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Digital Task Management




30 December 2014

Making more use of mobile intelligence

If you're managing your corporate mobile devices remotely (and these days more and more organisations do), don't limit the task to basic functions, says Sharon Clancy – make proactive use of the business insights you can gain in real time

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Knowledge is power

“The mobilisation of the enterprise” is one of those trendy phrases beloved of IT gurus – a handy term to explain the revolution in business processes that mobile technology developments are making possible. Right across the business spectrum, activities that were once constrained to a specific physical location can these days be conducted almost anywhere.

This trend is even manifesting itself in those parts of the business that are, by their very nature, already mobilised – namely delivery and field service. They’re getting even more mobile, if that’s possible.

However, this revolution poses a key challenge. As organisations mobilise more of their business processes, from mission-critical tasks such as electronic proof of delivery to housekeeping operations such as private-business mileage, the task of managing all the component parts has become ever more complex. 

Happily, help is at hand. Mobile device management solutions, once strictly functional, are evolving from basic device and application deployment to include real-time monitoring of assets and usage analysis to facilitate further optimisation of business processes. 

Asset management

Even basic asset management functionality is being transformed by the latest MDM solutions – though not all MDM products are necessarily equal. “Not so long ago there was zero visibility of the way devices were performing in the field,” points out Ron Caines, global vice president for sales and marketing at MDM specialist B2M Solutions. 

He agrees that technology has progressed by leaps and bounds, admitting: “A basic, reactive device-centric MDM controlled by the IT department with helpdesk for remote workers will deliver immediate ROI by keep down operational costs.” 

But he warns: “Most of them are not dynamic, and don’t report in real time, so they can’t provide the depth of data that can help identify potential future efficiencies.” 

Despite investment sometimes amounting to multi-millions of pounds, Caines says many users still have devices that are not performing properly. When potential problems arise, he says a “no fault found” response is still a typical outcome for many companies with deployed mobile devices. 

“With the latest generation of MDM, you can get greater visibility and the chance to be proactive in managing any issues that arise. By identifying issues in real time in the field, you can minimise the numbers of no-fault-found returns, reducing the impact on productivity and saving on returns costs. All it takes is an MDM solution such as mProdigy and a trained helpdesk.”

Lewis Marston, chief executive of supply chain and mobility company Rocket Consulting, agrees. “To realise the maximum benefit from an MDM solution, users need to be proactive,” he says.

“That can mean something as simple as running a report at the end of the day to confirm that all devices are docked correctly and charging in preparation for the next shift. The data collection and analysis must be regarded as an everyday business activity, rather than something to be carried out after an event.” Routinely collecting information such as whether batteries are nearing end of life helps prevent devices failing mid-shift, he points out. 

Damien Penny, managing director of Peak Ryzex Europe, says that most companies with mobile deployments set up MDM these days, but many use it simply to deploy apps and manage devices, not for strategic, proactive management of processes and devices. 

“When you’re investing in technology to deliver better service and improve productivity, why wouldn’t you also want to manage that technology to ensure those workers remain productive and customer service levels continue to be met?”

Continual evaluation can pay dividends, says Penney, taking the guesswork out of issue resolution. “Devices that are functioning perfectly at initial deployment may start to cause problems further down the line. Without MDM you are in the dark. 

“For example, because MDM allows you to add and deploy apps quickly, it can result in a lot of unused apps residing on the device. That in turn may have an impact on processor speed, memory and battery life, for example, all of which may affect productivity adversely.” 

Strategic planning and analysis

Organisations on their second or third generation of enterprise mobility deployments have begun to discover the limitations of basic MDM, says Penney, and are looking to drive further efficiencies in the business. Analytics will pinpoint key issues, he says, giving you insight into the effectiveness of the operation, and into where the issues are and where ROI is not being delivered. “Mobile process optimisation has high value to management and clear benefits to ROI.”

More businesses are realising that using the data proactively can deliver higher ROI and can be invaluable in future strategy planning, agrees B2M’s Caines. “The key metrics will vary from business to business, so users should decide where the focus should be in order to deliver the best ROI. MDM is not a one-size-fits-all solution.”

The latest-generation MDM solutions incorporate application analytics based on business process performance metrics, enabling MDM to play a role in strategic planning. However, Caines argues that this mean many companies will need to re-evaluate their mobility strategy, gaining a clear understanding not just of the current requirements, but also of what the business may need in future. 

“This entails looking beyond the device and the app and taking into account factors such as how the device and apps interact with each other, and paying regard to the network and location and the effect of all this on key business matrices.”

Penney says it’s important to try to visualise what the business needs might be in eighteen months or so. “Will the device specification be able to cope with any additional demands you might make of it? Processor speed, memory and connectivity can all have an impact on productivity and user experience, for example.” 

At another level, Penney points out, analysing what is happening to the current device estate gives you reliable data about in-service performance, helping identify the optimum specification for the next deployment. “This is particularly important if you are comparing consumer and rugged devices and their in-service reliability.”


Mixed estates

Not only are increasing numbers of workers using their own smartphones for work-related tasks, creating a need for their employers to manage consumer devices remotely; these consumer-grade devices are also encroaching on areas where previously rugged devices held sway. 

The challenges of managing both rugged and consumer devices in the field will vary according with circumstances, but one effect of the move towards a hybrid estate of devices is that user-organisations are looking for one-stop MDM solutions.

Accordingly, MDM specialists in the rugged sector have been broadening their portfolio to include management tools for both. Whether users opt for a hosted mobility services platform or mobile worker management software, they are increasingly likely to want MDM as an integral part of the offer.

“We have to be ready for an increasingly mixed estate of mobile devices that will include rugged industrial technology alongside consumer-grade smartphones and tablet PCs,” says Damian Penney of Peak Ryzex. 

“Consumer devices are competing against purpose-made industrial products designed specifically for reliability and long life in enterprise applications. Dynamic companies like Apple and Samsung are making waves in an area that traditionally was dominated by rugged devices. Samsung is looking to double its revenues in the B2B market this year. 

“Consumer devices are updated more regularly, which can cause some confusion for users as they can end up with a very broad mixed estate.”

To support these mixed estates, Peak-Ryzex has developed a fully managed mobile services (MMS) offering for consumer tablets, smartphones (Android, Apple iOS and Windows Phone 8) and other wireless devices, which mirrors the comprehensive managed mobility services it already provides for rugged industrial mobile devices. 

Earlier this year, B2M unveiled Elemez, a cloud-based analytical tool that the company says it will work with any MDM software, including its own mProdigy. Elemez takes a holistic, intelligent view of key issues such as device disruptions, network connectivity, battery status and application utilisation. 

A dashboard provides a snapshot of critical information about the entire device population at fleet level and drills down to individual devices. False alarms are minimised, the company claims, because Elemez learns what is normal for the devices and provides alerts both on screen and via email on critical issues. 

It captures a wealth of utilisation information on deployed devices that can enhance employee productivity and identify potential application problems. This includes verifying that the correct number of devices are in the right places at the right times. It also includes disruption analytics that can help identify the root cause of constant rebooting; and application analytics that include reports on the most-used, most-installed and most battery-draining apps.

Big data

One of the big challenges for logistics and service companies is predicted to be how to eliminate those data and mobility silos that have often grown up within the business in order to drive further productivity and customer service improvements. Those MDM solutions that provide data on devices and apps, network coverage and user issues will play an integral role in this business transformation trend.


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