Mobile Device Management (MDM): How It Works, Best Practices, Benefits and Challenges

In a world where mobile devices reign supreme in the workplace, companies need a tool that can help them strike a balance between ensuring device and data security and fueling productivity. Enter mobile device management (MDM) tools that provide a seamless blend of robust security measures and performance-boosting capabilities at your fingertips. This powerful solution enables organizations to enforce security policies on corporate mobile devices while empowering employees to work productively. Our comprehensive blog delves into the world of MDM — concept, features, benefits and best practices — so you can make informed decisions.

What is mobile device management?

Fundamentally, MDM is an IT process implemented using an MDM tool to ensure the efficient and secure management of all mobile devices that have access to corporate data and networks.

Mobile devices like smartphones, laptops and tablets are ubiquitous in the corporate world and preferred over bulky desktops due to the flexibility afforded by their portability. About 71% of IP traffic in 2022 was from wireless and mobile devices, while wired devices accounted for only 29%. However, this very advantage also poses security risks since administrators need to ensure that all the devices and applications get updated with vulnerabilities patched even if the device is being used remotely. Also, what happens if a device gets lost or stolen? While mobile devices used for work are one issue, businesses must also manage their IoT devices, such as access and security systems.

An MDM solution helps businesses address all these security risks while aiding user experience and productivity.

Why is mobile device management important?

Even a small business with only a few hundred employees has thousands of devices connecting to the company’s network and database daily. The average number of devices per person has gone up to 3.6 over the past five years. MDM tools help IT administrators conveniently manage the rapidly expanding world of mobile devices even as resources and budgets for technicians remain the same.
Using an MDM tool, technicians can easily implement security policies on all corporate mobile devices, including users’ personal devices enrolled under the bring your own device (BYOD) program. The solution provides complete visibility into the IT infrastructure and helps technicians discover every device that connects to the network almost instantly. They can then access the device remotely to configure it, deploy security policies, change settings, reset passwords, troubleshoot glitches and even remediate security issues in real time.

Even on a regular day when there aren’t any security threats scaring everyone off, IT administrators have to field tickets from users, patch operating systems and applications, and undertake all sorts of tinkering to ensure the devices stay in top shape. No prizes for guessing that they manage all this with the help of an MDM tool. Moreover, updating applications allows users to benefit from the latest technologies, improving user experience and productivity.

How does mobile device management work?

In the case of new employees joining a company, their work device, whether company-provided or personal, is enrolled in the MDM program. The first step is installing an MDM agent on the device, which can even happen remotely, thus ensuring the device meets security standards and aligns with the company’s policies right from the get-go. Once the MDM agent is in place, the IT department configures the device according to the established security protocols. They install the necessary work applications, set up password requirements and grant user access permissions based on individual profiles.

How does MDM help keep track of policy breaches? The IT team receives alerts whenever a user breaks security protocols by accessing blocklisted applications or websites or when suspicious activity like unauthorized access is detected on the device. Once the alarm goes off, administrators can immediately enact the appropriate security procedure remotely and nip the problem in the bud, shielding the company from potential harm. In the event of a lost or stolen device, the IT department can remotely wipe out sensitive data, ensuring it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

How do the IT teams manage multiple devices at once? They make user groups based on various criteria and access permissions, allowing them to efficiently deploy updates and implement changes across a large group of devices with just a single click.

What is mobile device management software?

MDM software gives companies a way to track all corporate mobile devices centrally. It also helps automate routine tasks, such as patching and monitoring, reducing manual errors and making processes efficient. Some common tasks that IT teams undertake using an MDM are:

  • Remotely managing, monitoring and securing devices and distributing applications, updates and content in a timely fashion.
  • Keeping inventory of all the hardware, software and applications in use because what cannot be seen cannot be managed.
  • Segregating the company network into subnets and spreading the data across them. This lowers internal and external security risks since employees only have access to the necessary data.
  • Providing robust virtual private network (VPN) connection to ensure safe connectivity to home or other networks.
  • Enabling device tracking so data can be recovered or wiped if the device is lost or stolen.
  • Facilitating a flexible work environment for employees so they work from anywhere without a hassle.
  • Boosting employee productivity by facilitating BYOD usage.

Key features to look for in a mobile device management software

Before selecting a mobile device management software, it’s crucial to consider the following key features:

Device and data security

Data encryption is imperative to protect confidential information from unauthorized access and malicious hackers. Data should not only be encrypted when being transmitted but also when stored on the device. Security of devices is equally crucial, which can be enforced by requiring users to set up strong passwords and use biometric access when possible. Despite preventive measures, devices can succumb to security lapses or go missing. For such cases, the MDM solution should have a fail-safe mechanism to remotely wipe out data, so your company’s secrets remain safe regardless of the circumstances.

Application management and integration

Application management involves distributing, configuring and updating work applications across all corporate devices while tracking proper usage. Automated app management helps quickly onboard new users while ensuring current users always have access to the most recent version of their apps. Application management also looks into the fact that only trusted applications get the green light for download. Last but not least, a good MDM solution should be able to harness the power of integration to streamline operations, boost productivity and supercharge your business.

