What is mobile device management?

Mobile device management (MDM) is a proven methodology and toolset used to provide a workforce mobile productivity tools and applications while keeping corporate data secure

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Why mobile device management is important

In recent years, mobile devices have become ubiquitous in enterprise use. Businesses and their workforces rely on mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops for a wide assortment of tasks. And as working remotely has become essential, mobile devices have become an integral part of most organizations — vital tools for productivity and efficiency.

But because enterprise mobile devices access critical business data, they can threaten security if hacked, stolen or lost. So, the importance of managing mobile devices has evolved such that IT and security leaders are now tasked to provision, manage and secure mobile devices within their respective corporate environments.

With a mature MDM platform, IT and Security departments can manage all of a company’s devices, no matter their type or operating system. An effective MDM platform helps keep all devices secure while keeping the workforce flexible and productive.


How mobile device management works

A common question on the web is: “Is mobile device management a piece of software?” The short answer is “yes” and “no.” MDM is a solution that uses software as a component to provision mobile devices while protecting an organization’s assets, such as data. Organizations practice MDM by applying software, processes and security policies onto mobile devices and toward their use. Beyond managing device inventory and provisioning, MDM solutions protect the device’s applications, data and content. In this sense, MDM and mobile security are similar. However, MDM is a device-centric approach, whereas mobile security and unified endpoint management have evolved to a user-centric stance.

In an MDM program, employees can receive a dedicated work device, such as laptops or smartphones, or have a personal device remotely enrolled. Personal devices receive role-based access to enterprise data and email, a secure VPN, GPS tracking, password-protected applications, and other MDM software for optimal data security.

MDM software can then monitor the behaviors and business-critical data on enrolled devices. And with more sophisticated MDM solutions, they can be analyzed by machine learning and AI. These tools ensure devices are kept safe from malware and other cyberthreats. For example, a firm might assign a laptop or smartphone to a staff member or consultant, pre-programmed with a data profile, VPN and the other necessary software and applications. In this scenario, MDM offers the most control to the employer. With MDM tools, enterprises can track, monitor, troubleshoot and even wipe device data in the event of theft, loss or a detected breach.

So, what are mobile device management policies? MDM policies answer questions about how organizations will manage mobile devices and govern their use. To configure and publish their policies and processes, enterprises will ask questions, such as:

– Do devices need passcode protection?

– Should cameras be disabled by default?

– Is wifi connectivity important?

– What customization options will the device provide?

– Do certain devices need to be geo-fenced?


Components of mobile device management tools

Device tracking

Each device enrolled with or issued by an enterprise can be configured to include GPS tracking and other programs. The programs allow an enterprise's IT professionals to monitor, update and troubleshoot the device in real time. They can also detect and report high-risk or non-compliant devices and even remotely lock or wipe a device if lost or stolen.

Mobile management

IT departments procure, deploy, manage and support mobile devices for their workforce, such as troubleshooting device functionality. These departments ensure each device comes with the needed operating systems and applications for their users — including applications for productivity, security and data protection, backup and restoration.

Application security

Application security can involve app wrapping, in which an IT administrator applies security or management features to an application. Then that application is re-deployed as a containerized program. These security features can determine whether user authentication is required to open an app; whether data from the app can be copied, pasted or stored on the device; and whether the user can share a file.

Identity and access management (IAM)

Secure mobile management requires strong identity and access management (IAM). IAM allows an enterprise to manage user identities associated with a device. Each user’s access within an organization can be fully regulated, using such features as single sign-on (SSO), multifactor authentication and role-based access.

Endpoint security

Endpoint security encompasses all devices that access a corporate network, including wearables, Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and non-traditional mobile devices. Endpoint security can include standard network security tools such as antivirus software and network access control and incident response, URL filtering and cloud security.


BYOD and mobile device management

Bring your own device

Bring your own device (BYOD) means employees use their personal mobile devices for work instead of company-issued devices. Applying enterprise security to a personal mobile device is more challenging than simply providing such devices. But BYOD is popular, especially among younger workers. Organizations make this compromise to increase employee satisfaction and productivity. BYOD can also make the mobile workforce more affordable because it eliminates the need to purchase extra hardware.

Enterprise mobility management
Enterprise mobility management (EMM) describes a broader form of mobile device management. Going beyond the device itself, its user and its data, EMM encompasses application and endpoint management and BYOD. EMM solutions are highly scalable, and with new security features powered by AI analytics, these solutions can offer real-time insights and alerts about thousands of behaviors and activities coming in from multiple sources at once.

Unified endpoint management
Unified endpoint management (UEM) represents the integration and evolution of MDM and EMM. It solves more challenges associated with IoT, desktop or other mobile device security. UEM solutions can help enterprises secure and control the entire IT environment and its endpoints, such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops. UEM solutions can also help secure their users’ personal data, apps, content and enterprise data. With an agile UEM system, enterprises can choose scalable solutions based on needs, whether those enterprise are covering a single operating system or various devices across different platforms, such as Apple iOS iPhone, Android, Microsoft Windows, macOS and Chrome OS. Mature UEM solutions are powered by machine learning and AI, which can help an enterprise’s IT department make quick security decision based on real-time data and analytics.


Mobile device management best practices

Whether a cloud-based or on-premises model, an MDM solutions should allow an organization to see endpoints, users and everything in between. A good mobile device management software solution will:

  • Save time
  • Improve efficiency
  • Increase production
  • Increase security
  • Ease of overall mobile management system

Here are three best practices to consider in selecting an MDM solution:

Automated reports

Be sure the reporting and inventory tool consolidates all enrolled devices and associated information into easy-to-follow reports. Daily updates should be generated automatically without manual input.

Automatic updates

Beyond the advantages of instant accessibility afforded by cloud MDM, there should be no hardware to buy, install or maintain — and no associated fees. The platform should be automatically updated with new features at a company’s disposal.

Easy search

The ability to search for anything and everything is key to a cloud-based solution. An organization should be able to access its devices, integrations, reports, apps and secure documents easily.


Related solutions

Mobile device management (MDM)

Get full visibility, manageability and security for running iOS, macOS, Android and Windows. And take advantage of seamless over-the-air (OTA) device enrollment for easy, rapid deployment.

Mobile security solutions

Whether you support a single operating system type or have a mixed variety of devices, IBM mobile security offers the most secure, productive and intuitive solution on the market. IBM harnesses the power of AI technology to help you make rapid, better-informed decisions.

Unified endpoint management (UEM)

Powered by AI and analytics and integrated with your existing IT infrastructure, IBM simplifies and accelerates the support of a diverse, complex endpoint and mobile environment. Simplify the management and security of smartphones, tablets, laptops, wearables and IoT.

Enterprise mobility management

EMM combines user, app and content management with robust data security to simplify how you manage your device environment. Get the right balance between user productivity and mobile security with IBM EMM solutions.

Bring your own device (BYOD) security

When an employee can use their personal device, you empower them to do their best work in and out of the office. BYOD programs can have the added benefit of saving the budget by shifting hardware costs to the user. But employees need to know that you're protecting their personal use and privacy. Secure your remote workforce with IBM.

Identity and access management (IAM)

An identity and access management solution is essential for securing the hybrid multicloud enterprise. Securely connect every user to the right level of access with IBM identity and access management solutions.