What is mobile device management (aka MDM)?
Mobile Device Management (MDM) is software used by businesses to manage the smartphones and tablets used by their employees for work. Managing devices includes minimum security standards, installing required apps, locating devices that are lost or stolen, and erasing company data from devices that go missing.
MDM software is often confusing to all but tech-savvy people. I’ve written this post to help answer some basic questions about MDMs that anyone can understand. I’m going to cover:
What is MDM software?
MDM software manages the devices accessing the company’s data. The goal is to help businesses secure their mobile teams by having oversight of the devices accessing and storing company data.
There are two components to all MDM software:
- A dashboard where an administrator adds users and devices, removes users and devices, manages device settings, and wipes lost/stolen devices.
- An app or apps installed on all devices the company wishes to manage (both corporate and BYOD devices). The app enforces settings and auto-installs required apps onto devices.
Configuring an MDM (both the app and administrative portion) requires extensive technical expertise and in-depth knowledge of security settings, operating systems, and how to strike the right balance of security versus usability. More accessible MDM solutions manage the most complex options for you and present a streamlined set of options anyone can understand. Sky Work is such an example.
What is an MDM used for?
Manually managing employee devices is a nearly impossible task. Imagine requiring employees to bring each device to IT for every update or change.
- Need to install a new app, talk to IT.
- Need to update the phone, talk to IT.
- New to the company, talk to IT to get email and Wi-Fi set up.
This might work if you have a few employees, but becomes exponentially more inefficient as your company grows. Plus, without an MDM, there is no real way to enforce policies like how long passcodes are (and 000000 doesn’t cut it for security) or only installing apps from official app stores.
MDM software allows companies to:
- Automatically update devices
- Enforce security policies (like password strength)
- Control which apps are allowed on the device
- Ensure everyone with company data (like email) on a phone follows a minimum security standard
With an MDM anyone can do this for one device or 100 or 1,000 with a click. Everyone in the company gets the updates and, most importantly, everyone must abide by the updates.
Without an MDM company data could be installed on any number of devices—many of which might be insecure, infected with malware, or pose a serious risk to the company’s overall IT security.
With an MDM you have an essential foundation for security.
What is mobile device management software used for?
An MDM is used to create a secure foundation for all devices accessing company data. This foundation includes password requirements, controlling what apps can be installed on devices, networking information (like Wi-Fi and VPN settings), and location information if a device is lost or stolen. From a centralized dashboard companies can:
- Add devices
- Track the location of devices enrolled in the system
- Manage the users who have the devices
- Set security policies for devices
- Set the required and optional apps employees have on their devices.
- Create a list of apps allowed on the devices
- Control where apps are downloaded from
In addition to those core features, extra features beyond the more inventory-oriented tasks above include:
- Assigning differing security and access levels to accounts
- Enforcing app and OS updates
- Monitoring devices for compliance with app restrictions and security settings
- Deleting content from lost devices
- Erasing entire devices (only for devices the company itself owns, not personal devices)
Having a bird’s eye view of all devices within the company gives companies a way to prevent data breaches and mitigate issues when they inevitably do happen.
Imagine if your wireless network was hacked and spreading malware around your company via any computer or device connected to it. An MDM would allow you to quickly switch everyone to a new, secure network and block access to the old one.
How an MDM helps your business
We have identified four main benefits to businesses using MDM software:
- New employees are onboarded quickly with apps and settings like Wi-Fi passwords pre-loaded on devices
- Departing employees are offboarded quickly by removing company data and apps, even on personal devices (BYOD)
- Repetitive tasks are cut down, such as telling employees what apps to install
- Locate lost devices quickly, and erase them if they can’t be recovered
- Avoid needing to manually audit and check devices for malware, weak passcodes, and compliance with company security policies.
- Mandated apps give employees consistent toolkits and communication tools
- Everyone using the same app cuts file sharing issues down to zero
- Overall workflow efficiency increases
- Time-sucking social apps are blacklisted from company devices
- Reduce “shadow IT” where employees use tools IT hasn’t approved
- Standardize and enforce security policies
- Block apps from unofficial app stores
- Locate lost or stolen devices and lock them
- Delete lost or stolen devices
- Monitoring for rooted devices with basic manufacturer security bypassed
- Be a component of meeting regulatory standards for data protection
- Show other businesses you work with that you have security and compliance standards in place
- Get closer to meeting standards for GDPR, ISO 27001, PCI DSS, and others
With an MDM like Sky Work in place, a single manager is able to do all of this without an IT team. Sky Work is configured to take all of the guesswork out of how to use and administer an MDM.
