Process & Strategy: Mobile Device Management

By Craig Settles — September 08, 2008

In our ongoing series on process and strategy, Craig Settles interviews I.T. executives from a range of enterprises -- including utility company Aquila, Piedmont Hospital, and the San Diego Police Department -- about managing mobile devices. The bottom line? The success or failure of any deployment depends on how good your team is at getting feedback from the workers who will actually be using the solution.

Read more installments from this series:
Effective Needs Analysis


Taking The Pain Out Of Mobile Expense Management

Playing Politics

What's The Plan?


Mobile Device Management
Many discussions about mobile device management focus on the software running on these devices. But a key element not to overlook is the logistics of managing and maintaining tablet PCs, ruggedized handhelds and other mobile hardware.

Mobile workers are rarely in the office, so getting devices and the requisite training to users must be thoroughly planned out. What's more, many of these individuals work alone. If something breaks on the road, help isn't a short walk down the hall.  


The Team Approach

Given the challenging logistics, organizations should create a team of business- and I.T.-side managers to develop guidelines for managing devices. "Our business units provided the project leader for the deployment team," says Blain Hartkopp, Manager of PC Support Services for utility company Aquila in Kansas City, MO. They have 1,000 mobile workers and executives equipped with a combination of Itronix ruggedized GoBooks, Dell laptops and various smartphones.

The team established repair, upgrade and replacement procedures, Hartkopp adds. "Managers have times set for when workers get their trucks, attend meetings and so on. I.T. tailors their device management activities, such as upgrading trucks or physical devices, around these meetings."

These business/I.T. teams should address device security. Atlanta-based Piedmont Hospital issued 275 Motorola Symbol devices to nurses to improve how they administer medication.  "I.T., the nursing staff and pharmacy managers together determined how well the devices would meet HIPAA compliance, created security policies and procedures, and even established maximum distances the wireless signals would broadcast from the network to the devices," says Clinical Systems Coordinator Trudy Collett, RN.

Key questions that every deployment checklist should include are:

  • is there a natural time and place to distribute devices to mobile workers?

  • should people be brought into the office in waves, so as not to dramatically disrupt business operations?

  • how will software get loaded onto laptops and rugged handhelds?

  • who is going to design, develop and test training materials?

D-day -- when organizations physically distribute the devices -- is where effective planning meets reality. Organizations such as Aquila, which have multiple types of hardware, require an array of tactics.

"The laptops are maintained through Microsoft SharePoint," says HartKopp. "We capture user data for ID purposes using barcode scanners. We use a spreadsheet to track who has our smartphones. The carriers who provide services have Web sites where we track calls. Our [RIM BlackBerry Enterprise Server] and Microsoft Exchange servers manage data usage as well as network access for BlackBerrys and Windows devices, while the device vendors are responsible for maintaining these units."

The San Diego Police Department (SDPD) deployed 300 Palm Treos to field officers. Officer Sandi Lehan, Special Projects Manager, coordinated two- to three-hour training sessions for up to 20 officers at a time until all were trained. During these sessions, officers received their Treos along with basics such as security codes, serial numbers, sign-in and syncing procedures, and signoff forms. "We have a spreadsheet-driven inventory control process for everything we use, such as radios and Tasers, so we use this to track the Treos as well,' says Lehan. 

Fortunately, automation is making device management easier. Chordiant, with 300 mobile BlackBerry users, is an application and services company that helps organizations improve on customer experience. Until they discovered the hosted Mobility Central application from Visage Mobile, I.T. relied on spreadsheets to physically track devices.

Says Deshen Yu, Chordiant's VP of Information Technology, "Their professional services team uploaded data on who has what, device maintenance history and other details from our spreadsheets. When we upgrade or change a device, Mobility Central tracks this."

I.T. gave its device provisioning and security procedures to Visage Mobile so managers can go online to set up new employees' devices, or the service does it automatically.


Stuff Happens

Effective device management planning must also address the logistics of device repairs. Every hour a worker cannot use the device represents lost productivity, missed revenue and/or the expense of having someone sitting around idle. 

Chordiant has a formalized process whenever a device is lost or broken. I.T. is notified, and, in the case a malfunction, they go through troubleshooting activities. According to Yu, "if the problem is not carrier related, we keep three or four spare BlackBerrys at each of our facilities that we can re-configure and overnight to people in the field."

Aquila has field support offices in every state where it operates. The staffs are certified with Dell so they can provide maintenance without needing to call the vendor. They fix Itronix units if possible, or return them to the vendor. Field workers are often close enough to bring a device in for repairs, which are sometimes done while users wait or they get a temporary replacement unit. Remote executives and workers ship their broken unit to the nearest office, while a temporary one is immediately sent out to them via overnight courier.

SDPD's support center is close enough to field staff to provide same-day repair or replacement service. "If there's a new update that needs to go out for something minor such as the screen timing malfunctioning, we'd get a memory chip from the vendor that goes onto the device," reports Lehan. "Whenever officers come in, they can load the chip, download the fix and install it within minutes."

The number of devices organizations should keep in reserve depends on many factors, including the harshness of the working environment, and the age and relative sturdiness of the devices. Several organizations, including Piedmont Hospital, keep 5% of their total deployment number in reserve. 

"We repair nine to 10 devices per week," says Collett. "Some are more than five years old and are ready to be replaced. These devices record over 9,000 doses of medicine administered per day, with average of 20 screen taps per dose. And some devices get dropped a few times."

Along with a reserve supply of devices, organizations should also stockpile cables, batteries, cards, vehicle mounts and other necessary auxiliary gear that might get lost or damaged.



Tips For Effective Mobile Device Management

  • Include business and I.T. managers on the team that develops guidelines for managing devices.

  • Identify a natural time and place to distribute mobile devices.

  • Set policies for how software will get loaded onto handhelds and laptops.

  • For device provisioning, opt for automation or hosted applications whenever possible.

  • Plan ahead for the logistics of device repair.

  • Keep at least 5% of your device inventory in reserve to use as spares.

Read Part One and Part Two of our three-part series on Process & Strategy.

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