A Small Business Guide to Mobile Device Management

by Pam Baker

Mobile device management tools protect company data that your employees carry on the personal mobile devices that they use at work. This quick guide can help you find the right tools for the job.

Bring-your-own-device, or BYOD, is popular in small businesses these days, because companies don't have to purchase mobile devices when employees willingly use their own. But protecting company data on employee-owned devices can be a tricky affair, in both the legal and the technical sense.

Guarding data and access to the company network on company-owned devices is equally taxing. While mobile device management (MDM) tools abound, it's sometimes difficult to tell which is best for your needs. To help you with that, here's a guide to help you decide.

Mobile Device Management: Pros and Cons

Mobile device management (MDM) software manages the actual device. Generally speaking, these tools let you manage mobile devices remotely and from a centralized dashboard, no matter whether they're company or employee owned devices. Once you connect a device to the software, you can enforce security and compliance policies, grant or deny the device's access to your company data, and automate many functions such as app and security distribution and updates. They also let you wipe data off a device that's been lost or stolen, or that belongs to an employee who has left the company.

While you're likely nodding your head at this point thinking this is perhaps precisely what you need, MDM software also has few cons that you need to consider.

mobile device management for small business

For one thing, wiping an employee-owned device clean means the employee loses all his or her personal data too. Data such as personal photos, personal documents and files, creative works, apps, call records, calendar appointments, and contact lists. In effect, it renders a device completely unusable. Many a business has been sued for losing personal data in a device wipe and for losing use of the device, too.

MDM gives you complete and comprehensive control over mobile devices. You just need to be extra sure that your BYOD and MDM policies are rock solid and that employees sign a document stating that

  1. they understand what a wipe and other MDM actions can mean to them
  2. that they agree to all actions outlined in your policy

"All the vendors say pretty much the same thing about their product, which makes it hard to differentiate them and make a decision for your business," said Jeff Driscoll, IT manager at Marketing Mojo, adding that he's "used several products for small business MDM, including N-able, Centrastage, ManageEngine, GFI Max [now Max Remote Management or MaxFocus], and trialed a bunch of others."

"Cost is an acute point for small businesses, and it can vary wildly, but almost all [MDM software] will be a monthly subscription billed per device," he explained. Mobile carriers offer basic MDM, too. Driscoll says that it won't be elegant, or particularly easy to use, but you can expect basic functions such as remote data wiping of phones. Third-party MDM pricing usually ranges between $1 and $10/month per device.

"You can get bundle deals if you also monitor your workstations and servers," says Driscoll. "MDM is commonly bundled with or tacked on to asset management or remote monitoring and management (RMM) solutions for servers and workstations. Some are just lightweight half-measures, and the industry is just now getting to a level of true MDM," he added.

The Alternative to MDM: Mobile Application Management

Mobile application management (MAM), as the name implies, manages applications on a mobile device instead of managing the device itself.

MAM lets you control and manage specific applications—namely business applications—without affecting any consumer applications or personal data on a mobile device. That means you can still wipe data off a device if an employee leaves your employ, or if a device is lost or stolen, without damaging anything personal that the device owner has stored on the device.

Some MAM products containerize applications as well, meaning that even if malware exists on the mobile device, it can't penetrate the apps in the container.

You can still automate app and security distributions and enforce policies. You can also remotely wipe data from the device to retain company data—such as phone logs and contact lists—as opposed to such records remaining on the device when the employee leaves.

The MDM Plus MAM Option

Many products today combine the best of both worlds and offer a blend of MDM and MAM features and functionalities. Before you get too excited about this, be aware that both terms are loosely thrown about by vendors. Due diligence is important; insist that vendors spell out precisely what they mean when they use these terms.

Most anti-virus and anti-malware companies also offer MDM and MAM products, so you might want to check with whichever company you use for anti-virus protection to see what's available. You may also want to check with your cell phone carrier to see what they have to offer.

