Calling all devices

Updated Jul 19, 2012

There was a time, perhaps only recently, when you purchased mobile devices for only one reason — to capture information from vehicles and drivers. Then came smart phones and tablet devices. Now all employees want to be using apps inside and outside the office to stay productive.

According to a recent survey from research firm Strategy Analytics, enterprises are planning to purchase 44 percent more Android tablets and 34 percent more iPads over the next 12 months. It also found that enterprises are paying for nearly 80 percent of related smartphone costs and replacing them every 13 months.

Managing this influx of devices can present a major IT challenge. How can companies support a whole new set of software apps and operating systems from the likes of Apple, Google (Android) and Microsoft (Windows Mobile)? Will you need to increase IT staffing to secure company data, update software, troubleshoot and repair software, among other tasks?

Fortunately, virtually any of these tasks can be done without having to physically touch devices.

Andrews Distributing, one of the largest beer distributors in the United States, has deployed about 1,000 mobile devices to its drivers and sales people. The company delivers across the state of Texas within 24 hours of customers placing their orders. It cannot afford service failures due to technical issues or inoperable devices.

Drivers are using rugged, Windows Mobile devices from Motorola and Intermec. Sales people are using iPads. About 90 percent of the applications installed on its devices are the same. All are equipped with email and a time tracking system for payroll, for instance. The main difference is that drivers’ devices have an application to track delivery details and the iPads have office applications.

To keep its mission-critical technology running smoothly, Andrews Distributing implemented an enterprise mobile device management (MDM) system called SOTI MobiControl. The system works by installing an agent on the devices to enable communication with the MobiControl server.

Scott Jenkins, information systems administrator for the Dallas-based company, says that using MobiControl has made it easy to load software onto devices. He just uses his mouse to click and drop the new device into a folder set up for each department in the company, such as “drivers in north Texas.”

Once a device is dropped into a folder, it is automatically locked down, or provisioned, for the specific apps that have been pre-approved for end users.

Jenkins describes the use of MobiControl as a “hands-off” way to manage devices. Software apps on the devices can be updated automatically by pushing the updates out during the nighttime. The devices automatically reboot when the updates are complete. He also gets real-time alerts to issues such as low batteries and memory problems.

When technical issues need to be fixed, he says he can quickly locate devices and take full control of the device to see the end-user’s screen.

As fleets continue to expand the number of devices they support, one of the current challenges is ensuring uniform control and management of Android devices. Whereas only one hardware manufacturer creates devices for the Apple OS, more than 100 manufacturers make Android devices.

Many of these manufacturers have not provided an application program interface (APIs) for MDM vendors to leverage. Recently SOTI announced that its MobiControl system is uniformly compatible with all Android devices, regardless of manufacturer. To date, MobiControl is being used by more than 10,000 companies worldwide to manage millions of devices.

The number of devices that transportation companies manage will continue to grow. The use of MDM software has become critical to protect corporate data, decrease the workload on IT departments, and to give employees more choice in the devices they can use.