without device management, IT has a reason to say no to an entire deployment.”

There are multiple types of MDM solutions available from third-party vendors, network providers, and device OEMs. As with any product choice, VARs should select partners with the most comprehensive offerings in order to meet the widest variety of customer needs. “Providing a complete set of service offerings will increase the trust relationship with customers and lead to a stronger and more profitable relationship,” Nielsen says. “It is still very important to gather the customer’s requirements to make sure you have a good solution fit.”

A Myriad Of MDM Solutions
The MDM market is in constant flux. Solutions are available from OS platform manufacturers, telecom providers, and both large and small software vendors. “VARs need to do some investigating to determine which deployment model best suits their application vertical and their customers’ needs, associated costs, etc.,” Anderson says. “The reason there are so many different types of solutions reflects the varied requirements for mobile device management.”

One option is to use the MDM functionality built in by the hardware manufacturer. “The client piece is already installed and working so you can hook it up to the cloud-based service or your own service, and you know it’s going to work because it is supported by the company you bought the hardware from,” says Bradley Wall, director of mobility sales at Datalogic ADC. He adds, however, that going this route may limit the type of functionality you can offer the client; it may also preclude adding other types of devices to the solution from different manufacturers.

There are a number of other solutions that can be wrapped up with MDM to further increase value to the customer. Some companies offer mobile application management, which moves the focus from hardware to the mobility solution itself. Telecom expense management and network access control (NAC) solutions can also be combined with MDM.

There is also an opportunity for VARs to develop managed services and hosted MDM solutions for their clients. “You’ve got devices that are deployed over a wide area and are on the Internet, thereby making it possible to manage them from the cloud instead of a dedicated server deployed at the corporate office,” Wall says. “Using the cloud eliminates the need for the investment in dedicated servers.”

Research firm VDC predicts that the number of rugged devices under some type of managed services contract will grow from just over 0.5 million in 2011 to around 2.5 million in 2015, roughly 30% of that market. For consumer-grade smartphones, that figure will grow from 50 million under managed services to 150 million by 2015. Companies are open to having a third party take over the complex task of provisioning, managing, and updating their mobile device fleet. VARs can tap into a new revenue stream with the right MDM tools in place.

MDM Tools Should Fit The Application Environment
Device management is critical to help end users remotely manage all devices; otherwise, either the customer or the VAR will need to physically touch each device whenever a change or upgrade is required. Selecting the right MDM platform for the application will require evaluating the platform’s limitations and capabilities and matching those to both the devices and the application.

“One thing integrators should note is that some MDM tools are not really designed to support true mobile, outside-the-four-walls deployments,” Anderson says. “There are tools optimized to run efficiently on the cellular networks, but other products may not effectively support this capability. It is incumbent upon VARs to become familiar with the various MDM offerings and be able to speak knowledgeably about the overall mobile solution, not just their specific software or application, to be successful in selling today’s complex technology offerings.”

For VARs that don’t have the resources to stay on top of this quickly changing market, turning to an outsourced partner for mobility life cycle services is one option. Otherwise, resellers face the challenge of maintaining expertise in a very wide variety of devices and platforms. “To compete properly, VARs will need to understand enterprise certificate management, Wi-Fi configurations, VPN technologies, mobile application development aspects, and security authentication,” Nielsen says. “Many of these areas will vary based on the mobile OS.”

Expanding Mobile Platforms Need Support
The MDM solution you deploy for your customers’ field service applications should also be flexible enough to accommodate other mobile applications like warehouse management or even deployments of mobile phones to the sales team. “Without the capability to manage all the details of these devices remotely, even a small mobile deployment can become very cumbersome,” Anderson says. “With the investment that MDM represents to the enterprise, it would be a mistake to not include multiple-device support as part of your MDM solution.”

Look for device management solutions that can support multiple platforms, that can integrate with your existing management platform, and that can scale as your customers expand their mobile device fleets. “It’s unrealistic to think that an enterprise will buy all one type of solution,” Belange says. “You can’t try to force an enterprise into a one-size-fits-all approach.”

There could be additional opportunities as the variety of mobile devices increases. While many MDM solutions are targeted at rugged computers or smartphones, customers also will need help managing their applications, mobile printers, mobile WAN radios, and other components.

“My advice to integrators is to learn as much as they can about enterprise and cloud-based solutions,” Anderson says. “Make sure to understand the needs of the end user in order to deliver the most successful mobile solution. There is not one correct answer for everyone — so be knowledgeable and work with hardware companies that have expert teams who will help determine the best fit. The last thing anyone wants is a bad experience implementing a mobile solution without the correct MDM system.”