Mobile Device Management Strategy: Tips for Retail CIOs

Before you implement mobile technology across your retail enterprise, be sure to address the need for a robust mobile device management solution.

Does your retail company have plans to implement mobile POS (or to leverage mobile technology for any purpose)? If so, device and application management will become an important strategic consideration for your executive team.

Even if mPOS isn't yet on your radar, mobile device management (MDM) is still something to give it a serious thought. Like it or not, your business information is almost certainly going mobile anyhow, being caught up in the ever-rising tide of the shadow IT (unsanctioned use of personal mobile devices for work-related purposes).

So if you're ready to take control of mobile technology in your retail operations, here are some of the things you should know about MDM before you go ahead and put plans in place.

The Rise of Retail Mobility

According to a research by Boston Retail Partners, 84% of retailers intend to implement mobile POS (mPOS) within the next three years, and many larger retailers have already begun to deploy mobile solutions in their stores.

As retailers increasingly prioritize mPOS and other mobile solutions, they face challenges which other sectors are already meeting through mobile device management software. In fact, such software is maturing, and many solutions now integrate device, application, content, and information management.

However, retail mobility requires that device management extends beyond technology solutions. If you're to manage your employees' mobile devices effectively, MDM should incorporate sound policies, processes, and rules, to be communicated across the business before technology is applied to operationalize them.

The Need to Address MDM Early

Ideally, the decisions should all be made before your mobile enterprise strategy is implemented. This is because some other aspects of your mobile strategy will depend on your approach to MDM.

When taking advantage of mobile app development services, for example, it will be extremely helpful for the developers to know what MDM solution you plan to put in place and how you intend to use it. They will then be able to build your custom apps to go as nicely as possible with your MDM platform.

Of course, in order to start formulating specific MDM requirements, you should understand the general enterprise mobility aspects to fall under the auspices of your solution.

Essential MDM Capabilities

As a required minimum, your MDM strategy (and the technical solution that supports it) should ensure the following capabilities:

  • Device configuration
  • Device provisioning
  • Security
  • Support
  • Monitoring and reporting
  • Device decommissioning

Let's move on now to take a look at each of these areas in a little more detail.

Mobile Device Configuration

The size of your retail organization, the workforce headcount, the number of retail outlets you operate - all these factors will influence the number of mobile devices to be deployed and managed (or just managed if you decide to embrace BYOD).

If that number is more than a handful, configuring them all in accordance with your mobile policies will be an unwieldy and time-consuming exercise. Therefore, your MDM solution should enable centralized configuration, for your IT team to manage all relevant tasks remotely.

Provisioning/Commissioning of Mobile Devices

Your MDM policies and software should enable appropriate levels of authority, under which end-users and IT managers can provision smartphones and tablets with apps, whether those are sanctioned consumer-grade apps, custom apps built for your company, or enterprise mobility solutions like mPOS.

For example, you may allow your employees to select and download certain mobile apps from an internal app store, and perhaps even access some degree of self-service support. At the same time, you may wish to place some other apps off-limits or make them subject to provisioning by an authorized manager or administrator.

Device and App Security

While the security of apps and devices should be included in configuration capabilities, your MDM platform and policies should also allow for immediate security actions to be taken under certain prescribed circumstances. This might include erasing device data when users quit their job at your company, or in the event that a device is lost or stolen.

The need for immediacy in the case of lost or stolen devices is particularly acute, as around a quarter of data breaches taking place since 2006 have resulted from devices falling into malicious hands, according to statistics published by SC Media.

Breach Types since 2006Source: SC Media - Lost devices leading cause of data breaches, report

While 25.3% may not seem like such a high figure, it's sufficient to highlight lost and stolen devices as the primary cause of data breaches, so the ability to erase data remotely—and quickly—is paramount for the protection of your company, staff, and especially your customers.

End-user Support

Your mobile technology administrators should have the capability to provide help desk functions, remote support, and troubleshooting for staff using mobile devices. Ideally, your MDM solution should enable system-alert responses directly from a centralized dashboard.

Monitoring and Reporting Capabilities

The ability to keep tabs on your employees' device use is another critical element of an MDM strategy and platform. It should be possible to monitor and report on the following conditions:

  • Device inventory, with visibility of individual device statuses
  • Device "fleet" and individual usage statistics
  • Device locations
  • Mobile application inventory

Ideally, your platform should be able to deliver alerts and notifications, so administrators can quickly be made aware of situations requiring attention.

Remote Decommissioning

At some point, the lifecycle of every mobile device comes to end, or at least, its utility as an enterprise asset becomes eclipsed by newer, superior devices. At that point, the device becomes a potential liability to your business if the end of its lifecycle is not managed.

That's why your MDM solution should allow administrators to audit, cleanse, and decommission devices when their useful life comes to a close. As with all other capabilities discussed here, you'll want your system administrators to be able to perform these decommissioning tasks remotely, without having to get hands-on with each device.

Keep Your OS Options Open

The capabilities discussed above should really be considered as a minimum standard for the management of mobile applications and devices in retail. They are also just a sample of the things you will need to consider before deployment. Once you have set out a strategy, you should be able to create a detailed list of requirements for an MDM software solution.

Among the important things to consider is the operating system you will implement or support in your retail mobility initiative.

In any case, it will pay to implement a platform-agnostic MDM system, even if you choose to issue corporate mobile devices rather than implement the "bring-your-own-device" regime. After all, you never know when you may wish to change the hardware strategy or switch mobile operating systems.

Beyond MDM: Enterprise Mobility Management Systems (EMM)

If your IT budget allows, and you're serious about mobilizing the workforce in your retail enterprise, you may want to consider a solution that integrates MDM with other aspects of mobile technology management.

EMM_Digital_Business_2Source: Gartner - Unlock Digital Business opportunities using EMM capabilities

If so, the answer may lie with an EMM platform, which will enable you to regulate and standardize the use of all types of mobile devices, including non-traditional hardware such as scanners and terminals (used for POS and inventory control) and even customer self-service stations.

Don't Go Mobile Without an MDM Strategy

If your company isn't yet considering mPOS or making inroads into mobility otherwise, you might think that there's little need for a mobile device management strategy, but as a retail CEO or CIO, you still need to give it serious consideration.

You see, even if you aren't planning to mobilize your operation, the chances are that it's already mobilized to some extent.

Can you be sure your managers and staff aren't using personal mobile devices to access your business information solutions? Actually that's a rhetorical question, because you can never be sure. In fact, you can be almost certain that your company is as susceptible to "shadow IT" as every other company out there.

By implementing an MDM strategy and platform, you can take a huge step towards taking control of mobile IT use in your organization, and what's more, when you're ready to establish sanctioned mobility measures, a number of your prerequisites will already be taken care of.

Is MDM on Your IT Wish list?

So what will you do? Do you see the value of implementing a mobile device management solution in your retail operation, or would you only consider implementing MDM alongside an mPOS or a similar type of a retail mobility solution? We love to hear from our readers, so please share your views using the comments section below.

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