The increasing use of mobile devices, either company owned or on a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) basis, has led many businesses to turn to mobile device management (MDM) systems in order to keep track of the technology being used and also to keep devices and business data secure.
Many manufacturers have seen the benefit of making their equipment ready for mobile device management, Microsoft, for example, offers OpenMDM support as standard on its Surface range of devices. The company has also built capabilities into its Office 365 cloud platform.
Mobile device management ensures that devices are secure and can be wiped in the event that they are lost or stolen. It’s also used to enforce corporate policies for access to data. MDM, therefore, encompasses a number of areas.
These include segregation of data – keeping company and personal files separate; securing email communication; managing devices and ensuring they are up-to-date with the latest software patches, and enforcing security policies across the company.
Because it can be used to protect the data and the configuration settings of all mobile devices attached to a network, MDM can help cut support costs and reduce business risks.
As mobile devices continue to increase in popularity, so too does the importance of monitoring and controlling their use. Although we tend to think of mobile in terms of smartphones and tablets, laptops and desktop computers are also starting to fall under the remit as businesses strive to have a common policy across all of their technology real estates.
When implementing MDM, it’s important to have a strategy in place to apply rules consistently across the organisation. This might mean making some decisions that are seen as unpopular, particularly where a business operates a BYOD policy, but it’s vital to protect corporate data.
Allowing BYOD may save the business money on buying devices, but it’s important to recognise that your data is a key asset and that it must be protected accordingly. You, therefore, need to invest in securing and managing devices in order to keep that data safe.
At the core of any strategy are basic ground rules. These should cover aspects such as not storing confidential corporate data on unencrypted devices; never storing any consumer credit card data on mobile devices, and not conducting business communication through personal email or text systems.
It’s also vital that employees are made aware that they must provide access to any personally-owned devices if they become subject to a workplace investigation. There’s also the tricky issue of wiping devices if they are lost or stolen. In the case of BYOD, this might mean wiping personal information as well as business data, even if the device is partitioned to keep files separate.
It’s clear that those employees using mobile devices need to be made aware and be fully on board with any policy that impacts their use of technology. It is often assumed that mobile device management exists to limit what users do on their mobile devices. In fact, it should be seen as enabling them to do their jobs more effectively.
One of the problems with attempting to control mobile use on corporate networks is that it can make access more complicated. Today’s users are used to getting online in just a few clicks – be it at home or in a coffee shop.
It’s important that mobile device management doesn’t make getting access to company data more difficult, otherwise, people will find workarounds or use shadow IT in order to circumvent it. This leaves company data potentially exposed. It’s therefore essential to ensure that any MDM system that is implemented is easy to use and inhibits day-to-day business activity as little as possible.
As we’ve pointed out, Microsoft has been quick to recognise the need for effective MDM and has built capabilities into its popular Office 365 platform called Microsoft Intune. These allow companies using the software to secure and manage their mobile devices without the need to invest in additional, specialist software.
Office 365’s MDM Microsoft Intune doesn’t only work on Windows platforms, it’s compatible with iOS (7.1 or later) and Android (4 or later) so it supports a wide range of mobile devices. A range of Office apps are supported too; these include the key email apps, cloud syncing service OneDrive, plus the core office apps including Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
MDM for Office 365 ensures that devices are compliant with security policy – i.e. they are not jailbroken – it can also enforce password policies such as minimum length and expiration periods. On some devices, it can also be used to enforce encryption of stored data. Other options include being able to prevent screen captures and block access to app stores.
Office 365 MDM can be used on Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 devices too, making it possible to apply the same settings across laptops and desktop machines if required.
In the event that a device is lost or stolen, Office 365 MDM allows admins to carry out a “wipe”. This can either be selective – just removing business data – or a complete deletion of information that puts the device back to its factory settings.
View more on our Office 365 page.
There is a wide range of MDM solutions on the market. Many of these operate on a SaaS basis, run from the cloud which allows for a faster setup, lower costs, and easier updates compared with in-house solutions. It’s important to note that whatever solution you choose to implement, it needs to be compliant with any particular standards that are required for your industry and with legislation such as GDPR.
Few things are certain in the fast-moving world of technology, but we can be pretty sure that mobile devices aren’t going away any time soon. They have the potential to transform the way we do business, leading to a more agile and flexible workforce that is able to do business from any location.
As with any technology, where there are benefits there are also risks. It’s therefore essential that businesses consider their use of mobile devices and look at putting strategies in place that enable them to take maximum advantage of the technology while protecting their corporate assets.