Matthew Metcalfe, Director-IS, Northwest Exterminating
Without a doubt the deployment of mobile devices is creating a huge impact on the way companies do business. A more paperless environment, the ease with which you can take a payment from a customer and the ability to have relevant information directly at your fingertips (and the ability to share it real-time) makes deploying mobile devices very appealing. There are challenges in order to maximize a deployment of mobile devices.
Specific areas requiring consideration include wireless infrastructure, device management and in the case of applications you also want to consider application integration.
Evaluating Wireless infrastructure
In all but the smallest deployments of mobile devices the wireless infrastructure needs to be evaluated and in most cases expanded. This is especially true where there is a BYOD policy in place. A mobile employee who traditionally had a wireless laptop now carries a smartphone and a tablet as well. There’s simply an explosion on wireless usage. An old wireless network cannot keep up with the demands imposed by these new devices.
A good example is updating application and system software. It is more cost effective to do that via Wireless compared to using an LTE plan but when a new iOS release comes out, the demand for wireless is great. Most devices have applications that constantly communicate over the network even when they are sitting on the desk “unused”.
What we’ve seen is a need to replace the older equipment to take advantage of newer standards that provide more bandwidth. We’ve also had to increase the density of these devices within our facilities. Enterprise class wireless equipment typically offers a robust system to help manage the types of traffic going over the network.
Expanding the wireless network and getting visibility into the traffic using it is invaluable in a successful mobile device deployment.
There are number of approaches to device management and each one is a topic all by itself. There are couple of areas where we’ve experienced good results that are worth mentioning. A good mobile device policy backed up by a good Mobile Device Management solution is critical.
“How an application integrates with the existing enterprise is the key to realizing efficiencies of mobile devices across the company”
When the first mobile devices hit our network they were a blend of company provided and BYOD devices. In many cases they simply attached to the wireless network and were off to the races. The result was that we had an uncontrolled growth of devices without a firm policy in place on what was permissible. Defining what was acceptable use and communicating that helped mitigate the problem. What we found was that a large population of wireless users simply ignored the guidelines and that’s where the MDM solution came in.
With the MDM solution we were able to build an inventory of our equipment and who it was assigned to. Immediately we were able to see what was on the devices and how they were being used. That allowed us to build compliance policies that conformed to the mobile device policy. With the MDM solution compliance was no longer “on the honor system”, it was mandatory.
Building a simple policy and integrating it into an MDM solution allows us to get insight into the usage and compliance of devices. There are a number of other features that could be expanded on that do a good sell on the importance of using an MDM system (Content Management, Device Tracking, Remote Wipe, Telecom Cost control, etc.)
How an application integrates (or doesn’t) with the existing enterprise is the key to realizing efficiencies of mobile devices across the company. We’ve found our users flock to applications that make their jobs easier but have little consideration for anything else. The situation is compounded as the usefulness of the application is spread by word-of-mouth.
A very common example we came across involved employees using services like Dropbox, OneDrive or Google Drive to manage and store all of their contact information. While it was extremely convenient to have all of the information available, there were several negatives: the impact to the network of transferring the data, the additional m a n a g e m e n t required to keep it synchronized and, most importantly, the difficulty getting that data (completed work, proposals, new sales) into enterprise systems were unintentional side effects.
Leveraging the existing mobile applications, a little more difficult for the employee in the field, was far more efficient end-to-end. In-fact, we saw that pulling that information from the field via mobile devices was more accurate and detailed than if it was manually entered. Using GPS to timestamp locations allowed us to see not just the work that was completed but it also noted the time on the job, simplified communications with our customers, and automated several manual processes.
Some caveats include the availability of the applications for different platforms, the maturity of the product, and managing those apps in the field. Using an MDM solution combined with a good policy helps alleviate those issues.
We were able to increase the success of our mobile deployment by implementing and fine tuning the methods above. We had costs associated with Wireless Equipment and the MDM Solution. Once in place though we were able to add a couple hundred devices into the enterprise with no augmentation of staff. We were successful in reducing the time it took getting new data into our systems while reducing the workload of data entry. We have equivalent, if not better, visibility into our mobile device usage compared to traditional laptop/desktop devices. It was a learning process for us. We started simple, built slowly, and made adjustments as necessary.