Friday, 9 November 2007

The mobile data dimension considerations

1) The mobile data dimension has existed for a decade or more, with laptops, but now we have a plethora of devices with capacity to hold a lot of data and cause problems, but how should enterprises reign all this in without compromising productivity or de-powering users?

IT departments today consider the acquisition and deployment of desktop and laptop technology as strategic. Processes are put in place to ensure devices are corporately configured, have the appropriate connectivity, security and management tools. Any business which does not have processes to manage the deployment of desktop and laptop technology is asking for trouble.

The same should apply mobile phones, PDA’s, smart phones etc, these must be managed in the same way as a desktop deployment. Mobile devices such a PDA's and Smartphone’s etc are becoming common place; they are functionally very rich and can deliver a lot more than personal information management to a business. Senior managers are of course attracted by these shiny devices also have a tendency to buy them on their expenses at airports etc, then ask the IT department to “give me push email like is says on the box”. This can result in the IT department supporting a whole plethora of devices and operating systems with all the problems associated with an unstructured approach. If you do not have a mobility policy then you should be writing one to ensure control is maintained and taking advantage of the business benefits mobile computing brings.

2) What are the essential ingredients of a coherent mobile data strategy?

Successful mobilisation the enterprise relies heavily on centralising of IT systems, having disparate IT will add to the complexity, cost, delivery and ultimately the success of the final solution.

A coherent mobile data strategy must include the following elements, applications or data that is to be mobilised, mobile device management, mobile device security, approved mobile devices, appropriate training, usage policy, data protection act compliance and that all important user support via a help desk.

3) What are the challenges posed by proliferating data and IT mobility?

Mobile IT by its nature is geographically dispersed and therefore creates its own unique challenges devices can be subject to, loss, theft or damage, this can be challenging if not dealt with by;

Deploying an appropriate perimeter security to protect the data on the mobile device. This could also include data encryption for sensitive data

Regular data synchronisation with the central server to ensure that no data that is created on the mobile device is lost. Alternatively Web based applications could be considered where appropriate to minimise data loss. However Web based solutions only work when a connection is possible to the server with wireless technology this is not always possible.

One other consideration ensuring mobile device management is considered; the cost of bringing field workers in to upgrade software and fix application issues can be prohibitive.

4) Assuming there is a trend back to centralized IT, how do organisations address the need for redundancy and disaster recovery ?

The dependency on IT systems whether mobile or desk based for the majority of businesses means that when these systems fail the impact can be crippling. High availability IT infrastructure is the key to ensure continuity of service, whether this is achieved by having an infrastructure with a high level of built in redundancy or using a grid or virtual machine approach will ultimately be a financial decision. One other alternative that is becoming more popular is outsource the server infrastructure to a hosting company who have the specialist environments to ensure the necessary high availability of your systems.

5) What impact is mobile data having on the IT support function?

Providing support of mobile users is a challenge as they are not confined to the office. When a mobile worker has an issue wherever possible this will need to be dealt with remotely. This means an investment remote device management software which will allow the IT support desk to access the mobile device remotely to diagnose and fix the problem, without this will result in field worker stopping work to bring their device into the office. The cost of device support and management needs to be factored into the total cost of ownership of your mobile solution. Alternatively to minimise the internal impact, the support function could be outsourced to a third party organisation.

6) Should all data on mobile devices be instantly replicated over the network, or just held centrally in some cases?

Because mobile devices are vulnerable to being dropped, stolen or lost any data created locally must be synchronised back to a central location as soon as possible to avoid potential loss, however ultimately this will rely on either the fieldworker manually synching the data or a simple application that manages the synchronisation process. However both methods rely on having wireless connectivity to do so. Therefore there could be a possibility of data loss if the device fails after data has been entered and before a synchronisation. With mobile data applications it is possible ensure that any data entered whist the device has no wireless connectivity automatically synchronises once the device picks up a wireless connection, thus taking out the manual process and minimising the risk of data loss.

Thin client or web based interfaces to centrally located data work well provided the field worker only requires access to the data when a wireless connection can be established thus providing a suitable solution to data continuity and control.

7) How greatly does mobility increase an enterprise’s exposure to security vulnerabilities or breach confidentiality?

Having company data on mobile devices scattered around the country does mean that there is a risk to malicious acts, this requires policies to be put in place to ensure that any risk from potential malicious acts is minimised. These could include only allowing any sensitive data need by an field worker to be requested, used once then removed from the device. Using mobile device management software, if an employee leaves the organisation but fails to return their mobile device, then the device could be remotely wiped removing all company data.

8) Are compliance issues enforcing data centralization and replication of mobile data?

It is proven that the correct use of mobile devices can make a huge difference to businesses and their customers; they bring efficiency, productivity and increase customer satisfaction, whilst reducing businesses fixed costs. These devices are normally deployed to replace an existing paper process that is prone to error, loss, accidental and malicious breaches in privacy and company process! Mobile brings to a large degree and element of compliance and security not possible with use of paper!

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