What businesses use an MDM?
Every business has employees using mobile devices, and nearly all of them have some kind of company information on them—even just company email access. All those devices should be managed by an MDM for a solid security foundation. It’s hard to imagine how particular businesses could benefit from deploying an MDM, so we’ve provided some examples below that will give you a sense of the range of use cases.
If there was ever an industry that has pioneered using mobile devices it is this one. Both shipping and trucking companies have a wide variety of critical mobile tools essential to running their business. From handheld package scanners, to communications, to delivery route planning, mobile devices play a crucial role in transporting products.
All of these tools come down to tracking the movements of goods while out on the road. Mobile devices enable this with way-finding maps and inventory tracking functions. An MDM makes sure these devices haven’t been tampered with and have all the correct apps so deliveries get where they’re supposed to.
An MDM can also play a crucial role in driver safety by knowing where devices and drivers are at any given moment. If there is an emergency, an accident, or a driver doesn’t check in an MDM can give first responders a last known position of the driver and devices.
The health care industry is one of the most regulated in the world—especially when it comes to data security. The USA has HIPAA, Canada has PIPEDA, and nearly all countries have similar legislation in place to protect our health data from people who shouldn’t have it, and control who has what kind of access in the first place. These regulations put real pressure on everyone in health care to safely manage devices and data.
Everyone in healthcare from the secretary to the doctors has access to valuable data. This has led to healthcare being the most targeted industry for data hacks. Healthcare professionals need an MDM with secure features that comply with high regulatory standards.
Schools and educational institutions
Students all over the world are using tablets as these modern textbooks are more engaging and desirable than the old ragged textbooks with doodles in them. That desirability is an issue as tablets go missing from theft.
An MDM secures tablets against improper use by restricting apps and browsing, and even disabling functions such as the camera. Devices can be locked when a student takes it home when they shouldn’t, or when the device goes missing—essentially bricking the device.
Walk into a store today and you’re likely to see employees carrying smartphones and tablets. Mobile devices aren’t just for the back office or stockroom. Employees at Foot Locker have company-owned, business only (COBO) mobile phones with access to inventory numbers. More and more stores even let you pay for your items right there while talking with an employee without going to the cash register.
Devices can also be locked down to only allow for certain tools to be installed on them. This prevents employees from checking their social media every time they bring their device out for work purposes.
Not only are staff taking mobile devices all over your city with sensitive data, but these devices face damage from dirt and water. This is a fact of doing business in this industry.
An MDM mandates secure cloud collaboration so that no data is lost when a device is dropped into a sidewalk of wet cement. Locking lost devices prevents the theft of sensitive data belonging to you and your clients.
There was a time, not long ago, when accountants only sat at a desk all day on a single computer. Those days are long over, and the increased number of devices and the vast array of valuable data they store has to be locked down.
All businesses have legislation they must follow for data security, but the accounting world is under close scrutiny because of all the data they must secure. An accounting firm in Vancouver, BC, Canada, must be sure to observe the BC provincial privacy laws (PIPA), as well as the federal laws (PIPEDA) of Canada. One mistake can see an accountant losing their CPA license.
Solutions like Sky Work protect devices, documents, and your entire workflow so sensitive information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
There are few industries with more sensitive, confidential data than law firms. Attorney-client privilege is a cornerstone of justice, and one hack can close a firm. Data leaks come from hackers looking for data to exploit, as well as competing firms who hire digital investigators to hack other firms.
With your own lawyers and investigators with mobile devices, managing those devices and the data on them can make or break cases. Law firms must ensure everyone is using the same apps so data transfer is seamless. Like accounting, Sky Work can secure devices and the entire workflow chain from email to documents, ensuring only the people who should see something can see it.
What is MDM software for? Securing your business
This article looked at the basics of what an MDM is, how MDMs work, what MDMs are used for, and what types of businesses benefit from them. Customers didn’t have huge concerns over their personal data in the past, especially when they paid cash and no records were kept. This is no longer how business is done as every company stores some type of data that a hacker wants to steal and exploit.
Not only do you have legal obligations to protect this data, but also obligations to your customers and clients to protect their data. Protecting it starts with being able to control the devices accessing and storing that data. This is exactly what an MDM will do for your business, and this is exactly why you need to start using one today.