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IT trembles over mobile management

There is a widespread lack of confidence among IT professionals in their ability to deliver consistent mobile service levels. Yet even as IT struggles to get its arms around the devices and network services already in place, the size and diversity of the enterprise mobile population continues to mushroom. The good news is that there are mobility management tools and services galore. Still, most attack just one or two pieces of the mobility puzzle. How do you fit them together? How many overlay solutions can you support?

Last week, Osterman Research published the results of a survey of IT decision makers in 125 cross-industry, North American organizations with an average of 15,000 employees. Its research, sponsored by mobile troubleshooting software provider Zenprise, indicated that 60% of IT departments lack confidence that their mobile platforms are fully protected against downtime and that 33% don’t offer any mobile uptime service-level agreements (SLA).

Indeed, providing availability and performance guarantees for a cellular service is tricky. How can you really offer one? After all, a third party owns and runs the network and doesn’t offer you visibility into it. And your users might be roaming pretty much anywhere.

In traditional wired WAN services, equipment and users are fixed. You can partner with the service provider for visibility into the known network elements through a customer portal or use a managed network service. But in the wireless world, if a roaming user has trouble, is it because there’s no coverage where he is at the moment? The device’s battery has gone kaput? There’s a worm or virus in the OS or an application? A messaging server is down?

As IT wrestles with these questions, Osterman expects employer-supplied mobile devices to double from 23% of the workforce in 2008 to 46% of the workforce in 2011. So it’s clear that managing the mobile user experience is only getting more important and complex as time marches on.

It’s a bit of a job to sort out the specific capabilities of the respective services and tools available to help you. They are cropping up from a diverse cross section of suppliers. Among them are companies in the following disciplines:

* PC software and security (Microsoft, McAfee, Symantec, et al)

* Telecom expense management (Cellution, MDSL, Rivermine, Tangoe)

* Mobile messaging handset makers and messaging service providers (RIM, Good)

* Newer mobile device management (MDM) specialists with software tools and services (Boxtone, Perlego, MFormation, mindWireless, Movera, Zenprise)

* Mobile network operators (Sprint)

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