Mobile is changing so fast, it's hard for management vendors to keep up
IT shops have by now been wresting with the demands of the bring your own device (BYOD) demand for several years, at least back to the introduction of the iPhone five years ago.
As with most complex technologies, it has taken more technology -- in the form of Mobile Device Management (MDM) or, more recently, Mobile Application Management, (MAM) for example -- to help organize the complexity.
"IT is still challenged by BYOD and MDM," Gartner analyst Phillip Redman told Computerworld. "They don't see any clear way to do that. They are trying to figure out policy, device strategies and app strategies. Devices also change so frequently -- just look at the iPad. There are still a lot of questions in the marketplace around all of this."
Redman predicted it will be several more years before a majority of enterprises have a better grip on BYOD and related demands. "It's a whole change in the way enterprises think about devices -- and PCs too," he said.
Redman said it's not so much that there's confusion when picking among more than 100 device management vendors, with some recently attaching application management capabilities. The bigger issue is how the enterprise and the device management vendor, once selected, plan to keep up with changes in mobile operating systems and architectures.
"If a new OS is popular, then MDM's ability can be pushed back," he said. "If Windows 8 grows or a thin client like Chrome grows or there's a new version of iPhone that's difficult for IT to support, who knows how effective the MDM will be?"
The effectiveness of device management, even with 10 top vendors selling 80% of the software, "could be moving backwards and forwards," as time progresses, Redman said, based on those market changes in OSes and devices.
One thing that could make things simpler for IT decision-makers in 2013 is consolidation among MDM vendors that is expected to accelerate as time goes on.
Citrix announced in December plans to buy Zenprise to round out its mobile management offering, following Research in Motion's purchase of Ubitexx in May for iOS and Android device management. Likewise, traditional systems management vendor BMC Software in January announced plans to purchase Numara Software, Redman noted.
Theoretically, fewer device management vendors could make is easier to sort through their software offerings, but there is also the possibility that existing customers for a smaller vendor could see major changes with a new buyer in charge, analysts noted.
Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, called the Citrix purchase of Zenprise "the beginning of the end for standalone device management vendors. With more acquisitions to come, those left behind will fade away."
He pointed to Symantec's purchase of Odyssey Software in May as an example of a large, established company enlarging its mobile management portfolio.
Aside from assessing MDM, IT shops will probably want to consider mobile application management in tandem with MDM. Some vendors argue that it makes more sense to manage applications than to manage devices, but Citrix and others seem to have decided it will provide management software for both.
As a result, the pathway for making IT decisions could suddenly grow much more complex -- and confusing.
How long will the confusion last? Longer than 2013, but not forever, some think.
"In five to 10 years, IT may no longer have to think about the consumerization of IT," Redman said. "In the future, IT will change the way they distribute data, with more of it in the cloud, so that the emphasis will be less on devices. Over the next few years, IT will not be needing to have to deal with these problems."
Redman does have some more concrete predictions for 2013, including growth in dual personalities on smartphones and tablets that separate corporate from personal data. With the two kinds of data separated, IT shops can wipe off the corporate data without affecting personal information.
Some end users balk at such an approach, requiring their consent before IT can move ahead. "But dual personalities on phones add more value to the user, protecting the personal side of a device," Redman said.
BlackBerry is expected to add the dual personality technology to BlackBerry 10 smartphones coming Jan. 30. Even with that capability added, there will still be concerns about BlackBerry's health overall. Redman predicted BlackBerry will "remain relevant for its security and physical keyboard, but will still decline [in popularity] over the next two years."
Also on the radar for 2013 will be more demands by enterprises for buying up buckets of data from carriers to be used across many different wireless devices, Redman said. Most carriers that sell sharing plans still don't allow an open-ended data sharing plan that works like a water utility, where customers are just charged for what they use, something Redman favors.
BlackBerry has a lot of hurdles to cross to stage a comeback but one in particular might be especially tough to overcome: the operators. My experience getting started with the Z10 shows AT&T, at least, doesn't seem to find the Z10 a priority.
But uptake has slowed.