Access management

The goal of access management is to uphold the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data and systems by controlling and regulating access. Your MDM solution should help with:

  • Identity and access management: This entails granting access to devices, data and networks based on user profiles. By defining user roles and permissions, MDM solutions allow administrators to precisely control who can access what, ensuring sensitive information remains protected.
  • Profile management: MDM solutions simplify device enrollment and streamline user roles assignment so IT administrators can efficiently deploy policies to entire user groups, enhancing operational efficiency.
  • Secure network access: MDM solutions bolster network security by implementing VPN technology. This ensures that all data transmitted over the network, whether through home Wi-Fi or public networks, is encrypted, safeguarding it from potential hackers and intruders.

Content management

You should be able to streamline the complete content management lifecycle, from creation to distribution and archival using your MDM solution. Besides granular permissions and access controls that define who can view, edit or share content, your solution should also provide features like version control and document tracking, enabling organizations to track changes, manage revisions and maintain a complete audit trail of content activities. This ensures greater security, data integrity, and swift identification and resolution of content-related issues.

Configuration management

The restrictions and configurations feature in MDM solutions safeguards the security of corporate data and devices while enforcing corporate policies. Your MDM tool should give IT administrators remote management capabilities, enabling them to configure mobile devices based on geographic regions, user profiles and identities, and deploy essential settings, such as VPN and Wi-Fi.

Conversely, restrictions are crucial in setting up devices in single-app or kiosk mode, ensuring they are solely used for productive work and not for personal purposes. The feature enhances productivity and reinforces security by protecting against potential distractions and unauthorized access.

BYOD support

Many companies offer BYOD options for benefits like quick onboarding, increased employee satisfaction and productivity through device freedom. The right MDM solution should help you harness the advantages of BYOD while maintaining control and security. It should enable the implementation of a comprehensive BYOD policy that sets clear expectations and guidelines for promoting efficiency and protecting sensitive data.

Device inventory, monitoring and diagnostics

Device inventory enables efficient tracking of all devices in use, whether company-owned or BYOD. It includes tracking details such as device specifications, location, warranty status and security settings.

Device monitoring capabilities help administrators ensure that work devices are used exclusively for company business, preventing personal usage that can strain network resources. Additionally, location restrictions can be enforced to limit device functionality to defined geographical areas or company networks thus enhancing security.

The device diagnostics feature empowers administrators to remotely detect and troubleshoot devices ensuring uninterrupted productivity.

Remote maintenance, updates and patching

In the era of hybrid work and round-the-clock availability, an MDM solution is vital for enabling over-the-air updates, configurations and device diagnostics. This will help your business minimize downtime and optimize operations at lower costs.

Tech support and training

Before investing in a solution, check if it supports a wide range of devices and operating systems rather than being limited to, let say, Apple devices and iOS operating systems. It’s ideal to have a solution that covers all bases such as Android and Windows solutions too. Secondly, ensure that the vendor can troubleshoot issues remotely, so you don’t have to spend hours dealing with MDM downtime. Lastly, don’t forget to evaluate the product hands-on. By carefully assessing these factors, you can ensure that you make an informed choice and find an MDM solution that aligns with your organization’s needs.

Admin reporting

Reporting plays a crucial role in maintaining data security and monitoring user activity within an MDM solution. It notifies administrators of any suspicious data downloads or uploads, enabling the tracking of potential data breaches and allowing for proactive action before valuable information is compromised. Furthermore, reporting gives administrators visibility into user activity, ensuring compliance with company policies and guidelines.

How does mobile device management compare to similar concepts?

Mobile device management is often confused with similar concepts such as mobile application management (MAM), unified endpoint management (UEM) and enterprise mobility management (EMM). We have demystified the differences between the concepts in this section.

Mobile application management (MAM)

MAM tools were developed in response to employees’ demands for security and privacy when using their own devices at work. In contrast to MDM tools, MAM tools are solely focused on specific applications rather than complete security and management of devices. A MAM solution helps create an enterprise app store, and only the apps within the store are monitored and updated remotely.

Unified endpoint management (UEM)

UEM is the next generation of endpoint management that helps organizations centrally manage and secure all endpoints, including desktops, laptops, mobile devices and IoT devices. It provides visibility and control over all your network devices (SNMP), virtual environments, cloud, mobile and even IoT. This basically enables you to “manage everything,” streamline your IT operations and do more with less. Deploying a UEM tool is easy, and as more devices get added to the network, scaling it is even simpler.

Enterprise mobility management (EMM)

EMM tools are designed to address the growing security needs of companies while accommodating employees’ demands for BYOD access. By seamlessly integrating with network directory services, EMM tools provide a range of benefits, including policy compliance, application customization and data security. One key advantage of EMM is its ability to combine the functionalities of both MDM and MAM tools.

What are the best practices for mobile device management?

Here are a set of best practices to follow to make the most of your MDM tool:

Implement strong policies

Strong policies should encompass rules for device usage, password complexity, data encryption and other relevant aspects. Additionally, organizations must establish policies that specify the criteria for enrolling, updating and managing devices. It’s equally important to have a well-defined plan for removing devices and applications from the network when they are no longer needed or those belonging to the denylist.

