Feb 25 2011   2:18PM GMT

Enterprise mobility: Ubiquitous business? Or death by 1,000 cuts?

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

For a piece I was researching this week on disaster recovery and mobile devices, I discovered the burgeoning industry of mobile device management (MDM). MDM software makers produce tools that help companies provision, configure, secure, update, support, monitor and when necessary, zap their mobile devices. Call it IT asset management for the 21st century. The vendors in this space — AirWatch, Good Technology, BoxTone, MobileIron and many others — are not exactly household names, even among the technorati. But there’s no doubt they have tapped into a computing zeitgeist — the rush to make enterprises mobile — that is breathtaking, even for them.

“It has suddenly happened, across the entire Global 2000 all at the same time, and across all verticals,” is how one MDM CEO put it. “You don’t see it often.”

MDM vendors have the war stories to illustrate: The world’s largest home improvement retailer is deploying 50,000 mobile devices; a large beverage company has deployed in excess of 100,000 mobile devices. A consumer electronics retailer is giving iPads to all its sales associates, because any customer with a smartphone who walks into one of its stores invariably knows more about the store’s products than the staff does. “We’ve got to give them technology so they have a fighting chance to answer one question right,” is reportedly how the retailer put it to its MDM vendor. Airlines are jettisoning pounds’ worth of airplane manuals and replacing them with iPads, the justification being that unloading the weight will save fuel. A jewelry chain that can’t afford to have all its inventory in every store is supplementing shelves with crisp mobile displays of its inventory at other stores.

Of course, putting walking computers into the hands of a large workforce also opens up businesses to tremendous risk. Suddenly this endpoint — in some cases, hundreds of thousands of endpoints — is a channel into the company network. “I call it death by 1,000 cuts,” another MDM CEO told me.

Where is the CIO in all this? According to the research analysts I spoke with, most CIOs don’t have a formal mobile strategy. The mobility teams now in place at some companies — segmented by users (white collar, sales force and so forth) — sometimes operate outside the purview of IT. As for disaster recovery and business continuity for mobile devices, many CIOs apparently haven’t given much thought to these issues yet, even though a compromised smart mobile device (unlike yesteryear’s cell phone) is potentially business-impacting.

Is enterprise mobility a high priority for your business? And what is your part, as CIO, in your organization’s rush to integrate mobile devices into your business processes? Write to me at>

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