Mobile Device Management – A Big Concern for Small Businesses

By Omer Faiyaz, (February 18, 2014)

Thanks to the “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) trend (employees using personal mobile phones and tablets to conduct business), over the past few years, many large companies have created policies to govern personal device use and developed a support infrastructure to address related hardware and software issues. It makes business sense to accommodate employee device preferences since it can enhance productivity, and policies and support can reduce corporate risks. Developers have answered the call with comprehensive, enterprise-level mobile device management (MDM) solutions.

But in the small and medium business (SMB) space as well as at the consumer level, similar productivity and risk issues are present, but in most cases, there are no formal policy or support resources to address them. For an SMB leader (or head of household who wants to manage multiple mobile devices), this poses several problems. Without a simple, intuitive device management solution, it’s difficult to control usage, improve productivity and ensure security. This means four basic needs remain unmet:

  • Maintenance – provision of approved applications, upgrades and support
  • Control – the ability to ensure appropriate usage (e.g., blocking social media at pre-set times)
  • Security – regular updates of virus and malware protection
  • Sharing – a way to securely share files between coworkers or family members

Larger enterprises have the resources, technology tools and staff to meet these requirements. But even though the need is just as pressing for SMBs and families, they lack a comprehensive solution to address these four needs. Currently, SMBs tend to rely on Software-as-a-Service solutions such as Google Apps to share documents. For many small businesses, this is a less-than-ideal solution because it’s not as customizable and effective as the sharing resources larger companies can offer to their employees.

When it comes to control issues in the SMB space, the interests of managers and employees may be in conflict because, as the device owner, the employee naturally feels entitled to control device use. It’s not merely a question of ownership: Mobile devices are now an essential part of personal communications and even a core component of the user’s identity – mobile devices are deeply personal in a way that a desktop phone never was, and employers intrude on that relationship at their peril.

But at the same time, employers are rightly concerned about productivity and security issues around the use of personal devices. Consumers are notoriously lax about updating their security software and taking basic precautions to protect the data their devices contain. A data breach is obviously a risk to the device owners, but if they also use their devices for business, vital company information and client data could be compromised, and the employer clearly has a stake in reducing that risk.

The working condition of devices and their use during business hours are also legitimate concerns for SMB employers. A malfunctioning device can impede employees’ productivity and make them unavailable to clients. Excessive use of the device for content downloads or personal activities such as social media and gaming can also have a negative impact on operations. So what’s the answer? The best way to strike a balance between employees’ and employers’ legitimate, conflicting concerns is for employers to offer something of value to employees in exchange for ceding some control.

An SMB or consumer-level MDM application that could address the four basic needs by providing a simple way to maintain the device, implement reasonable usage controls, ensure downloading of the latest security protections and enable sharing would be an ideal solution – providing something of value to employees while also giving employers the tools they need. MDM is a big concern for small businesses, and also for families. An MDM app designed with their unique needs in mind would go a long way toward leveling the playing field with larger competitors.

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