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As the use of smart phones skyrockets, the need to centrally manage those devices is becoming apparent. Remote PC control provider LogMeIn on June 28 jumped in to satisfy that demand with a new Web-based remote control program for centrally managing smart phones.

The new LogMeIn Rescue Mobile software allows help desk technicians or other IT support personnel to take control of a user’s smart phone to remotely troubleshoot and resolve problems. The program, an evolution of LogMeIn’s existing remote control software, Rescue, is aimed at wireless carrier call centers, outsourcers and enterprise IT help desks that are beginning to look at the issue of managing smart phones.

“It became clear to us that the mobile phone is a shrunk-down laptop today. We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if a technician, enterprise IT or outsourced IT guy could get access to support that mobile phone in the same way they do with PCs today,’” said Rick Redding, vice president of business development for LogMeIn, in Woburn, Mass.

Read more here about LogMeIn’s remote management software.

Technicians working with the LogMeIn central console have a replica of the phone in question on their computer screens. They can push simulated smart-phone buttons, manipulate the phone’s screen and control the phone as if it were in their hands.

The LogMeIn Rescue Mobile software-as-a-service offering also allows technicians to take control of a PC connected to a smart phone.

“Many problems are happening on mobile phones as result of configuration issues on the PC side, such as a problem with active sync or getting media players to work on the phone. So they can solve the problem, whether the phone is not configured properly or the PC is not configured properly,” Redding said.

Gartner estimated that 72 million smart phones were shipped in 2006, out of a total of about 1 billion mobile phones shipped, according to Key Dulaney, vice president of mobile computing for the analyst firm.

But Dulaney has his doubts about whether enterprise IT is ready to take on management of smart phones, he said. “The problem is probably substantial, but few companies have really spent the money to go after it. I see manageability of mobile devices as a [lower] priority. People tend to wait for a disaster to happen,” he said.

Redding acknowledged that LogMeIn may be ahead of demand on the enterprise IT side, but he said he believes that some enterprises are being forced to take over management of smart phones because, as an edge device, they represent a security risk.

“Big banks won’t ignore it. The NSA and high-security organizations won’t ignore it,” Dulaney agreed. “But for the most part it’s not going to be a problem till it’s a problem.”

Potential users at All Covered, an IT support services company serving small businesses, believe smart-phone management is becoming a must, according to All Covered CIO Patrick Sullivan, in Redwood City, Calif.

“If you’re an IT support person supporting business people who are running an application or e-mail synchronized with their cell phone, you’ll have to deal with it. If there’s a tool out there to help, that’s even better. The idea really piqued my interest,” Sullivan said.

It is already a problem for wireless carriers, who bear the brunt of the support costs, Redding said. “Smart-phone customers quickly get routed into Tier 2 support, which is four to five times more expensive than Tier 1 support. Calls can last 15 to 20 minutes. It’s a whole lot more efficient for the technician to be drilling down into the phone than to be talking you through each screen. If you take any of top four major U.S. wireless carriers, shaving minutes off that call is worth hundreds of millions of dollars,” he explained.

LogMeIn claims it is the first vendor to provide Web-based remote control of smart-phone devices. “Nobody does support for the IT administrator’s support of the phone. Others do device management and security, but not device support,” Redding said.

“They are certainly one of the first. They will be one of the contenders out there, I’m sure,” Dulaney said.

A preview version of Rescue Mobile is due in July, supporting Windows Mobile 5 and 6 and any Pocket PC. The preview version, including the technicians’ console and a Web-based executable that runs on the device, will provide chat and remote control functions. The complete offering, due in late October, will add access system information, reboot, file transfer, patch management and configuration management. LogMeIn intends to release a version in 2008 supporting BlackBerry devices.

Although LogMeIn recently added a free Macintosh remote control offering to its lineup, the iPhone is not in the cards yet, Redding said.

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