Managing mobile devices like barcode scanners and purpose-built smart devices

Have you ever thought about the challenges of managing those handheld devices that delivery people use to scan packages, or that rental agencies use to print your receipt as soon as you jump out of the car? After all, they are computers that run on operating systems like Windows Mobile and they have custom applications that are critical business tools. Odyssey Software helps you manage these kinds of devices as well as the more traditional set of smart phones and tablets.

Bring your own device (BYOD) is being adopted by many organizations today as a way to leverage smart devices in the workplace without having to purchase them. However, the increased reliance on BYOD combined with corporate owned smart devices begs the need to have processes and policies that both manage and differentiate corporate and personal devices and their related data.

Employee-owned devices are double-edged swords

Smartphones and tablets are the typical focus of scrutiny recently, but many companies operate other types of devices that also need to be managed. For example, handheld barcode scanners, price scan kiosks, and even Coke Freestyle soda dispensers.

BYOD is being adopted by many organizations as a way to leverage smart devices in the workplace without having to purchase them. However, the increased reliance on BYOD combined with corporate owned smart devices begs the need to have processes and policies that both manage and differentiate corporate and personal devices and their related data. What's more, many companies operate other devices such as handheld barcode scanners, price scan kiosks, and even Coke Freestyle soda dispensers that need to be managed.

Consider the barcode scanners used in many industries for everything from recording medications to taking inventory to tracking packages. Often these devices run the Windows Mobile operating system and have purpose-built applications. Both the OS and the application software need to be updated and configured from time to time, and the devices themselves need to be tracked and managed for configuration settings such as Wi-Fi, battery and screen usage.

As the use of mobile devices in every aspect of enterprise operations increases, IT organizations face a slew of challenges managing them. It’s not uncommon to have to deal with a variety of operating systems, or unique control issues, or the challenge of integrating unique device functionality with existing enterprise applications. What’s more, administrators must worry about security issues and creating an integrated mobile device management (MDM) program. 

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According to Gartner’s "Hype Cycle for Wireless Devices, Software and Services 2011" report, many organizations have been using MDM tools that are specific to a device platform or that manage a certain part of the life cycle, resulting in the adoption of fragmented MDM toolsets. And in addition to the unique MDM solutions, companies today utilize a variety of management solutions for their servers, laptops and desktops. Having these siloed device management solutions is untenable. It’s much more practical to have a single solution and a unified view into the management of all their computing devices.

Odyssey Software delivers that unified view by integrating MDM with existing system management tool sets. Most management vendors treat the mobile platform as something unique. In contrast, Odyssey Software embraces the predominant systems management platforms that most companies have for managing their desktops and servers; for example, Microsoft Systems Management Server 2003 and Systems Center Configuration Manager 2007.

Odyssey’s Athena mobile device management tool extends the device management capabilities of these base platforms to mobile devices without the need for additional servers or consoles. Athena features for mobile devices include asset and health reporting, interactive support functions such as remote control, and automated provisioning and unattended installation of updates. These features aren’t native to the enterprise management platforms.

Athena allows organizations to use existing systems management console to expand the types of devices they can manage, including tablets, smartphones and embedded devices such as kiosks and bar code readers. With Athena, organizations can have a single pane of glass to manage all their computing assets in a familiar environment that they know how to scale and secure.

In addition, Athena offers an enterprise app store. The store, which Odyssey Software calls Mobile Library, allows companies to distribute in-house and commercial applications as well as other enterprise content such as documents, spreadsheets, slide decks and so on. The Mobile Library ensures that content that is supposed to be on a device is up to date. For example, some airlines now give their pilots iPads loaded with all sorts of critical airport and flight information required by the Federal Aviation Administration. The iPad replaces bulky books the pilots used to carry.

Athena assures the latest version of company content by employing version management and activity logging to understand how often a user accesses the content, when it is being accessed, and who is viewing the content.  This functionality assures there is a traceability and compliance component extended to content managed by the MDM, which goes above and beyond the usual blocking and tackling functionality like security, asset inventory, policy management, and locking down of devices.

Athena utilizes agents on each device, placed there by the central management server. The agent phones home for updates and also permits live remote control to interactively connect with a device and see the screen and operate it like a remote desktop session. There are remote control functions for Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, and to a limited extent, Android devices

Managing mobile devices can be quite a challenge, especially if the devices are purpose-built tools with custom applications. Odyssey Software simplifies the management task by extending the reach of traditional systems management products out to the mobile devices and enhancing the functionality with unique mobile features.

Brian Musthaler is a principal consultant with Essential Solutions Corporation.  You can write to him at Bmusthaler@essential-iws.com.  

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