This content is part of the Essential Guide: Evaluating mobile device management products and services
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Mobile device management system evaluation criteria

Before purchasing a mobile device management system, it is critical to know which evaluation criteria your specific organization should look for to find the product that best suits its business needs. Here are three factors to keep in mind.

Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part series on evaluating mobile device management products. In part one, we discussed different considerations for evaluating mobile platforms and MDM deployment options. Here, we will cover basic and advanced MDM product capabilities and bring your own device management.

The mobile device management (MDM) market has evolved greatly over the years. New products are emerging to meet the growing security and management demands of enterprises, making it more difficult -- and important -- than ever for organizations to find the best product for their business needs.

Below are three considerations you should keep in mind when evaluating potential MDM products and services.

Basic mobile device management system capabilities

Often, advanced capabilities are packaged as separately priced modules added to basic MDM technologies; some can be purchased as standalone products.

Lack of standardization makes comparing MDM technologies a challenge. Vendors use different labels to describe similar capabilities and group capabilities into different packages. That said, you should ask about a few basic functions for any MDM product:

  • Inventory management capabilities help IT administrators establish and maintain an inventory database of enrolled mobile devices and their properties.
  • Device policy management capabilities let IT administrators remotely query and update mobile device attributes and restrictions to assert and enforce corporate policy.
  • Security management capabilities help employers protect managed devices from common threats and (re)evaluate their integrity.
  • Monitoring and reporting capabilities give IT administrators both real-time and historical visibility into managed devices and their activities.

You may choose to apply only a subset of these fundamental capabilities; for example, you may just monitor bring your own devices (BYODs) in the workplace without trying to configure their device or security attributes. However, all of these capabilities are generally required to manage corporate-procured smartphones. Ask providers to detail the capabilities of interest to you, and on devices of strategic importance to your workforce.

Advanced capabilities: Managing enterprise mobility

As workforces grow more diverse, businesses often need advanced MDM products that go beyond the basics. Advanced MDM technologies offer the following features:

  • Service management capabilities let employers centrally monitor and control network use to track expenses and avoid excessive roaming or premium SMS fees.
  • Application management capabilities help IT remotely install, maintain and remove public and enterprise applications on managed mobile devices.
  • Document management capabilities let IT distribute corporate documents stored in encrypted containers to safeguard business data and prevent breach.
  • Container management capabilities help IT segregate corporate and personal data and applications by creating sandboxed storage and application environments.

Ask vendors to detail advanced capabilities of interest, along with platform limitations and cost implications. Often, advanced capabilities are packaged as separately priced modules added to basic MDM technologies; some can be purchased as standalone products.

Some providers refer to this entire feature set as enterprise mobility management (EMM). However, advanced capabilities will continue to evolve as providers find new needs to fill. For example, some products have already added integrated antimalware or two-factor authentication. So don't be fooled by blanket labels and all-encompassing claims; seek out and compare individual capabilities that you actually intend to use.

BYOD management: Governance not ownership

The BYOD surge is fostering the emergence of features that simplify managing mixed-use personal devices. Ask about mobile device management system features that can help IT focus on governing corporate assets, independent of device ownership. For example, some lightweight MDM technologies can manage and secure just one enterprise application or service, leaving no other footprint on affected BYODs.

While these are not all of the considerations to keep in mind when evaluating mobile device management system technologies, it is a solid start to finding the best investment for your organization's money.

About the author:
Lisa Phifer owns and is president of Core Competence Inc., a consulting firm specializing in leading-edge network technology. She has been involved in the design, implementation and evaluation of networking and security products for over 25 years. She has advised companies large and small regarding needs, product assessment and the use of emerging technologies and best practices.

Next Steps

Learn more about MDM planning and policies, and be sure to check out this guide on mobile device management software.

This was last published in October 2014

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What are the top features your enterprise considers when it comes to evaluating a mobile device management system?
The most important features my business requires when considering mobile device management systems are all in one key area, security. I have to be confident that the devices being used throughout the system are as secure as the network and system itself. Are there VPN options for the mobile device management system? What are the levels of encryption and security? What are the protocols for the employees to make these systems user friendly. The second key feature for our mobile management system is PassOff technology and syncing. Working on the mobile and transferring to laptops and desktops is critical.