Asset Management

What is Mobile Device Management? The Complete Guide

As organizations undergo digital transformation initiatives and adapt to evolving business requirements, their IT asset inventories are growing. With this surge in mobile device usage comes the need to manage and secure these devices through a mobile device management solution.

February 2, 2022

As organizations undergo digital transformation initiatives and adapt to evolving business requirements, their IT asset inventories are growing, changing, and constantly moving from one place to another. Instead of a set of desktop computers connected to the corporate network, businesses are increasingly reliant on mobile devices for key business functions.

This trend has been driven by several different factors. The COVID-19 pandemic pushed companies toward remote work. Adoption of bring your own device (BYOD) policies means that corporate resources are accessed by employee-owned devices. For educational institutions, 1:1 programs dramatically expand the number of devices owned and managed by an organization.

With this surge in mobile device usage comes the need to manage and secure these devices. Doing so effectively and scalably requires a mobile device management solution.

What is Device Management?

An organization’s IT assets require a fair amount of management and maintenance.  Devices must be deployed and configured, kept up throughout their lifecycles, set security policies, and appropriately decommissioned when they reach end-of-life.

Device management solutions are designed to manage the implementation, upkeep, and operation of physical or virtual devices.  While a variety of different device management solutions exist, mobile device management (MDM) is the most common.  To learn more about the various options, check out Prey’s device management guide.


What is Mobile Device Management (MDM)?

Mobile devices have an expanding role in modern enterprise.  The widespread adoption of remote work in the wake of COVID-19 and increased support for BYOD policies both have driven growth in mobile device usage for business purposes.

As mobile devices increasingly store business data and access corporate IT assets, managing these devices becomes an essential part of enterprise IT and security programs. MDM solutions enable businesses to manage their mobile devices at scale from a single, centralized location. By doing so, companies can ensure the security and performance of their mobile devices.

MDM vs. EMM vs. UEM

MDM solutions are one of several different types of device management solutions. The main types of endpoint management solutions that impact mobile devices include the following:

  • Mobile Device Management (MDM): MDM solutions are focused solely on the management of mobile devices.
  • Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM): EMM solutions can manage the physical mobile devices but also have visibility into and control over the content and applications hosted on those devices.
  • Unified Endpoint Management (UEM): UEM solutions are general endpoint management solutions. They unify management across all business endpoints, providing the ability to manage computers and mobile devices using a single solution.

MDM solutions are a subset of EMM solutions, which are a subset of UEM solutions.  While all provide the same ability to manage mobile devices, solutions at higher levels expand their scope to include other systems as well (applications, content, computers, etc.).

How Does MDM Work?

An MDM solution can be deployed on-site or via a cloud-based service. Its purpose is to manage a mobile device throughout its entire lifecycle with an organization, including the following five stages.

Enrollment

The first stage of the MDM process is adding new devices to the management framework. Based on the device in question, this can require different steps for different types of devices:

  • Android: Android devices are designed to be easy to deploy in an enterprise setting. Android Enterprise and Zero Trust Enrollment are designed to make it possible to configure new devices and enroll them in remote management right out of the box.
  • Apple: Apple’s equivalent of Android Enterprise is Apple Business Manager (ABM). Devices purchased from Apple Authorized Resellers can be configured for zero-touch deployment, or devices can be added to ABM via Apple Configurator.
  • Other: If these solutions are not supported on a device, an MDM solution should also offer alternative easy enrollment solutions. For example, an MDM solution might enable Android users to scan a QR code that will automatically enroll the device in the corporate lifecycle management system. If this is not supported, an MDM administrator may need to enroll devices into an MDM solution by hand, which can be extremely time-consuming.
  • Personal Devices: With remote work and BYOD policies, employees may be working from personal devices as well. Companies may wish to enroll these devices into their endpoint management systems as well. Android work profiles and the Apple User Enrollment program make this possible for devices that are not owned by and under the direct control of an organization.

Mobile devices make up a growing percentage of an organization’s IT assets.  Choosing an MDM solution that can support all of an organization’s mobile devices (and ideally other endpoints as part of a UEM solution) is essential to scalably manage and secure these devices in the future.

