Adapting To Change: Dealing With The Growth Of Consumer Grade Devices In Enterprise Mobility

Matthew Bailey, Senior Technical Consultant at Peak-Ryzex

Over the past 3 years there has been an explosion in the use of consumer grade Android devices for jobs once dominated by Windows Mobile rugged computers. Whilst many companies are attracted to these devices, many also fall short in looking to the future and how to support that device in the field, especially considering the difference between consumer and rugged device lifecycles. Consumer devices are engineered to last around 12-18 months compared to around 5 years for a traditional rugged device, but the implications stretch beyond simply replacing devices when they become End of Life.

The Operating System (OS) is the fundamental part of a device on which all functionality is built. OS upgrades on rugged devices are usually minimal, minor patches can be applied through a Mobile Device Management (MDM) platform and many customers never upgrade the OS through the lifecycle of the device. Conversely, consumer OS’ are very fluid and even during the device lifecycle a lot can change.

For a start, security policies insist that a device is fully up to date to ensure sensitive company data is kept secure, and application developers will always try to encourage upgrades so they can add new functionality. To further complicate matters, if a device is destroyed or stolen and a new device is purchased, it will normally come with the latest OS, which means that your applications need to fully support this as well as legacy OS. Whilst upgrading your OS is often a necessity, it can cause considerable problems for your IT team if this is not properly managed.

Device downtime is also an important consideration – OS upgrades on consumer devices download directly from the device manufacturer servers; these can be large upgrades and can take several hours to complete. With no management or plan in place, you could easily fracture your estate and end up with no working devices. You could also end up with several different OS versions to support at a large cost to your IT helpdesk.

Control is the key, with today’s Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) and Mobile Device Management (MDM) platforms you can disable the OS upgrades to give your business the power and control to decide when, how and if to upgrade. Careful planning needs to be undertaken to ensure that with OS upgrades you are left with a fully functional business tool – applications, communication and security all need to be considered.

Testing is also fundamental to a successful deployment, and application and OS upgrades should be treated in the same way. Once you have completed testing, plan ‘how it’s going to happen’ – for instance, a large upgrade over a 3G network is going to take a long time, will run up a large data cost and leave the user without a working device.

The rapid growth of consumer grade devices in enterprise mobility provides considerable technical challenges and the trend is showing no signs of slowing down. However, careful management can help your device estate stay ahead of the curve, and prepared for what the future might bring.

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