For businesses, managing computers and software has always been complex. Making sure that the necessary software has been installed, is kept up to date, and that nonapproved software has not been installed requires a significant amount of time and resources. The problem has been exacerbated by the proliferation of laptops, since you don’t always know where laptops are physically and what networking environments they’ve been exposed to. And now smartphones are making the management problem even worse.
If your employees are only using smartphones for talking, texting, and e-mail, then there really isn’t much of a problem — although e-mail setup and support is a help-desk nightmare. However, if you are using custom or commercial nonstandard software on smartphones, you have a provisioning problem. How do you get software updates out to your employees? Your employees won’t want to drop their phones off for updates. Asking them to use a sync cable and update from their desktop might work. However, syncing is unreliable because it is so complex.
In other words, your IT staff needs to be able to do software maintenance and management remotely. This can be done with provisioning software.
Provisioning refers to the process of installing new software, updating current software, and authenticating initial usage of software on a computer system. With smartphones, this really needs to be accomplished remotely. For the three major players in the business smartphone arena (the iPhone, Palm WebOS, and Windows Mobile), there are a number of providers of remote provisioning software. Some of these are Afaria, Apple, Microsoft, SOTI, and Sun. By far, the most mature and flexible provisioning software exists in the Windows Mobile environment. There are three main tasks your provisioning software needs to accomplish:
- Install new smartphone software
- Update smartphone’s current software
- Back up and sync user and company data
Another very useful feature of some provisioning packages is the ability to delete software and data remotely in the case of a lost or stolen smartphone. A significant issue in using provisioning software is having a secure system for communicating and establishing authentication between the office and the smartphone. This may include a system of passwords, specific smartphone identification and logging, and a well-designed tech support system.
Dealing with the ultramobile and rapidly changing smartphone environment requires significant oversight. The use of commercial provisioning software can dramatically reduce the costs of deployment and support to your company — and your employees won’t suffer withdrawals from handing over their precious handheld devices.
John C. Shovic is a partner at MiloCreek Consulting in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.