Mobile devices are helping to liberate the workforce. They are freeing employees to easily access email and make use of business applications while tapping critical information regardless of where their work takes them. At the same time, growing reliance on those devices is creating serious headaches for CIOs. As enterprises attempt to gain greater control over smartphones, CIOs are encountering the distinct management challenges they present. The most critical challenges stem from the complexity of the mobility ecosystem, a network made up of mobile carriers, device manufacturers, ISVs, distributors and other entities that contribute to an enterprise mobility solution. Without an understanding of how to work with the different players in the mobility ecosystem, enterprises will be unable to negotiate optimal deals for mobile devices or deploy them with the applications, tools and accessories, and security required for business users. During this economic downturn, when corporate resources are particularly strained, few enterprises are able to allocate staff to develop and nurture relationships within the mobility ecosystem. As a result, they do not have the information they need to assess different devices or track problems with defective devices. To keep pace with growing demand for mobility, many organizations are augmenting their internal capabilities with outside expertise while they develop a mobility strategy and grapple with the challenges of managing and supporting mobile devices. By balancing internal resources and outsourced services, many organizations are finding they can amass the knowledge, skills, and best practices they need to effectively maneuver in a very challenging environment. Assess your organization's mobility strengthsYour organization can adopt this approach\u00a0- mixing internal and external resources\u00a0- to leverage best practices for selecting devices for your workforce, negotiating advantageous plans, efficiently managing your mobile devices and ultimately, reducing mobility costs. The best way to start is by understanding the challenges you face and how your staff and other resources stack up against them. It is likely that your enterprise, like most, is trying to take advantage of the productivity benefits mobility offers without having a mobility infrastructure in place. Unfortunately, the rapid explosion of mobility, at a time when IT resources are overextended, has required enterprises to react to user demand for mobility before they were able to even consider best practices and corporate standards for those devices. The short-term solution most organizations have taken, ignoring mobile devices or allowing them to proliferate without adequately addressing such issues as application provisioning and security, will prove insufficient in the long run. Your ultimate goal should be to develop a good understanding of the most effective way to work with each player in the mobility ecosystem, in order to more effectively predict and control mobility costs. One way to gauge where you stand now is to ask two questions: Do we currently have the resources to interact with the various vendors to efficiently deploy 250 devices? How would we handle 2500 devices? Think about how you currently select and negotiate carrier plans and the time your staff spends comparing wireless offerings, ordering and activating devices, managing warranty claims, and handling issues with billing or device defects. Which of those types of activities do you want to do internally and which might be offloaded, to allow your staff to concentrate on more strategic projects? Meeting enterprise needs in a consumer-oriented world As you assess your in-house mobility expertise, keep in mind that the mobile-device market is a consumer-oriented one, with very short product cycles. For CIOs, that's one of the more infuriating aspects of managing mobile devices. Lacking insight into product roadmaps, enterprises struggle to make platform and device plans that need to take a long view. Device manufacturers are going to continue to discontinue older devices to make way for more feature-rich replacements on a fairly short cycle. Efforts to encourage more enterprise-friendly practices are underway, but while the market is still focused on consumers, you will need to find ways to select and procure devices that support your business requirements. Start by allocating staff for mobility-specific planning. They will become increasingly knowledgeable about all the issues involved in procuring devices, deploying them to disparate users, and comparing support services offered by your vendors. Whether your users require rugged devices for gathering data in industrial settings or smartphones that facilitate report generation on the road, you will need to understand how the market works to streamline your interactions with mobility players. By tapping the knowledge of external experts who have long-term relationships with mobility vendors, you may find ways to take advantage of economies of scale to get better pricing on devices or learn about product plans that are normally unavailable. Regardless of how you decide to become a more informed mobility customer, insist on knowledge transfer when you consult outside experts. Mobility will play an increasingly important role in the enterprise going forward. Your understanding of the complex mobility ecosystem will help you plot the best course for your enterprise.