Prioritize password security

To enhance security, implement multifactor authentication for all devices and accounts and ensure that users regularly update passwords for each account. Enforce password expiration policies and monitor access attempts to detect any unauthorized activity. It would help to utilize a password manager to store and manage passwords securely. As an additional layer of security, encourage employees to use biometric authentication whenever possible.

Actively monitor devices

Regularly review and manage permissions and settings to keep track of who has access to sensitive information and periodically update access permissions to ensure that only authorized users can access the data. You can significantly reduce the risk of data compromise by limiting the number of applications users can download on their device and ensuring the downloaded applications meet the allowlist criteria.

Utilize a backup solution

Regularly backing up your files and data is crucial to safeguard against technical glitches, crashes or cyberattacks. By having reliable backups, you can quickly restore data and minimize disruptions, ensuring smooth continuity of work for users.

Focus on user experience

Leverage your MDM solution to strike a balance between offering users a seamless experience and effectively monitoring device usage. By maintaining a firm but non-intrusive approach, you can encourage employees to follow policies and work productively.

Update regularly and often

Ensure that your MDM solution, along with all other devices and applications on the network, is regularly patched and updated. Also, keep a close eye on users who delay updating their operating systems, particularly for BYOD devices, since this can create vulnerabilities that cybercriminals are quick to exploit.

What are the benefits of mobile device management?

MDM solutions offer a range of benefits that contribute to the overall success of an organization.

Enhanced security

An MDM solution acts as a shield, defending against unforeseen cyberattacks, bugs and breaches that can compromise the privacy and security of a company’s data and networks.

Since mobile devices are often used for personal purposes as well, creating secure containers to separate company and personal data adds an extra layer of security. By enforcing strict application policies, such as allowlists and denylists, MDM solutions act as gatekeepers against rogue apps. MDM solutions also sniff out jailbreak attempts and identify malware, ensuring your devices remain untainted by malicious forces.

Increased productivity

MDM solutions unlock employee productivity and efficiency from the get-go. With pre-configured devices, users can skip the hassle of setting up their devices or seeking IT assistance. It’s a seamless experience that empowers them to hit the ground running and maximize their work hours. Embracing the BYOD or choose your own device (CYOD) trend, MDM taps into users’ comfort zone and supercharges productivity. No more time waste navigating unfamiliar interfaces or searching for elusive files and folders. Lastly, by automating the laborious tasks of monitoring and managing a fleet of mobile devices, MDM frees technicians for higher-level tasks.

Cost savings

MDM is a game changer for small and medium-sized organizations, offering a solution to secure devices without breaking the bank or hiring a dedicated IT guru. The MDM solution helps you save money by preventing the need to continually buy new devices or deal with the headache of replacing them. Instead, MDM streamlines device management for optimal performance and protection from potential threats.

Application and device control

MDM offers organizations unparalleled visibility into their device landscape, providing valuable data and insights. IT teams gain a comprehensive understanding of device usage and security levels to drive effective risk management.

Regulatory compliance

With MDM, IT administrators can set up automated processes to regularly scan devices for vulnerabilities and deploy necessary security patches and updates. This streamlines the process and ensures compliance with data protection regulations such as GDPR, HIPAA, ELD and CJIS.

What are the challenges of mobile device management?

While MDM solutions offer numerous advantages, organizations should be aware of the potential challenges they may encounter when implementing and using MDM.

BYOD maintenance

Implementing a BYOD program can enhance productivity and save costs, but it comes with challenges. Choosing an MDM solution that supports a variety of devices is vital for enhanced security. This also enables seamless integration of personal devices with company resources and aids productivity and compliance.

Increasing complexity

MDM solutions can be complex to set up and maintain, requiring specialized expertise. Managing diverse device ecosystems, including iOS, Android, Windows and Linux, adds another layer of complexity. To overcome these challenges, choose user-friendly MDM solutions with comprehensive support and seek vendors offering cross-platform compatibility.

User privacy and friendliness

Despite many valuable features provided by many MDM solutions, they often lack intuitive interfaces, impeding basic tasks like app installations and data backups. Opt for a solution that is easy to use so your administrators can implement policies without disturbing the end user or compromising on security.

Application management and integration

One of the biggest culprits of cybersecurity issues is unauthorized app downloads. Setting strict app download policies lets you keep your network safe from potential threats. Be vigilant and only allow low-threat apps on your users’ devices. Talking about integration — although Apple, Google or Microsoft may offer innovative MDM solutions, they usually do not support third-party apps. Trade-offs like this are not desirable and should be avoided.

Manage mobile devices effectively with Kaseya

Finding a solution that provides all the benefits and features listed above without compromising on challenges is hard but not impossible. You don’t even have to go anywhere searching for it. With Kaseya VSA, our unified remote monitoring and management solution, you can rock the task of mobile device management with ease. Regardless of whether it’s organization’s own or employee-owned mobile device(s) — with VSA, you’ll be ready to manage them easily and securely via your Kaseya console. Monitor, manage and secure iPhones and iPads today (Android device management will be coming to VSA in late 2023).

Join the league of IT superstars by scheduling a demo today.

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