Is 'carrier bill shock' IT's problem? Absolutely

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

The new iPad with 4G LTE support raises questions about how to control usage costs, with some arguing IT should enforce real-time device monitoring to prevent fees from spiking when employees are on the road and, say, stream Netflix movies, while others argue this is a management issue not an IT problem.

What isn't debatable is the fact that mobile "bill shock" is a serious issue further complicated by the bring your own device (BYOD) trend and the looming end of unlimited data plans. An Aberdeen Group survey reports that the average bill for employees who roam internationally is $255 per month, compared to the $84 that domestic employees accrue. Multiply that one bill by the number of devices deployed in your organization and the numbers get scary.

ANALYSIS: Can employee-owned devices save companies money?

BYOD: There is no stopping employees' devices on your network

Think that's a problem IT can ignore?

Carriers are changing the rules and eliminating unlimited data plans. Combine that with roaming charges that can take five months to appear and companies may be hit with fees when it is too late. With the right tools you can enforce policy compliance. Here's how to take control.

* Mobile policy management: Policy management is often the critical path to scale your device and control expectations across hundreds or hundreds of thousands of devices. The lack of a robust mobile policy can mean trouble, from financial -- "cost creep" due to limited control of device types, rate plans, and ownership -- to risks involving governance, confidentiality provisions, etc. Aside from the standard benefits of mobile policy management (greater control of spend, visibility into inventory, usage control, etc.), organizations with strong policy management gain greater data protection and security. [Also see: "Debate rages over how to manage personal mobile devices used for work"]

You also want to have automated responses generated in real-time by a "rules engine" for when the device is out of compliance. For instance, if the device OS is out of date or an application requires a patch. Another example is detecting if the device is either jailbroken or rooted. Automated multi-step responses can include customized notifications and alerts (respective to the compliance criteria), feature/function changes such as disabling data communication when roaming, or contact from the help desk should an alert be received.

Once the groundwork is laid for your mobile policies, it is important to update them regularly. With new devices and applications coming out in unprecedented numbers, it is more critical than ever to constantly evolve your mobile policies to ensure that employees have select access to certain applications. If an employee has the freedom to download any streaming application, that could accumulate unnecessary fees.

* Educate your employees: Establishing mobile policies is critical, but what good are they if employees aren't getting the message? On a regular basis IT should communicate key provisions in the company's corporate policy for all devices -- whether they've adopted a corporate liable (CL), individual liable (IL) or hybrid model.

* Mobile application management: If you have not done so already, establish an application portal with the applications that you have approved. With new devices and applications arriving in unprecedented numbers, it is important to control the applications available to employees. If an employee has the freedom to download any streaming application, that could accumulate unnecessary fees. Management tips include:

• Device inventory visibility for detection of either applications that are no longer in compliance, or a compliance violation. IT administrators need to have the ability to remove applications either automatically or inform the end user via a customized and localized alert that the application must be removed. If the device is not in compliance by a specified time, the device can be blocked from accessing Exchange.

• Application deployment is over SSL and verifies a successful installation.

• Ensure application management is tracking updates, patches, fixes, etc. For IL devices, you want to make sure you have visibility into those devices, what apps are installed, is your data protected, etc.

* Device and cost management go hand in hand: Mobile device management solutions are critical for monitoring devices with security in mind, but they also enable IT to track usage among an increasingly growing group of mobile workers. It is important for IT to be privy to activity in real time so they can take appropriate action should users exceed data usage. In addition, this information is critical for them to constantly update and adjust mobile policies.

CLEAR CHOICE TEST: How to protect smartphones and tablets

* Combine real-time alerts with historical analysis: This combination is essential to nipping costs in the bud before they get out of control and it allows IT to have a realistic scope of their mobile budget in the months ahead. In addition, this information cannot be contained within departments, but rather, it must be shared across IT and finance to ensure that actionable steps are taken to not just reduce costs in the future, but prevent them today. With increased transparency and a common perspective among finance and IT, businesses can approach their mobile environments from all angles.

While employee behavior can certainly fall under management, and even human resources, businesses are leaving a lot of money on the table if IT doesn't play a key role in keeping costs down. If unmonitored devices are allowed to roam free and blow past usage caps, it can sap IT resources and the mobile budget. When that happens, there's no room to actually empower your mobile workforce with new devices or other innovations.

Mobile device management solutions are critical for monitoring devices with security in mind, but an integrated approach that considers real-time control enables organizations to more efficiently manage the flood of devices across the business and around the globe.

Tangoe (NASDAQ: TNGO) is a leading global provider of Communications Lifecycle Management (CLM) software and services to a wide range of global enterprises. CLM encompasses the entire life cycle of an enterprise's communications assets and services, including planning and sourcing, procurement and provisioning, inventory and usage management, invoice processing, expense allocation and accounting, and asset decommissioning and disposal.

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