Provisioning

After adding a device to the corporate MDM solution, an organization needs to configure that device to meet company policy. This can include changing configuration and security settings, adding or removing certain apps, and managing the content that is accessible to and stored on the device.

Android’s Managed Google Play Store and Apple’s ABM are designed to make this easy for companies to perform on their devices. Alternatively, an organization can set up an Enterprise App Store using their MDM solution. This allows employees to download approved and preconfigured apps as needed rather than automatically loading certain apps on employees’ devices.

An MDM solution can also help an organization manage the content accessed and stored on corporate devices.  By providing access to approved corporate data storage, collaboration platforms, etc., a company can provide its employees with the tools that they need to do their jobs and remove the incentive and ability to use unapproved solutions that put corporate data and systems at risk.

Deployment

After devices are added to the MDM system and configured, the next step in the process is getting the devices to employees. With the growth of remote work, this might involve shipping devices, making device location tracking a valuable feature.

Also, before deploying devices or lending them to employees or students, it is essential to ensure that any necessary personalization is performed. For example, mobile devices should come preloaded with any required security certificates to allow users to connect to enterprise resources and use their devices effectively as soon as they receive them.

Management

The long-lasting management phase continues throughout the device’s useful lifecycle. Between deployment and retirement, a device may be used for several years.

During this time, an organization needs to ensure that its IT assets continue to function properly and run smoothly. This includes troubleshooting any issues that may arise, pushing app or OS updates to devices, monitoring data consumption, etc.

With many devices, manual management can be complex and time-consuming. An MDM solution enables many of the necessary management steps to be automated, simplifying the process and enabling it to scale to meet a company’s needs.

Retirement

When a device has reached the end of its useful life, it needs to be properly retired. This retirement may be planned or occur suddenly if a device is lost, stolen, or destroyed.

A device management solution should make the device retirement process seamless and painless.  In addition to removing devices from the system, it should include support for wiping sensitive data from devices to ensure that no intellectual property or customer information falls into the wrong hands.

Why is Mobile Device Management Important?

Mobile device management solutions are designed to centralize control over an organization’s mobile IT assets. Adopting a device management solution is an important component of a corporate IT and cybersecurity strategy for various reasons, including:

  • Growing Mobile Device Adoption: As companies move to remote work and BYOD policies, they are more dependent on mobile devices. As these devices make up a greater percentage of a company’s IT assets and digital attack surface, managing them is essential to enterprise productivity and security.
  • Increased Efficiency: Managing mobile devices manually is inefficient and unscalable as companies’ mobile device numbers increase. An MDM solution can streamline device management across the board within a company, making it easier to keep devices in line with corporate policies and secure against cyber threats.
  • Simplified Control: With BYOD policies and remote work, employees may be working from devices not owned by the company, adding to the diversity of the corporate IT ecosystem. An MDM solution makes it easier for companies to maintain and enforce consistent configurations and policies across all of their IT assets even if employees are using different devices running a variety of operating systems.
  • Improved Security: An MDM solution enables an organization to effectively enforce its security policies. By restricting access to dangerous online content, blocking installation of insecure and malicious apps, executing security commands to remotely lock or wipe devices, enforcing the corporate password policies, and other mechanisms, an MDM solution helps to close many of the most common security gaps exploited by cyber threat actors via security automations commands.

Corporate networks are growing more complex and include various types of digital assets. Deploying a device management solution is central to an organization’s ability to keep up with the pace of digital transformation and to scalably manage and control its devices.

What Can Mobile Device Management Do for You?

Changes in how companies do business have made mobile devices more common and endpoints a greater target for cybercriminals.  As devices move off of the corporate network with their built-in defenses, companies need solutions that enable them to manage these devices and protect them against cyber threats.

This includes the ability to manage each stage of the device lifecycle from initial enrollment through provisioning, deployment, and management to final retirement. Companies need to be able to know what devices they own, where their devices are, ensure that they are compliant with corporate policies, install any required updates, protect against stolen devices, and safely retire assets at the end of their useful lifecycles.

Device management is important because it allows for better control and stronger security when dealing with mobile devices. Managing devices effectively, securely, and scalably requires a device management solution with support for all of an organization’s IT assets, including laptops, tablets, and mobile devices.

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