Building a Mobile Management Practice: Four Key Questions

By Ericka Chickowski  |  Print this article Print

Building a successful mobile management business means asking strategic questions on what kind of services and solutions you're going offer customers. Here we highlight four key questions you need to answer before you can become a mobility maverick.

As customers turn to solution providers for help with managing their mobile devices, its important for channel partners to carefully calculate which services and solutions they want to offer in order to have a comprehensive--and thriving--business model. There are a lot of strategic decisions to be made that can make or break a mobility practice. The following are four key choices that managed service providers, VARs, and even consultants and integrators will need to make  as they build their mobile management businesses.

Device Diversity: Strategic or Tactical Management?

In mobility today, fragmentation is the name of the game. Partners are helping customers deal with the fragmented mobile OS landscape, layered with both home-grown and commercial applications. Channel partners need to take stock of their strengths and weaknesses to understand how their mobile practices will help customers deal with the challenges this diversity brings. Will your business work only in the tactical realm, offering simple remote-wipe and password-management capabilities? Or will you provide strategic consulting on how to transform their departments as the mobile technology changes? If it is the latter, then you're going to know how to direct that conversation, even if customers only have eyes on discrete tactical issues.

"They'll say: 'The challenge that we have is that we've got an executive that got an iPad and they want us to get this iPad on the network. And we need to be secure'," says Joe Leonard, security practice manager at Presidio Networked Solutions. "So they're trying to come up with an iPad strategy and we're thinking, 'What you really need is a mobility strategy.' It might be an iPad for now, but a month from now, it might be an Android, then it might be an iPhone, then a Symbian. One of the things we're finding is that we're really having to help a lot of our customers out on strategy. And really think about long term planning and how to plan for the evolution of the mobility wave that's coming in."

How Comprehensive Is What You Offer?

Is your firm planning on being a one-stop-shop for mobile management or will you dive deep within a distinct niche? According to Chris Sachse, executive vice president of Horsetail Tech, the decision needs to come after a careful SWOT analysis and once it is made you need to be able to clearly communicate to customers what you can and cannot do for them to prevent disappointment.

"The absolute one priority is setting the expectations of what you're going to manage and identifying that. Whether it's specific apps within phone systems, that connectivity of the phone itself, the exchange connection to your phone... Whatever that is and whatever the MSP is comfortable with, it's just identifying and studying those expectations up front, and then identifying the tools you think are most beneficial to helping you manage those," he says. "In the short term, the nAbles and Kaseyas of the world are providing very basic level monitoring capabilities for people to use and those are going to be enhanced over the next year. I think it's very important to set the expectation with the customer. Beyond that, it's really trying to stay up on top of what the market is offering because it moves very quickly and I think it's really important to identify what tools are out there and how to best use them and then try to standardize those across your customers."

While a wide breadth of solutions may be beneficial, as many customers are looking to offload a lot of their mobile management problems to one or two key partners, specialization can make a lot of sense given a firm's particular strengths. For example, Jim Latimer, vice president of client solutins for CentriLogic says his firm has had success completely leaving device management to other partners and focusing on solving the data center issues that arise due to mobile deployments, given its heritage in data center management.

"We have a pretty broad array of clients--essentially anyone that outsources their data center components of their IT and has enterprise-level requirements around that management," Latimer says. "As far as mobile is concerned, we have more and more of our direct client contacts, our IT directors and IT managers, coming to us  to help identify ways to address employees showing up with multiple versions of Windows phones and tablets and Android devices and Blackberry devices and everything else that's connecting to the data and expecting support."

Best of Breed vs. Comprehensive Platforms

Not only is the mobile OS market fragmented, the mobile management solution market is as well. The products used to manage and secure devices across an organization range from comprehensive platforms to very niche software products that accomplish specific tasks, such as device encryption or remote-wipe. The choice is between cobbling together a best-of-breed collection of products or to streamline offerings through more comprehensive platforms. One one side you've got flexibility and the potential to bring down costs for clients, on the other you've got platforms that may be easier to deploy and contain fewer gaps.

Horsetail, for example, likes to pick and choose from the buffet of security and management tools out there to tailor solutions to customer needs.

"Or clients fall into a range of categories. The more highly regulated client is going to need tools that employ more granular controls, while some of our clients are just fine with having users go back to the carrier store and wipe their phones from there," says Mark Berman, CEO at Horsetail Tech. "We look at the client and look at their needs and offer tools from the wide variety available, because you don't necessarily want to offer to hit something with a  tree trunk when you only need a stick."

Meanwhile Leonard says that as a Cisco partner, working with the comprehensive AnyConnect platform the networking juggernaut has been vaunting makes better sense for his business.

"The reason we're doing that is we find that, from an engineering perspective, we can build a model and reuse it. When we give it to a customer we already know how the model works," he says. "It just makes it simpler. It definitely scales. You bring up a customer more quickly, we've already created a template for it  and it's repeatable.

Choosing Your Vendors

Sifting between fact and fiction as vendors claim their products manage and secure mobile devices like no other is a challenge for solution providers. According to Leonard, solid advice can only come through testing. In his firm's case, product is put through its paces using a testing lab.

"We have a lab external to Presidio where we test a lot of stuff. As an example, one of the mobile device management platforms that we're using right now, we've actually provisioned it in our lab and we actually allow customers to go in--it's almost like a cloud-based service--to try it out and integrate it with their devices. It's almost like a pilot," he says. " One of the things I find a lot with this technology, because it's new, everyone wants to do that pilot. The challenge that we have as a provider that is going to provide this solution is that there's so many people who want to do this, how do we scale to so many customers. This is how we do it."

Of course, the technology isn't the only consideration. Partners also need to square the bits and bytes with the realities of the balance sheet. For example, according to Sachse of Horsetail, the firm would love to use Good Technologies management platform more often, but its partner program makes working with the vendor problematic.

"Good Technologies is always something that has been very good for all of the devices other than Blackberry," Sachse says. "But they're terrible from a channel perspective. So, in terms of technology, great. In terms of us wanting to sell it? Terrible."