Heading Off That BlackBerry Disaster

No CIO or IT manager is willing to fly blind when it comes to remotely managing company PCs, yet that’s typically the case when it comes to smartphones. Hence the arrival of handset-management tools, which let enterprises remotely configure, police, and even disable company-provided smartphones.

These products aren’t an example of vendors getting ahead of the market’s needs: Most of today’s business-class smartphones are capable of storing 40 Mbytes or more of sensitive data, such as customer contacts and client information. They also can run a wide variety of applications, including productivity-killers such as games and viruses. Hence the value of tools that keep tabs on these devices – even to the point of wiping the memory of one that has been lost or stolen.

To help CIOs and IT managers sort through their options, the latest edition of Unstrung Enterprise Insider, Handset Management: Who's Minding Your BlackBerry?, looks at the key issues that enterprises should consider when developing and executing a strategy for managing company-issued smartphones. The selection of these tools has increased significantly over the past several months, with new products from major vendors such as HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ) and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT). Based on discussions with vendors about the requests for proposals that they’ve received from wireless carriers, Unstrung Enterprise Insider believes that over the next 12 months, most major carriers in Europe and North America will offer some form of handset-management service for enterprise customers. The increased competition should help drive down prices.

The business case for handset-management tools centers around their ability to streamline the process of troubleshooting, configuring, and updating handsets. For example, the ability to upload software and patches to handsets in the field reduces overhead costs because employees don’t have to waste time bringing their devices to the help desk. This approach also can improve IT productivity because a single person can push updates to hundreds or thousands of handsets. Particularly among enterprises with employees that travel extensively, the ability to perform these tasks on a handset in the field can avoid $100 or more per incident in lost productivity and shipping costs.

Security is another reason to consider these products. For example, most handset-management tools allow IT managers to verify and enforce settings, such as disabling Bluetooth’s autodiscovery mode, which can create a back door for hackers and viruses. A few tools also can thwart industrial espionage by disabling cameras and microphones. Not surprisingly, some handset-management tools are bundled with other security products.

What are the drawbacks? The vast majority of handset-management tools work only with smartphones that run a full-blown operating system, such as BlackBerry, Palm, Symbian, or Windows Mobile. Also, very few support mid-range phones that have more limited data capabilities. But for enterprises with an installed base that includes a large number of smartphones, handset-management tools are starting to look like money well spent.

— Tim Kridel, Contributing Analyst, Unstrung Enterprise Insider

This report, Handset Management: Who's Minding Your BlackBerry?, is available as part of an annual subscription (6 bimonthly issues) to Unstrung Enterprise Insider, priced at $1,295. Individual reports are available for $900. For more information, or to subscribe, please visit: www.unstrung.com/enterprise.

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