As mobile devices become ever more ubiquitous among professionals, enterprises are coming to realize that internal systems for managing and supporting these resources no longer suffice. As a result, enterprises are turning to wireless expense management providers to make sure policies are upheld, costs are kept under control, and users get the support they need to work efficiently.
TMCnet caught up with Jim Carroll (News - Alert), executive vice president of global wireless services at Rivermine, a wireless expense management firm, to find out more about the ways enterprises struggle with internal systems for tracking and supporting mobile devices, and how an outsourced solution can help.
Carroll started off by saying that “wireless device management” refers to tracking and supporting voice and data products (think smartphones), and also wireless cards/modems. Some people would include pagers in this definition, but such products are largely obsolete.
“Wireless device management is any activity that involves the wireless device from cradle to grave — from the initial acquisition all the way to the disposal of the device at the end of its life,” Carroll said.
The Challenge of Device Management
Regardless of how large a company is, internal wireless device management largely falls on the shoulders of the IT department, which often doesn’t have the resources or expertise to provide efficient support for mobile devices.
Carroll said that full-lifecycle device management involves three stages: demand management, maintenance and support, and cleaning and recycling.
Demand management consists of making sure that users are equipped with the most appropriate devices for their needs while keeping costs to the enterprise as low as possible. An IT department typically manages this, and the maintenance of devices once they’re in service, with a ticket system (as with laptops) or with a collection of spreadsheets. Neither is very efficient and, without clear policies in place, it’s easy for users to end up acquiring more wireless devices than they should be, or getting more advanced devices than they need.
The next stage in the device management lifecycle is maintenance and support. When using enterprise-owned devices, users typically don’t have access to wireless carrier reps, so they fall back on the IT department for assistance with everything from rate/service plan changes to software installation.
Software installation for smartphones can be quite time-consuming, Carroll noted, since these devices must now be maintained the same way as laptops and desktops, with frequent security updates to keep data protected and clean.
“Without some outside solution, wireless device management at best becomes a help-desk scenario in most IT groups,” Carroll told TMCnet. “This can be somewhat problematic, because IT staff may not have the expertise to answer certain questions. As a result, questions get delayed or, worse, unanswered altogether.”
In many cases, the help-desk function for supporting wireless devices overwhelms the IT department.
Another problem is that IT departments often aren’t equipped to efficiently handle billing. Enterprises tend to lose a lot of money because users obtain features that aren’t of benefit to the company, or because of invoice errors on the carrier side (corporate discounts not being applied, for example).
Finally, there is the last stage of a wireless device’s lifecycle: cleaning and recycling. Cleaning here refers to deleting sensitive data from devices so they can be reused or safely disposed of without fear that company data gets into the wrong hands.
“End of lifecycle for wireless devices is kind of a new issues that many enterprises are discovering, particularly now that smartphones have become more prolific,” Carroll said. “These devices are starting to die, and there is the question about what to do with them at the end of their lifecycle. The worst-case scenario is sticking them in a drawer.”
While leaving unused devices in a drawer can be problematic because they might still be getting charged access fees, security is the bigger concern.
“The new hot topic is how to clean these devices when they’ve reached the end of their lifecycle — having a process for doing that,” Carroll said.
The Role of Wireless Expense Management
Given all these challenges, it’s no wonder that many enterprises are seeking outside help to more efficiently manage their wireless devices. This is where a company like Rivermine (News - Alert) comes in with a variety of tools and services.
Carroll said the first step toward effective wireless expense management is bringing all mobile devices under control of the enterprise — what he called “corporate liability.” Until the enterprise has full ownership of devices, it is not possible to fully and efficiently manage wireless resources.
“Once the enterprise has made that step, a company like Rivermine comes in with demand management solutions through online portals that provide a self-help procurement tool for the employees,” Carroll told TMCnet.
Employees can then go online and use the portal to select from a variety of carriers that the enterprise has agreements with, and are restricted to purchasing items that the company has made available through its policies. This may even be restricted depending on the employee’s role in the company.
“The tool also requires electronic approval from one or multiple levels of managers before a device can be ordered,” Carroll said.
A self-help demand management tool like this greatly relieves the burden on the IT department, since it can be allowed to run “hands-off,” with policies efficiently flowing through it unassisted. Rivermine further enhances this capability by offering its own help desk services so that, when devices are ordered by an enterprise’s employees, they’re first delivered to Rivermine for what Carroll called “kitting and testing.” Software is installed and each device is evaluated to make sure it complies with specs defined by the enterprise. Then, devices are activated with the enterprise’s server and delivered to end-users.
Rivermine’s help desk services go beyond just kitting and testing.
“Our help desk is strictly wireless, and can act as Tier 1, 2 or 3 level support for enterprise end-users when they have questions about their devices,” Carroll said.
For example, a user might be traveling internationally and need to know if his or her wireless device will work overseas. Rivermine’s help desk staff are trained to answer questions like that.
Demand management and help desk are only two aspects of wireless expense management. Another major component is billing. Here, Rivermine provides two broad services. First, billing data is audited and optimized to make sure the enterprise client is paying the minimum they are supposed to based on contracts with carriers. Second, Rivermine’s tool provides reporting information to managers and end-users. This information is made available so usage can be managed, and abuse dealt with.
Finally, at the end of the wireless expense management lifecycle, Rivermine provides “cleaning” services — removing sensitive data and preparing devices to be reused by the enterprise if they still have usefulness. If not, the devices can be recycled so they don’t end up in a landfill.
Carroll concluded by saying that wireless expense management doesn’t just make life easier for enterprises; carriers also find that things work more smoothly when a company like Rivermine acts as a buffer between the two parties
“We hear from carriers that things work more efficiently for them when enterprises use a wireless device management solution,” he said.
To learn more about the tools and services available to help enterprises efficiently manage mobile devices, please visit the Wireless Expense Management channel on TMCnet.com, brought to you by Rivermine.
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Mae Kowalke is senior editor for TMCnet, covering VoIP, CRM, call center and wireless technologies. To read more of Mae's articles, please visit her columnist page. She also blogs for TMCnet here.
Edited by Mae Kowalke