The rise of mobility and fall of the traditional network perimeter presents a wealth of customer engagement opportunities for Australian channel partners that are prepared to look beyond simply managing the usual suspects.
Once the next big thing in mobility, mobile device management (MDM) has become commoditised to the point where many solutions basically throw it in for free. To stay ahead of the game, managed services providers have expanded the concept of MDM to encompass much more – offering a wider range of services for a much broader range of devices.
Traditional MDM – applied to mobile devices like smartphones and tablets – manages features such as configuration, security and location tracking. With the rise of the iPhone and other consumer-focused smart devices, MDM became an important tool for keeping a diverse fleet of handsets in order.
Beyond this, Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) expands MDM to cover mobile application, content and identity management. This includes managing secure encrypted containers on devices, which are particularly useful for striking the right balance when managing a bring-your-own-device program. EMM offers the ability to remotely delete sensitive business apps and data without the need to completely wipe the device.
Unified Endpoint Management (UEM) then expands this EMM concept to cover a much wider range of endpoints, from smartphones, tablets and PCs to printers, wearables and IoT devices. This offers a more holistic view of the business’ distributed technology assets, managing all endpoints via “a single pane of glass”.
The basic mobile device management market is “a race to zero”, says George Deligiannoudis – chief executive of Melbourne mobility managed services provider MobiliseIT.
“My number one advice is that the channel should look towards migrating all of their customers from MDM to EMM and UEM as fast as possible, this is something that they should have been doing yesterday,” Deligiannoudis says.
“MDM is so heavily commoditised that if a partner goes through the hard work of selling just an MDM platform into a customer then there’s a risk that competing platforms will offer that service free of charge and cut them out of the picture.”
The rise of the internet of things presents channel partners with an opportunity to take their mobility strategy to the next level and strengthen their relationship with customers, Deligiannoudis says.
“IoT isn’t five or 10 years away, for many business it’s actually today and tomorrow,” he says. “UEM is a key point on that IoT roadmap, not just to manage more devices but to underpin a complete digital transformation strategy.”
“In return, this transition also increases a channel partner’s stickiness and gives them more touch points with the customer.”
The challenges of managing IoT, while ensuring that it delivers value, present opportunities for channel partners to become more involved, says Roman Surkis – strategic sales product manager with Melbourne telecommunications provider Star21.
Beyond supplying and managing devices, customers are demanding more insights from the channel, Surkis says. This includes help structuring business use cases and seeing where the business can better utilise technology, improve security and save money.
“As part of this, channel partners need to broaden their idea of mobility far beyond the traditional mobile computing devices,” he says. “IoT devices and SIMs are everywhere, and they need to be well-managed in order for businesses to see the full benefits.”
“For example, we’re working with councils which count rubbish bins and poles amongst their IoT devices, and we’re not just helping keep track of these but also helping to make the most of those investments.”
Gartner senior director analyst Manjunath Bhat agrees that core MDM functionality has become commoditised and that channel players need to think bigger in order to offer value.
The channel needs to take a three-pronged approach to mobility, Bhat says, beginning by shifting the focus from managing the device to enhancing the employee experience.
“The second prong is to expand mobile security into Mobile Threat Defense, which incorporates complying with regulations such as auditing requirements,” he says.
“Thirdly, a mobility strategy needs to strike the right balance between protecting the business and protecting end-user privacy.”
As part of this changing approach to mobility, Bhat says businesses are shifting from a traditionally controlled network perimeter to a perimeter-less work environment in which “identity becomes the new perimeter”.
This requires new approaches to managing devices and access.
While mobility efforts began by focusing on mobile workforces, Bhat says the potential for mobility to boost frontline worker productivity remains mostly untapped.
By 2020, Gartner predicts that 30 percent of mobile and endpoint resources within companies will be dedicated to enabling frontline workers, up from less than 10 per cent today.
“Statistically, frontline workers constitute about 70 per cent of the workforce, but have been largely underserved by technology,” Bhat says.
“This category of frontline workers includes any role from hotel reception and an airline service desk to paramedics on the move or bedside medical professionals.”
From a channel perspective, this means that future customer engagements are less likely to be with the customer’s CIO and more likely to be with business heads.
“Enabling business unit frontline worker productivity will be fundamental to digital transformation of enterprises,” Bhat says. “In many companies we’re seeing a consolidated value stream where IT is really embedded as part of the business unit itself, which changes the way the channel interacts with that company.”
“The ‘digital workplace’ was historically internal-focused, driven by the CIO to enable internal productivity and collaboration. Meanwhile, the ‘digital business’ is all about enabling the enterprise, preparing them for the outside world and how they interface with customers.”
This shift is also seeing businesses think beyond smartphone productivity apps to consider new interfaces, which creates application development opportunities for channel players that can also think beyond smartphones.
“We see this in the enterprise, especially for frontline workers,” Bhat says. “For example, workers on a manufacturing assembly line might need to access information in real time but can’t easily context switch from the task at hand.”
“This is where tools like AI, personal assistants and augmented reality can prove their worth, such as using something like Vuzix – an enterprise version of Google Glass – to provide frontline workers with contextual information without the need to stop what they’re doing.”
As handheld mobility matures, businesses are thinking about how augmented and virtual reality, along with AI and voice interfaces, can figure into their overall strategy, says Adam Kennedy – executive director at Melbourne mobile strategy and development company Outware Mobile, part of the Arq Group.
“When you’re ready to take things to the next level and look beyond traditional mobile application development, I think the big opportunities are being driven by increased usage of data and machine learning,” Kennedy says.
“The good news for the channel is that it doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to these technologies.”
Channel players can draw on a wealth of mature, scalable cloud-based tools and services from the likes of Amazon, Microsoft and Google. Along with machine learning, these tools include machine vision, natural language processing and speech recognition.
“You can create really unique experiences for your customers by leveraging those services and bringing those different components together,” Kennedy says.
“For the channel, it’s not just about understanding these technologies but also knowing how to leverage them and how to help your customers make the most of them.”