MDM in Education: Sometimes Necessary, Never Sufficient

For a smarter, more comprehensive mobility management solution, look beyond MDM.

Mobility stands at the center of both planning and operations for essentially every IT manager in education today. The reasons for that are simple: Anytime, anywhere access to educational information resources is on the rise, as is bring-your-own-device (BYOD) provisioning and the amazing diversity of devices, users and services that goes with it. It’s no wonder, then, that IT managers look to mobile device management, among other solutions, to ease the burden.

For many, MDM is now synonymous with mobility management overall. MDM is all about addressing the reliability, availability, visibility and — at least to some degree — security and integrity requirements that every educational institution must meet on a daily basis. But MDM also introduces its own set of challenges.

350 million

The number of mobile device products and types in use throughout the world

SOURCE: Gartner, “Hype Cycle for Enterprise Mobile Security, 2015” July 22, 2015

Functionality

By definition, MDM is concerned only with the management of mobile devices, particularly with respect to configuration, provisioning (including updates and rollbacks as required), integrity, backup and restore (bulk or otherwise), policy compliance, monitoring, alerts, reporting and — to an extent — security. While all of those capabilities are necessary, they are far from sufficient today, as we’ll explore later.

Diversity

The dramatic rise of mobility as the default setting for IT today (and not just in education) has given rise to a broad range of handsets, tablets, mobile computers and specialized, network-connected devices such as gaming consoles.

Now, at the dawn of the Internet of Things, we may see another dramatic increase in the number of network-connected devices. Add to that landscape the diversity of mobile and other operating systems (each requiring support for multiple releases), and finding a single MDM solution that can do it all may not be possible.

Integration

MDM isn’t the only management service that IT must support. Other management consoles are already at work, and adding one more can introduce exponential complexity. We’re increasingly seeing plug-in, XML and other integration techniques being applied here, but the possibility of overlap, redundancy and operational confusion must be considered. If you’ve struggled with integration issues in your MDM adoption, you’re not alone.

Appropriateness

In an educational environment, just how much management of a given mobile device is appropriate? If a large percentage of the user base is likely bringing their own devices, only minimal MDM may be required, and security and backup may be left as personal matters. Only school- or district-owned devices really need formal MDM.

What’s the Use?

Some of this may paint MDM as a daunting undertaking. In fact, true MDM may not be all that important in an educational setting. But that doesn’t mean that certain features of MDM, and many more elements of mobility management overall, shouldn’t interest education IT managers. Here are a few additional elements that will help teams more completely manage mobility today.

Mobile Application and Content Management

Should malicious code affect the network, it’s vital to make sure that it doesn’t affect the devices connected to it. It might be desirable to offer MDM-centric backup for all users, but it’s absolutely essential to make sure that sensitive data is never compromised.

Mobile Policy and Expense Management

Exactly who can do what on the network remains a central issue in any management effort, and it should begin with policy-setting. Telecommunications and networking expenses aren’t typically much of an issue for districts, but they could be, depending upon travel policies and out-of-office work situations.

Security and Identity Management

For all districts and schools, this element is vital. Authentication, encryption and authorization — and thus all of IT security and user privacy — is driven by management systems. Even unmanaged devices must have some form of network-centric access security.

Network and Operations Management

Neither MDM nor mobility management more broadly has any bearing on network operations management, including performance optimization, traffic management, monitoring, troubleshooting and upgrades. But making sure that all management systems work in concert with one another can be a very daunting effort indeed.

Ready to Begin?

Clearly, many management elements extend well beyond the realm of mobile device management — while often a necessary component of IT management, MDM is not, by itself, sufficient. Mobility management remains a complex matter, in educational settings and beyond. So what’s the best approach?

First, start with IT’s overall mission and objectives, and get your use and operational policies down on paper: Who is permitted to access the network? With what devices and operating systems? Using what applications? Policies dictate the requirements for operational management solutions, including MDM.

Next, create a list of the features you require, both for MDM and mobility management more broadly. Evaluate current products and services — cloud-based MDM, for example, is quickly growing in popularity. Initial deployments should be piloted. Minimize the number of supported and allowed device/OS pairs to control ongoing costs, and make sure integration requirements are addressed up front.

Finally, look for comprehensive mobility management solutions that go beyond MDM alone.

The bottom line: Think big picture when it comes to IT management, and the role of MDM within your district or school will become clear in no time.

 

Blend Images/Alamy
Oct 15 2015

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