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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."