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Enterprise mobility services: VARs offer mobile device management

There’s money for VARs in offering enterprise mobility services, but it’s probably not in equipment sales. Instead, partners should expect to provide a host of enterprise mobile device management services, including asset tracking and contract maintenance.

Rapid uptake of mobile devices in the enterprise can mean lots of opportunities for VARs -- but these opportunities won’t necessarily come from equipment sales. As enterprises are increasingly buying their mobile devices from retail outlets or allowing personal devices onto the network, VARs will instead find opportunities in offering device support and integration of tablets and other devices into enterprise applications.

Helping customers choose enterprise mobile device plans

Mobile devices are evolving rapidly, with new phones and tablets (not to mention applications) announced every week. A VAR that carefully tracks the device industry can guide customers during the planning phase by explaining the varying capabilities of these devices and the advantages and disadvantages of specific models.

Choosing among carriers and service plans is also not a simple task for those exploring enterprise mobility services. VARs can advise customers on how to select the plan best suited to their expected use, considering the following factors:

  • Potential benefits and disadvantages of buying phones without committing to multiyear service plans;
  • Best carrier coverage relative to employee travel and/or remote workers;
  • Determining whether 4G data rates are required for customer applications, since these services are currently not available in all geographies.

Choosing enterprise mobile device management tools and vendors

VARs can also help their customers avoid common mistakes by implementing mobile device management tools that monitor, manage and even help secure phones or tablets.

The tools consist of software components installed on the mobile device and on the internal network, enabling system administrators to push out new applications and updates to devices, monitor use to detect when employees are accessing forbidden sites or making expensive personal calls, remotely purge data and lock a lost or stolen device.

Selecting a device management vendor requires a careful examination of competing products. With the recent surge of interest in mobile deployment, several companies have entered the mobile device management tool market, including AirWatch, Good Technology, MobileIron and Trust Digital. Some management functions are common across all of these products, but each differs in some respects, and all of the companies are rapidly releasing new features. VARs can speed customer planning by guiding customers to the product that best meets their needs.

Integrating mobile devices into enterprise applications

Mobile devices  need to be configured and applications and management software installed. Management software must also be installed and configured on a network server. In some cases, existing business applications need to be updated, but in many cases, interfaces have already been rewritten to support Web access. Web screens may need to be modified to suit the aspect ratio and viewing area of the chosen device.

Here, VARs must be prepared to meet resistance from IT staffers. Mobile devices do not permit the tight control that was possible with earlier technologies. For example, employees with iPhones can install unapproved applications. Management software can detect the application, but not prevent installation.

Philosophical differences can be the No.1 challenge when working with the IT staff. “You need to have an open and honest discussion about control and security. Convince them they don’t need to have omnipotent control,” explained Scott Morabito, vice president of sales and technology service at Macuity, LLC in Somerville, Mass.

Enterprise mobility services: Providing 24-7 help desk

Supporting and maintaining a large number of mobile devices can be time consuming and labor intensive. VARs can profitably offload these tasks from customers by taking advantage of economies of scale.

For customers with only a few remote employees, hiring or training a help desk staffer to support employees with mobile devices may not be cost effective. A VAR can spread the cost of staffing a 24x7 help desk over many customers. Similarly, a single customer may deploy multiple device types. The device appropriate for a salesperson may not be the best choice for field service. Here again, spreading the cost of a help desk across multiple customers can enable a VAR to offer support at a lower cost.

Tracking enterprise mobile device inventory and contracts

Keeping track of devices and carrier contracts represents another business opportunity for VARs while providing a valuable customer service. As many as 10% of devices need to be replaced each month, estimated Jay Gordon, vice president of sales, Enterprise Mobile in Watertown, Mass. Some replacements are due to loss, theft or damage, while others are replaced at no cost at the end of their carrier contract.

To get started:

  • Construct a database that tracks each device and mobile employee;
  • Identify those devices due for a free upgrade;
  • Identify employees who repeatedly report lost, stolen or damaged phones or tablets.

Other potential VAR service opportunities include repairing and replacing lost or damaged phones (maintaining a repair staff is not cost effective for any customers but the largest customers). By maintaining an inventory of device types in use by customers, VARs can ensure that properly configured replacements are available quickly for key employees.

New skills required: Learning mobile device operating systems

As in any new market, VARs must prepare by becoming thoroughly knowledgeable about the devices, associated software and available carrier offerings. In the world of mobile devices, that means learning across multiple operating systems and application types. After all, Android-based devices, Apple phones and tablets, and BlackBerry products are all different -- unlike laptops and desktops where Windows remains basically the same across the hardware.

To achieve success, VARs must develop expertise across this broad range of products. But making this commitment can prove profitable for those VARs that choose to enter the field.

About the author: David B. Jacobs of The Jacobs Group has more than 20 years of networking industry experience. He has managed leading-edge software development projects and consulted to Fortune 500 companies as well as software startups.

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