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Mobile device management (MDM) is, to my way of thinking, one of the most exciting and indeed important, if not vital, directions in mobility today. While a precise definition of MDM hasn't yet reached the point of consensus, think of MDM as extending network and operational management to the wide variety of mobile nodes that now mark the very edge of the enterprise network, and handling everything from policy to provisioning to security to least-cost wireless network selection to dozens of other functions. Just as other forms of IT management--most notably network management and software/application management--have become essential and, really, mission-critical in organizations of any size and across the globe, MDM is now poised as the next vital evolutionary step in IT operations.
Or is it? I recently had a conversation with Adam Blum, CEO of mobile-app-development-tool builder RhoMobile, and he mentioned to me that they had a sign up in the office to the effect that mobile device management is dead. Really, dead. I was a little taken aback by this statement, partially because I'm a big believer in MDM and particularly because MDM is an emerging field with on the order of 60+ vendors already. The opportunities, as I noted above, appear huge. Dead? Did I hear that right?
Adam's argument is a simple one: If we can build applications that are inherently manageable thanks to the particular development and app-distribution tools applied (in RhoMobile's case, RhoGallery, then MDM can in effect be subsumed into the apps themselves. OK, this can indeed work, but, to be fair, we've just shifted the location and that still-loose definition of MDM, not killed it altogether. So, from my perspective, positing the death of MDM is largely marketing--likely very good marketing, mind you, but I still think MDM has a long and happy life ahead of it, and, while the space remains in need of quantification, I think at least a few of those 60+ players will see great success going forward.
And I think one of the primary reasons for this is another big unsettled question in mobility, the mobile applications strategy. OK, the app approach has a huge following, but there's no surprise here. Handset and mobile OS vendors use apps to differentiate their offering, and local code execution has deep historical roots. Who cares if the computer in question fits in one's pocket--that's how it's done. There is undeniable support for this mode of operation, but I think we'll ultimately shift to an alternative that's already another huge trend in IT--cloud-based services.
And the primary reason for this is that enterprise apps usually require access to amounts of data so vast that logistical issues quickly dominate--downloading all that data to a mobile device or even data synchronization quickly become unwieldy. There's also a financial question--granted, tool suppliers like Rho Mobile can really lower the cost to get apps into the field, even if cross-platform deployment is required. But what could be better than simply implementing the app as a Web or cloud service--write once/run anywhere? Many local apps are already just front-ends for Web services. HTML 5 likely holds the key here, but I'm quite hopeful that this plus greater availability of carrier-based availability and capacity, in the form of both 3.5G/4G wide-area services plus transparent access to Wi-Fi in high-density/high-demand geographies, will make such a strategy the obvious choice. Personal apps? Sure, keep those local. But enterprise apps that increasingly implement collaborative solutions will reside in the cloud. I expect the SaaS community will adopt this direction big time, and, again, many IT managers are already sold on the cloud strategy and implementing it even in non-mobile settings. There may even be overwhelming cost advantages to the cloud approach, but I don't think anyone can point to a definitive study yet.
OK, I must concede, in the near term a combination of both strategies is likely to be the solution of choice as the rush to implement mobility, largely due to user demand and the assumption of cost benefits via improvements in productivity, charges ahead. And the debate will continue--in fact, we're covering this very important topic (and many, many more) in detail at next month's Interop New York Conference. I hope to see you there.
Craig Mathias is a Principal with Farpoint Group, a wireless and mobile advisory firm based in Ashland, MA. Craig is an internationally recognized expert on wireless communications and mobile computing technologies. He is a well-known industry analyst and frequent speaker at industry conferences and trade shows.
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