Hello and welcome to another edition of “What Is:____?” our (sorta) bi-monthly blog where we take complicated IT topics and break them down in plain English.

This time out, we’ll be looking at mobile device management or MDM. MDM has rapidly become a hot topic in the IT world, especially since COVID pushed everyone out of offices – and into the nebulous waters of remote or hybrid work.

As workforces become less reliant on centralized offices and BYOD culture becomes more standardized across the world, companies need to stay alert to the growing cybersecurity threat that this changing dynamic poses.

In 2024, every business should have some sort of mobile device management. In this article, we’ll cover the basics of MDM – what it is, why you need it, and some tips for implementing good MDM.

What is Mobile Device Management?

Mobile Device Management is exactly what it sounds like – it’s the overarching management of your company’s mobile device usage. That’s everything from you sending emails from the comfort of your bed to freelancers thousands of miles away accessing your Dropbox files.

Usually, MDM is associated with software that enables IT administrators to control, secure, and enforce policies on mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, and other endpoints, but it’s really much bigger than that. Like almost everything we cover in this blog, MDM is an IT methodology as much as it is the nuts and bolts of hardware and software.

We’re going to contradict ourselves right away and say that while MDM is an overarching IT code of conduct, so to speak, the software really is the crucial element here. MDM software is a crucial part of enterprise mobility management (EMM) and unified endpoint management (UEM), providing a centralized solution to manage all endpoint devices.

MDM software includes tools for mobile application management (MAM), identity and access management, and enterprise file sync and share as well, which optimizes the functionality and security of mobile devices while protecting the corporate network. Lots of acronyms! Maybe we’ll do a post breaking down some of these most common IT initialisms here soon.

Who Needs Mobile Device Management?

As we stated earlier, practically any company in 2024 needs MDM. Considering how many people are now accessing your company’s files remotely, from various parts of the world, it’s critical that you make sure your MDM is tight and secure. A failure to manage your mobile users’ access to your company is a recipe for disaster.

Organizations of all sizes – from your local deli to IBM – need MDM to ensure the security and proper management of these devices. And it’s industry agnostic, too.

With over 92% of people accessing the internet via mobile devices, we need to accept that IT extends far beyond the reach of your office. When it comes to accessing the internet, most people are doing it from home, on their phones, no matter your industry or standing.

How Mobile Device Management Works

How does an MDM service actually work? Well, it functions as a sort of gatekeeper for traffic to and from your business. The MDM gatekeeper scans users to make sure they have the correct credentials to pass through your firewalls. If not – terminated! (Just kidding. They’ll only be denied access.)

In practice, an MDM plan is put into action via endpoint software called an MDM agent, which uses a cloud-based MDM server – all of which are supplied by a managed services provider. IT administrators configure policies through the MDM server’s management console, which then pushes these policies over the air to the MDM agent on the device.

The MDM agent applies the policies to the device by communicating with APIs built directly into the device operating system. This restricts or gives access to specific devices, based on the end user’s credentials.

Key Elements of Mobile Device Management

MDM is not just a cybersecurity protocol, however. There’s plenty of other benefits that you can get from effective MDM. You may even see efficiency improvements as you directly connect with your user base’s devices.

Here’s some key areas where MDM can make things easier and more efficient for your business:

  • Device enrollment for onboarding new devices and setting security policies.
  • Predefined user profiles for quicker onboarding.
  • Device inventory and tracking throughout the mobile device lifecycle.
  • Self-service features for end users to resolve common IT issues.
  • App management, including distributing, updating, and removing apps.
  • Integration with mobile threat defense (MTD) solutions to prevent malware attacks.
  • Device hardware features control, such as restricting camera usage and access to public Wi-Fi.
  • Content management to secure organizational content on mobile devices.
  • Device location management via GPS and remote wipe for lost or stolen devices.
  • Password enforcement and data encryption enforcement to protect against data compromises​​.

Key Players In Mobile Device Management?

Who are the key players in your organization’s MDM? Well, it depends.

If you have an internal team, it may be your IT team lead, whoever that is. If you are working with an external vendor, your account manager will be the main SPOC for all of your MDM-related needs. Ultimately, who is involved in MDM at your business depends on your business and your needs.

When it comes to providers, the businesses in the MDM market include the likes of Microsoft, Jamf, VMware, and Cisco. As you’d expect, these titans offer a lot of MDM support at various tiers to meet their various customers’ needs.

What Goes Into A Good MDM Plan?

A robust MDM plan should include:

  • Comprehensive Mobile Device Policy: This policy should outline acceptable use, security, data protection, and app usage guidelines for mobile devices in the organization, including external and personal devices. Everyone needs to know the ins and outs of this policy – internal employees and freelancers alike. It’s important to regularly review and communicate this policy to all employees.
  • MDM Platform: Choose an MDM solution that can manage and secure both corporate-owned and BYOD devices. The platform should enable remote wipe, device usage monitoring, and automated security updates.
  • Clear Usage Policies For Company Devices: Document rules about data usage, roaming, and international calling. These policies should be part of the overall mobile device policy.
  • Establish Secure Configuration Standards: Set devices to receive security updates over the air (OTA), enforce strong passwords, ensure encrypted storage for data security, and implement automated device locking.
  • Negotiate with MDM Providers: Work with your MDM providers to choose the right corporate plan that offers the most savings for your organization. They are usually open to negotiation, so get the best price.
  • Train Employees on Mobile Device Security: Provide training on best practices for securing personal devices, as well as the security of corporate-owned devices. This training should cover the importance of securing corporate data and the consequences of non-compliance.
  • Offer BYOD-Specific Security Training: If your organization relies on employees using their own devices, provide training that focuses on protecting corporate data on personal devices without compromising personal data.
  • Regularly Monitor and Update MDM Policies: Ongoing management and monitoring are crucial for maintaining the effectiveness of the MDM solution and adapting to evolving security threats and business needs.

When it comes to your business’ security and efficiency, an MDM plan is absolutely essential in today’s mobile-first work world.

Considering how many people are using mobile devices to interact with your company’s precious data on a daily basis, you need to draw a line around what is and isn’t acceptable for your employees.

A robust MDM plan – complete with an MDM provider and central hub where you can control and maintain your MDM systems – will set your company up for success both now and in the future. Just make sure you constantly check in on it and make any changes you may need!