by Tom Kaneshige

Attack of the BYOD-Killing MDM Software

Feb 04, 2014 4 mins
Careers Mobile Mobile Device Management

BYOD has been an enterprise hit because it allows employees the convenience of combining their work and personal lives on a single mobile device while offering companies a sense of security thanks to mobile device management software. However, a breed of monstrous new MDM software threatens to send users away screaming.

Stop me if you’ve seen this sci-fi movie before: Humans develop software to make life more convenient, but the software does its job too well and ultimately turns on its creators.

Well, we’re not there yet. But an echo of this theme is emerging in the fast-evolving BYOD (or Bring Your Own Device) market.

BYOD, personal devices, business devices, mobile device management, MDM

Only two years ago, BYOD flooded the enterprise, in part thanks to new-fangled mobile device management (MDM) software that struck a balance between letting employees enjoy the convenience of work and personal apps on a single device while providing a security blanket for companies.

[ 10 Mobile Device Management Leaders That Help IT Control BYOD ]

But now signs point to companies taking advantage of advanced MDM capabilities, thus threatening to ruin the user experience. “We think some IT organizations that are used to having strong controls in place on mobile devices are going to implement MDM policies that are just too onerous,” says Gartner analyst Van Baker.

Will Mobile Device Management Kill Mobile Device Use?

The mobile consumer device in the enterprise owes its rise to the great user experience that Apple and, later, Android brought to market — if usability suffers, user revolt will surely follow. By 2016, one out of five BYOD programs will fail due to enterprise deployment of MDM measures that are too restrictive, Baker predicts.

Gartner also surveyed workers late last year and found that one in five won’t have anything to do with BYOD because of privacy concerns. Taken together, poor usability and privacy violations can derail the BYOD movement.

Baker isn’t making his dire prediction on mere guess work. He says he is already seeing MDM’s degradation of the user experience on mobile devices.

For instance, some IT departments are turning on MDM controls that force users to jump through multiple passwords. In one scenario, a user with an open Facebook app in the personal space of a BYOD tablet who wants to check work email has to log out of Facebook, log out of the personal space, log in to the work space, and log in to the corporate email. If she wants to return to Facebook, she must do it all again in reverse order.

Baker says another company issued tablets with GPS, Wi-Fi and cellular disabled. The tablets came in cradles that require a secure ID card. The tablets essentially became useless paper weights.

Other all-too-common tactics that wreck the user experience: forcing employees to use corporate mobile apps only while on company premises and making them use a clunky mail client instead of the native mail client.

“That kind of usability is just not going to be tolerated,” Baker says. “It’s going to drive employees away from BYOD programs.”

Another way usability suffers is with the lack of access to new features.

Consumer-focused device makers such as Apple and Android are always one-upping each other to deliver the latest cool features. It’s a white- hot space with lots of changes, fixes, patches, additional capabilities all coming to market in rapid succession. Apple, for instance, is on iOS 7.0.4, its fourth release. Every unannounced hardware or software release from any consumer-focused vendor sets off a chain reaction whereby app developers and MDM vendors must scramble to make changes to their software.

As Big Boys Get Into MDM, Agility Suffers

So far, pure-play MDM companies have been pretty nimble, but this is changing as enterprise heavyweights wade into the market. Microsoft expanded its management tools into the MDM space. Citrix bought Zenprise a year ago. IBM bought Fiberlink in November last year. Most recently, VMware bought AirWatch. Yet tech giants catering to the enterprise haven’t fared well keeping up with the frenetic, whimsical pace of the consumer.

“It’s hard to imagine a Microsoft, Oracle, SAP or IBM being agile enough to keep up,” Baker says. “The same has to be said about the VMware acquisition of AirWatch and the Citrix acquisition of Zenprise. Is Zenprise as agile as they were beforehand? I don’t think so.”

If the MDM doesn’t support the latest upgrade, then employees won’t be able to get the latest features on their personally owned BYOD. If the MDM forces users to jump through hoops, then employees will opt out of the BYOD program. If the MDM appears too controlling, then employees will revolt.

If sci-fi scripts have taught us anything, in the end, humans always win.

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple, BYOD and Consumerization of IT for Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn. Email Tom at