The concept of mobile device management (MDM) is not a new one. Microsoft and VMware have been leading the charge, touting its promise for years, with many others heralding its benefits. And yet the world’s biggest enterprises, the ones that have the most to gain, have yet to make the move away from traditional on-premise environments.

This begs a number of questions; chief among them, if the move to mobile management hasn’t happened by now, is MDM dead? If not, what roadblocks stand in the way, and what will it take to remove them?

The potential for MDM

To say the proliferation and adoption of mobile devices has skyrocketed over the last decade would be a gross understatement. Research indicates that there will be as many as 3.5 billion smartphone users across the globe by the end of the year, equivalent to almost half of earth’s population. These devices have connected our world in unprecedented ways, but they — as well as other devices such as tablets and laptops — have also brought significant security challenges to the enterprise.

While the bring your own device (BYOD) movement simplified the lives of employees and reduced costs for companies, IT departments’ management load has increased exponentially as they must try to prevent personal devices from exposing corporate networks to a much wider range of threats. MDM could remove this issue, resulting in substantial cost savings and a much more efficient use of resources.

Concurrently, the number of applications moving to the cloud has also accelerated dramatically. It can sometimes sound as though any organization failing to embrace cloud architecture will be left behind, glued to their servers as cloud-native competitors blow past them and innovate their way to the future. As a result, whether motivated by fear or a genuine excitement about the idea of getting rid of the cost, space, and resource drain of running servers on-premise, enterprises have given MDM a good look.

They are lured in by the desire to converge mobile with desktop with server to eliminate redundant management burdens and redundant costs flowing through their business, and they want to digitally transform in order to have greater accessibility to more efficient systems that enable uniform endpoint management. In MDM, organizations see the potential to unify all of the disparate systems they have in place today.

And these are just some of the strategic drivers working in favor of MDM. The road forward has been paved and strategic plans put together to get there, but why haven’t enterprises moved yet?

Roadblocks to MDM adoption

When whole teams of people are managing multiple issues that are all completely separate, that don’t talk to each other, and that all require license fees each year — yet all of the applications bleed across all of these devices — enterprises know something must change. Going from a giant spaghetti farm down to one modern platform that converges it all sounds like a dream. But it has remained in the distance.

For all of the limitations of on-premise environments, they are battle-tested. People know exactly how they operate; they are solid and reliable. These environments are also deeply entrenched in the enterprise, with thousands of companies making massive investments to run on traditional IT infrastructure. So, while MDM might sound intriguing, many organizations want to stick with what they know already works. All of the kinks have been worked out; it is safe — and they’ve likely spent millions on creating this environment. Getting rid of it based on promise and potential is risky.

Additionally, the move to modern is not simple. It opens up its own pain points, which are not inconsequential. Most notably, MDM has failed to address scalability concerns. Enterprise IT leaders must ask themselves, “If I move to mobile management, does it change the network topology? Does it amend, modify or perfect the WAN in any way?” The answer is no, and that’s a problem because until very recently there had been no content distribution engine for Intune or Workspace One.

Fast and reliable content distribution

Fast and reliable content distribution is essential in the enterprise if they are to possess any hope of properly managing endpoint security without degrading the performance of their network or impeding business processes. Organizations have to consistently deploy updates, patches and software, and without a quality distribution engine, this process can take several hours to days to complete, while placing a tremendous strain on the network. 

Content distribution engines, however, make it possible to rapidly manage endpoints without impacting business. They have been remarkably successful in traditional environments. Without a viable distribution option for MDM, this translates to regularly deploying a single piece of content hundreds of thousands of times, which takes a huge toll on business. The sheer volume of software needing to be deployed across a management platform would cause the network to falter if it didn’t have the delivery enablement that a distribution engine provides.

The process is further complicated by necessary management of custom applications, which are common in nearly all industries. There is lingering uncertainty about whether these applications can actually be patched and maintained in a modern environment. For companies to make a move to mobile, they need to be sure these applications can be updated. Their business likely depends upon it. Companies are not ready to abandon what works and what is necessary for what has been a gamble up to this point.

Even enterprises that are inching toward MDM and operating in hybrid environments want to manage network optimization and content delivery the same way in modern environments that they do in traditional; they want to standardize on a methodology. They want the same best practices to be used in both places — and why shouldn’t they. Why suboptimize on the traditional side and use an inferior distribution engine on the other?

On top of this, there is a human factor hindering MDM. If content distribution engines are not comparable in a modern environment, someone has to figure out how to make it work. Teams are not interested in running two different management systems, particularly when they are already maxed out. This is inefficient and bears an unnecessary overhead burden. Money and resources would be best spent elsewhere.

So, while enterprises have built MDM into their long-term strategies, there has been little movement because of the workload involved to make it happen. IT teams have many other more pressing priorities.

A catalyst for MDM strategies

Without a true catalyst, promising MDM strategies are likely to remain stalled. Yet, COVID-19 could ultimately prove to be that change agent.

In an instant, employees around the world were sent home to work from home — a practice that didn’t just last a week but has continued for months, placing an enormous strain on corporate networks and endpoint management practices. While COVID-19 won’t be around forever, it has shown where enterprise IT weaknesses and cost centers lie. It is not unrealistic to assume that a situation like this could rise again. As such, enterprises are dusting off their MDM plans and are potentially accelerating them.

They’ve found throughout this challenging time that work styles are changing, and the workplace has likely been altered for the long term. Thus, it makes sense to support and enable positive practices that encourage productivity and efficiency — and MDM can certainly help in this regard. Companies are now saying, “Let’s be realistic that we’re not going to get there in a day — but let’s get moving so we can leverage MDM for better ways to connect with workers when they are outside of the corporate network and when people have to connect remotely; let’s make things easier for our teams for the good of our organization.” MDM makes remote management easy. It also unifies disparate systems and reduces costs at a time when sales may be adversely affected.

But what about those dreaded scalability and reliability issues? Fortunately, new solutions are now hitting the market that address them. Enterprises can now rationalize managing devices and an incredible volume of traffic on a new platform because recent offerings solve the network problem — enterprises can physically send content across the network when that wasn’t possible on modern before. Nevertheless, this will not be enough for enterprises to race out and change their entire environment. Other challenges remain more pressing when dealing with COVID-19 fallout, but it does move MDM up the ladder of priorities.

The combination of crisis + solution to network challenges will result in adoption of MDM with new velocity. While it may not happen overnight, MDM is on its way.

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