Mobile Market Boom Presents VARs With Opportunities, Challenges

By Ericka Chickowski

Are you the "Channel Partner of No" when it comes to giving your customers what they want from mobile devices?

Do you tell your clients that you can't or won't help them manage and support up-and-coming devices like iPhones, iPads and Android smartphones? If so, you could be missing out on some lucrative opportunities and you may well be sending some of your most loyal customers straight into the arms of the competition.

"We just signed up a new client recently that claimed their previous MSP was the 'MSP of No'. The immediate and default reaction to anything new was to say 'no'," says Mark Berman, CEO of Horsetail Tech, an MSP looking to profit from new mobile device management and security technologies that will enable it to reasonably manage a range of mobility use cases.

There's no doubt that managing mobile devices in the workplace can cause IT headaches. But every IT manager's conundrum is a solution provider's potential goldmine--if that partner can work creatively to offer up advice on strategic best practices and innovative technology.

In the case of mobility, though, many within the channel are just as flummoxed as their customers are as to how to address a number of problems, including extreme fragmentation of mobile platforms and devices, a market flooded with management and security products with varying degrees of effectiveness, and the very difficult challenge of maintaining control over loosey-goosey, bring-your-own-device situations.

"It's a complex issue in the IT department when they look out their door and they see everyone that walks by has a different OS with a different version with a whole bunch of applications running," says Jim Latimer, vice president of client solutions for CentriLogic. "That same level of complexity is going to be facing a company that is created to offer these support services--particularly when you're looking at the same amount of effort to support a handheld device as a desktop in terms of person hours in a month."

According to Horsetail Tech's Berman, with the mobile support and management market so fast-moving, success comes less with having all the answers for customers and more with setting the right expectations and continually updating them.

"The most important thing is really to engage in a conversation and set expectations that we are not going to say 'no' and we're not going to say 'yes'," he says. "We're going to discuss what the risks and benefits are of doing this and help clients make informed decisions. Sometimes it is simply a matter of informing them what risks they're opening themselves up to and then staying on top of what's offered in the marketplace to secure them more fully or give them more transparent controls."

And that means discussing not just the IT risks, but also risks to the business should certain actions be taken. Because as Berman explains it, the more locked down a device is--whether mobile or stationary--the fewer choices the business has for applications and access to data. And that lack of choice could potentially be a risk itself.

"If you have a bunch of salespeople in the field who can't see their email until they get back to the office, that creates a management risk and a sales risk that they're going to miss leads," he says.

Expectation-setting can sometimes be difficult with clients who may not even realize they have a mobile management problem in the first place. Fortunately, says Joe Leonard, security practice manager at Presidio Networked Solutions, the issues aren't difficult to illustrate given that every potential customer will probably have a device in hand.

"A lot of customers are not even aware of some of the challenges. Fortunately, this is one IT problem where people literally bring their problem to the table. Normally what I'll do is we'll go in, and I'll start giving the presentation and ask everyone to lay out all of their devices right in front of me on the table," he says. "I'll see the Androids, the iPhones, the iPads and all the different tablets that the customer has, and the first thing I'll ask them is, 'Hey, do all of your devices access your corporate data? And they'll all say 'Oh yeah!' And then I'll ask, 'Out of those who are here, how many of you don't have a password on your device?' And about 50% of the people usually say they don't have passwords on their devices."

In order to give the best advice and successfully navigate the mobile waters, channel partners will need to do their homework and learn about mobile management technology and best practices. And then staying on top of new developments. The market changes so fast that the education process is ongoing--both for the partner and the customer. Partners must be ready to shoot from the hip, building in contingencies and keeping nimble enough to make strategic shifts with the market.

"Part of the communication that has to happen with the client is that we're not making a long-term decision in this particular space, and so we may be making a decision for this year, but we're not making a five year plan," Berman says. "The space that we're talking about here is evolving and evolving rapidly. The devices are pretty much on a one-year cycle, but the software doesn't necessarily follow that same cycle. But we're at a point of innovation in the marketplace in that we're quickly going from one level to the next and these are not little baby steps."

Ultimately, it's the customer that should be in the driver's seat. Because when partners refuse customers the ability to safely and sanely take advantage of mobile technologies, they risk being thrown out of the car altogether. 

"We've had a couple of clients that previous providers refused to support their mobile device, and I think those providers are going to go away pretty quickly," says Chris Sachse, executive vice president of Horsetail Tech. "Because everybody has an iPad or an iPhone or some kind of mobile device, and I don't think we're going to get away from that."

This article was originally published on 2011-11-28