When IT investments have to be spread across a small number of staff, efficiency and cost-effectiveness are critically important. That’s why small business IT managers are constantly on the lookout for economical solutions.

When it comes to mobile devices, managers have pressures from many directions. Most businesses, even very small ones, can benefit from strategic use of IT, and nowadays that means mobile devices and mobile applications. The tips below can help small business IT managers focus on cost-effective, out-of-the-box solutions for deploying mobile technology — while maintaining security and usability.

1. Balance choice carefully to make mobility cost effective.

As mobile devices become a preferred way to deliver information and collaborate, organizations are developing a stronger interest in what devices people have and how they use them.

Although no one wants to be dictating choice, many IT managers will find that working with a single mobility vendor is safer and more cost-effective. In the small business environment, having a broad mix of different types of devices and platforms has drawbacks when it comes to IT management and security. For example:

  • Mobile devices will always be more vulnerable to loss and breakage than their laptop cousins. Having many different devices in the field means IT managers can’t effectively keep spare inventory available.
  • Interoperability and compatibility failures can impact business operations. Small business IT managers have few resources to dedicate to mobile device management and application development, even though pushing key line-of-business applications to mobile devices is a great way to improve productivity. High management overhead costs from too many different devices can kill an otherwise great project.
  • IT managers have to become experts at each smartphone/tablet platform in their business. Even different vendors’ Android devices have different hardware capabilities and preloaded software, and can be running vastly different versions of the operating system. Keeping track of all the variations can be prohibitively expensive unless device choices are limited.

IT managers don’t want to be put in the position of antagonizing end users who prefer a particular type of mobile device platform. However, the costs to the business of allowing unlimited choice are high. IT managers who can explain these issues and sensitively bring end users to accept a single mobility vendor or even a mobility-as-a-service solution will see cost savings.

2. Mobility operational expenses must be managed more carefully than capital expenses.

Capital expenses (CapEx), such as buying mobile devices and associated applications, are a small part of the entire IT budget. The real money goes into operational expenses (OpEx). Many of these costs are invisible, hidden in every hour of staff time that’s spent dealing with IT issues.

People can get anxious about the cost of mobile devices, especially when compared to the retail price of a consumer device under contract, but those costs are slight compared to the costs of operating the devices. IT managers who are spending time installing, deploying and managing mobile devices need to remember that the human costs of IT operations far outweigh capital costs, especially in this era of inexpensive hardware.

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IT managers should step back and look at things they can do to reduce operational costs of mobile devices and leverage an out-of-the-box solution. For example:

  • Small investments in management tools for mobile devices — such as mobile device management (MDM) or enterprise mobility management (EMM) tools — pay off very quickly by helping to automate common tasks and ensure compliance with policies and common configurations. Deployment tools like Samsung Knox Configure make it easy to over-the-air provision and configure a fleet of devices, and automatically hand over enrollment to MDM/EMM tools.
  • Selecting the smallest practical number of broad-spectrum vendors who can provide both hardware and software reduces the friction of managing multiple vendor relationships, and helps to increase the likelihood that business IT investments will work together smoothly.
  • Mobile devices especially are on a rapid technology change cycle. Pushing support to trusted third-party providers may seem to have a higher up-front cost, but will dramatically reduce operational costs during inevitable updates and upgrades.

3. Pay attention to security — even if you usually don’t.

As technology has shifted to a central role in many businesses, the requirement to optimize and secure IT has grown as well. Here, it’s not just a question of basic operational costs — security and usability are much more important and wide-ranging than ever before.

IT managers for small businesses may not spend a lot of time doing risk analysis, but they do need to realize that the increasing reliance on IT for day-to-day operations means that any interruption has a huge impact. It’s easy to justify investment in trying to prevent security failures, slowdowns, or interruptions.

IT managers should look for ways to increase security posture and reduce attack surfaces. That means using phones that are secured at the processor level and deploying MDM/EMM tools like Knox Manage with their mobile devices to:

  • Push secure and consistent configurations to mobile devices
  • Manage patching and application updates
  • Easily monitor device status
  • Remotely wipe devices when needed

Small business IT managers who have to be a jack of all trades can create dangerous gaps in security and waste resources. By leveraging cloud-based services, working to reduce operational costs, focusing on a small set of trusted vendors and paying renewed attention to security, things can continue to run smoothly.

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Joel Snyder

Joel Snyder, Ph.D., is a senior IT consultant with 30 years of practice. An internationally recognized expert in the areas of security, messaging and networks, Snyder is a popular speaker and author and is known for his unbiased and comprehensive tests of security and networking products. His clients include major organizations on six continents.

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