Why you should embrace the cost of mobile

Compared to the extra labor companies get from workers, mobile management expenses are trivial

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Yes, your costs will vary, but no matter what they are, you'll still come out ahead -- unless you lock down mobile devices so much that people don't use them, as some security pros would prefer. Nonuse is always the best security method.

Using mobile management to get even more out of mobile
If you pay attention to most vendors, the be-all, end-all of mobile management is MDM, a "no" technology approach that limits what users can do and access. There's definitely a need to manage information, but MDM is a blunt instrument that should be part of a more nuanced, policy-oriented management framework.

Users work around "no" technologies; they work with "yes" technologies. I know many IT people don't believe this, thinking users have no choice but to accept the prison IT has built for them. But users have a choice. Consider this example a consultant relayed: One large company bought 13,000 MDM licenses to impose strict controls on its BYOD users. All but 800 BYOD users disconnected from the corporate environment, no longer using their mobile devices for work. After all, they were working on their dime and on their time, yet the company penalized them for it. Not only did that free labor disappear, but surely several thousand of them set up autoforwarding of corporate email to personal accounts so that they could continue to work at their convenience, IT be damned.

A recent survey by access-management vendor MokaFive showed another problem with the "no" approach to mobile management: intrusive snooping on and control over employees. In fact, 77 percent of IT pros -- not users, but the very people who would implement the policies -- surveyed said they strongly disliked MDM due to this police-state approach. They used words like "violated" to describe how they felt. This police-state usage is a recipe for widespread flouting of mobile management policies, even legitimate ones.

One intriguing "yes" technology for mobile is Visage Mobile's MobilityCentral product. At first blush, it looks like an old-fashioned telecom expense management tool, identifying unused data plans, spotting unusual overages, and the like. That would be of interest only to accounting people, but it's much more. MobilityCentral treats mobile plans and devices holistically from a budgeting perspective, so managers can see the actual costs of their employees' mobile plans -- both the ones the company pays for and, depending on your expense reporting software, what the employees are having reimbursed. It also can track devices and plans as they move from person to person, such as for shift work or hand-me-down devices.

OK, so budgetary management sounds like something only an accountant would care about, but that's a shortsighted reaction. "Six months into it, we see people get past the budget compliance activities to seeing patterns of user activity for talent management and for device and communications strategy," says CEO Bzur Haun.

In other words, by understanding where and how users and groups of users (such as by role or location or department) actually work with mobile devices and mobile access, companies can encourage the behavior they want and discourage the behavior they don't, through adjusting the economics. Dashboards let managers see the patterns for their group, and employees can be given access to their patterns.

Most employees and managers have no idea what they're spending or doing with mobile, so they can't act responsibly when it comes to cost management or tailor their mobile strategies to what is actually useful for their work and department. The MobilityCentral dashboards change that.

Such empowerment through information is an approach alien to many companies that centralize expense reporting and hide from employees and departmental managers the gory details until something really goes amiss. But it should be the norm: If employees and managers don't understand or can't even see the implications of their decisions, how do you expect them to make the best choices?

When someone in your company freaks out about the "high" costs of mobile (especially those who also want to impose costly control mechanisms on mobile users), let them know they're being penny-wise and pound-foolish. It's clear the actual costs of mobile enablement are small, and the benefits are huge, especially if you go beyond a control mentality.

This article, "Why you should embrace the cost of mobile," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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