Home Topics What is mobile device management (MDM)? What is mobile device management (MDM)?
Explore IBM's MDM solution Subscribe to Security Topic Updates
Illustration with collage of pictograms of clouds, mobile phone, fingerprint, check mark
What is MDM?

Mobile device management (MDM) is a proven methodology and toolset that provides a workforce with mobile productivity tools and applications while keeping corporate data secure.

With a mature MDM platform, IT and security departments can manage all of a company’s devices, regardless of their operating system. An effective MDM platform helps keep all devices secure while keeping the workforce flexible and productive.

Cost of a Data Breach

Get insights to better manage the risk of a data breach with the latest Cost of a Data Breach report.

Related content

Register for the X-Force Threat Intelligence Index

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, being 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.

Listen the podcast to understand how the end user redefined UEM.

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, machine learning and AI can then anayluze these data. 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 that is 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?

Click here to learn about Android device management, why it’s important and how it works. Also learn about Android security threats and specific vulnerabilities.

Components of mobile device management tools
Device tracking

Each device that an enterprise enrolls or issues 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 including 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 redeployed 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.

Discover the importance of IAM
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) (link resides outside ibm.com) 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 AI-powered security features, 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 and enterprise data, apps and content. 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.

Why UEM Is the New MDM: The Latest Stage in Enterprise Evolution
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 neither be associated fees nor hardware to buy, install or maintain. 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.

Supported devices
Learn how to manage multiple platforms with an AI-driven unified endpoint management. Try MaaS360 plan assessment Read the documentation
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.

Check out MDM solutions
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.

Discover mobile security solutions
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.

Explore UEM solutions
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.

Try enterprise mobility management
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.

Discover BYOD solutions
Frontline workers devices

Transform how you manage devices, apps and data for frontline workers.

Explore UEM for Frontline workers devices
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.

Explore IAM solutions
Experience IBM MaaS360
Resources IBM Security Framing and Discovery Workshop

Request a workshop and understand your cybersecurity landscape and prioritize initiatives together with senior IBM security architects and consultants in a no-cost, virtual or in-person, 3-hour design thinking session.

Advanced endpoint protection versus risk-based application patching versus laptop management

Read the blog post and learn about the similarities and differences between advanced endpoint protection, laptop management and risk-based application patching.

Leadership Compass Report - UEM 2023

Register for the report and find the solution that best fits your needs and learn what IBM offers as one of the leaders in the UEM landscape.

MDM vs. MAM: Top 5 differences

Read the blog post and learn more about differences between mobile device management and mobile application management, in order to make sure your mobile devices, users and data remain protected.

IBM Security X-Force® Threat Intelligence Index 2023

Read the report and understand your cyberattack risks with a global view of the threat landscape.

Cost of a data breach

The Cost of a Data Breach Report explores financial impacts and security measures that can help your organization avoid a data breach, or in the event of a breach, mitigate costs.

Take the next step

As flexible work models have become the new norm, employees must remain productive when working from anywhere on any device in a protected way. From endpoint management to native security, IBM Security MaaS360 provides an end-to-end UEM solution. 

Explore MaaS360 Book a live demo