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Unified Mobility Management: How Much Is Too Much?

The growing demand for mobile and the sheer multiplicity of offerings to manage the mobile workforce warrant an examination of unified mobility management strategy.

Is unified mobility management the answer to the harnessing the multitude of products and services that organizations are juggling as mobile demand continues to increase? And, if so, how much consolidation is advisable? How much is too much? 

With mobile users and their devices now representing the vast majority of network demand in most organizations, the management of all of the software and hardware IT elements involved in mobility is critical to overall reliability, availability and especially the productivity of the end users who depend upon wireless access to the resources on the network. In response to this obvious need, a wide variety of mobility management strategies, techniques and solutions have appeared during the past two decades, with product and service offerings from both equipment vendors and a huge array of third-party software and service providers now available.

Many of these capabilities are fundamentally provisioned as cloud-based services, easing planning, deployment, scaling over time, and geographic reach--and, in the bargain, (almost always) lowering costs. But it’s that multiplicity of management offerings, driven by the high degree of variability in operational requirements, that’s of prime concern here today. Many IT and network managers worry that their solution set has become too big, too diverse and, well, too hard to manage. 

The term unified management was first introduced about two decades ago to describe using a single console interface to manage both the wired and wireless segments of any given network. This term has also been used to describe the unification of essentially any set of otherwise distinct management products and/or services under a single console interface--to the greatest degree possible, anyway. It’s that unification of interface (and, ideally, the underlying management databases) that is important: The primary goal of any management unification is to optimize the productivity of operations staffs via improved ease of use, reliability, and the minimization of opportunities for the problems that might occur as multiple management systems potentially interfere with one another. Thoreau was right: Simplify, simplify. Or, to paraphrase Occam, mobility management solutions should be as simple as they can possibly be, but no simpler.

But unified mobility management is, to say the least, often difficult given the range of hardware and software management functionality that is essential to mobility, including:

  • Devices: Mobile device management (MDM) is an extension of the element management strategy traditional in network and IT operations. MDM includes configuration management, backup and other integrity services, virus and malware detection, and often much more. MDM has been complicated in recent years by the rise of BYOD, but any BYOD implementation must include MDM capabilities sufficient (at least) to minimize risks to organizational integrity. Farpoint Group recommends that diversity with respect to supported device/OS-release pairs should be limited by local policies as a key path to this end.
  • Content: Mobile content management (MCM) protects sensitive organizational information, typically via a separate “sandboxed” container on a given device. Typical functions include encryption and restrictions on data distribution. Note that content management isn’t just about mobile, and must extend to the entire organization.
  • Applications: Mobile application management (MAM) determines which applications may be run, and also typically provides a distribution mechanism (often called an “enterprise app store”). As with content, this function is not unique to mobile, and should extend even into the cloud.
  • Identity: Identity management (IDM) absolutely extends well beyond mobile users to the entire organization, and today can form the backbone of an effective enterprise security strategy and implementation. IDM includes login credentials (including two-factor authentication), data encryption and access permissions.
  • Policy and expense: Mobile policy and expense management (MPEM) includes the specification of general access and usage policies, along with the tools to minimize operational (including remote access) expenses. BYOD reimbursement also fits here quite nicely.
  • Network management and operations: This category includes management solutions specific to network operations, other elements of IT operations and newer capabilities like analytics.

Depending on a given organization’s specific equipment vendors and management philosophy, even more management policies, tools and solutions may be in place. Given all of the objectives and considerations noted here, then, what’s the best path forward? Does it even make sense to think of unifying such a broad and diverse set of requirements?

While a number of highly unified mobility management suites are available, one-size-fits-all usually isn’t a viable strategy here, as operational policies, staff preferences and other constraints (including regulation) often preclude easy one-stop shopping.

The unified mobility management strategy we recommend, then, is as follows:

Perform a rolling needs analysis of both current and planned operational facilities and capabilities, along with the required management functionality. Rolling, in this case, means the process never ends, but also that picking this task up just a few times a year should be sufficient.

Specify the “ideal” solution at any given moment in time. Use the results of the needs analysis as a stake in the ground for sketching out what you’d consider to be the best possible solution. Don’t worry if this can be realized. Ultimately, you may not be able to buy or build this ideal, but this element is critical to the next and final step. Also, identify which organizations--including end user departments--should have management control over specific functions.

Talk with your vendors--that's what they’re there for. Show them what you want; specify the degree of unification that you desire. You might just be surprised how well the competitive market responds.

So, the answer to the question "How much can you--or should you--unify" is, unfortunately “it depends.” So much of ongoing operations today is spread across so many functional areas within organizations--IT management, network management, departmental management, finance, security and more--that unification for many will remain a limited or even an abstract and theoretical concept. Which brings us back to an old-fashioned solution to this problem: talking. Senior management must take the lead in making sure that the lines of communication among functional areas within the organization are always open and, correspondingly, where decision-making authority resides in any given case. Talking in this way is old fashioned, indeed, but, properly done, it's also very, very effective.

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