Some of these companies offer MDM and/or MAM at no extra cost or for a modest monthly premium. Other reputable vendors offer blended products too, so you have many options. But again, be sure you understand what you're getting before you sign the dotted line. Not all of these products are created equal.

Small Business Product Guide to MDM and MAM

There are lots of MDM and MAM products from which to choose, and selecting the right tool depends entirely on your specific needs. The list below is not even close to comprehensive; it's a sampling of what's available—and a good starting point.

As you research your options, be sure to consider more than just cost. A free product may be ideal for you now, but it may not scale as your business grows and you add more employees and thus more mobile devices. A paid product may require more IT resources than you have available, and it may actually be easier to use than a free product. Weigh each product carefully, and then decide which one best fits your company.

1. AirWatch

According to the company, its most popular package for small businesses is the AirWatch Green Bundle. It includes MDM, a container for BYOD scenarios, and an App Catalog so that  IT can give employees access to the public and internal apps they need to do business.

"The AirWatch Green Bundle costs $51 per device per year, so a little more than $4 a month," said a company spokesperson. "We also have AirWatch Professional (think "AirWatch Lite"), the most cost-effective version ($1/device/month) for companies with fewer than 50 devices."

2. Bushel

This is a cloud-based MDM tool for Apple devices. "With Bushel, complex tasks including Apple device setup, security and management, are simple and quick. Employees can focus on their business, rather than get caught up with managing technology," said Charles Edge, product manager at JAMF Software.

Bushel mobile device management

Figure 1: Bushel mobile device management for iPads and iPhones.

Bushel is free to use for up to three devices, forever. Paid accounts begin at $2 a month for four devices, and $2 per device per month for each additional device. Bushel features a pay-as-you-go pricing model, with no long-term contracts.

3. Desktop Central

This is an integrated desktop and mobile device management tool. The Free Edition covers 25 computers and five mobile devices, but it does not include the detailed reporting on Active Directory. If you need to manage more than five mobile devices, you'll need to contact the company for a quote as the description and pricing for other editions on the company website do not specify the number of mobile devices covered.

4. SimplySecure

A cloud-based MDM tool, SimplySecure is designed for iPhone and iPads, Android phones and tablets, Windows and Mac PCs, and USB storage devices. PCs and Macs cost $99 per year per device; phones and tablets cost $36 per year per device (first 10 are free); and USB devices cost $28 per year per host PC.

5. Android Device Manager

Google offers this free device management tool. But it's pretty much limited to the Android devices you own. Still, if you're concerned about protecting your data on your own devices in case they are lost or stolen, this option may be all you need.

6. Apperian Mobile Application Management

This MAM tool helps you manage, secure and distribute mobile apps on devices, but it also helps you with apps that you built—in terms of distributing it to employee devices. Pricing is $4 per person per month, with unlimited hosted apps and an unlimited number of devices. Some advanced options have an additional fee.

Apperian mobile application management

Figure 2: Apperian mobile application management tool.

7. Lookout

This product blends anti-virus/malware protection, MDM, and MAM in one tool. Available in both a free personal option and a paid version with extra features that costs $3 a month. If you're trying to handle only a few devices, choosing the premium version may be a suitable option. Lookout does not have a true small business version, although it does offer an enterprise version for large companies.

8. Symantec Mobility Suite

This suite of tools contains MDM, MAM, mobile content management, and anti-virus/malware security. If you use Norton Anti-Virus already, check your license agreement to see if you have free access to mobile management as well. In any case, you can try the mobility suite for a free trial period before you decide to buy any version or combination of Symantec products. Price varies depending on which products you already own or want to bundle, as well as how many devices you plan to manage.

Pam Baker has written for numerous leading publications including, Institutional Investor magazine, CIO.com, NetworkWorld, ComputerWorld, IT World, Linux World, Internet News, E-Commerce Times, LinuxInsider, CIO Today Magazine, NPTech News (nonprofits), MedTech Journal, I Six Sigma magazine, Computer Sweden, the NY Times, and Knight-Ridder/McClatchy newspapers.

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This article was originally published on Monday Feb 23rd 2015
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