The mobile device management (MDM) space is quickly consolidating, with Citrix’s recent acquisition of MDM vendor Zenprise the most recent example. Despite this consolidation, however, the functionality available as part of an MDM solution just keeps expanding.

As a result, it can be extremely frustrating to try to assess the differences between the wide range of options available in the market today.

To make that process a little bit easier, here are 10 key criteria to look for in an MDM solution, as recommended by leading industry analysts.

1. Integration with other enterprise solutions

Altimeter Group analyst Chris Silva says extensibility into other enterprise tools is becoming increasingly crucial. As an example, he says, “The ability to hook into a data loss prevention [DLP] system is big. Having the ability to take the data loss prevention tool and tie that into mobile is crucial, because a greater and greater percentage of the data your employees are using is ending up on the mobile device. If that’s a blind spot for your DLP tool because there’s no integration with the MDM solution you have in place, that’s going to pose a pretty big problem.”

2. Location-aware functionality

Another example of that kind of extensibility is the ability to hook into location-based tools, which can be particularly important in highly regulated industries such as financial services or health care. “There are companies out there today that are using Wi-Fi location so that when Chris and his iPhone are in the boardroom, he has access to all the data that he may need to do his job – but when he walks out to the parking lot, through a hook in the MDM system, a tool that essentially geo-fences data access can enforce that the shared folders or even the full applications are pulled off the device temporarily when I’m not within a zone where I should be using that data,” Silva says.

3. Application management

That last example presumes the ability to manage applications on an individual basis, which is also key functionality for any MDM solution. “Having a hook into a locationing tool is only as good as your controls over applications – so if you have no way in the mobile device management tool to pull an app off my device, or disallow access to an application at a certain time, there’s not a whole lot that you can do as the IT manager with that tool,” Silva says.

4. User self-service options

It’s always worth investigating the degree to which an MDM solution allows users to take care of their own needs. “How much can a user do on their own to get a device set up on the network, to get a device swapped out of the network – because, especially in BYOD, that’s something can drive quite a bit of expense,” Silva says. “Is there a Web portal? Is there an automated email process for users to get their devices profiled and set up on the network? That’s increasingly critical functionality that these vendors offer.”

5. Support for laptops

Some MDM vendors, Silva notes, now support laptops in addition to mobile devices. “When we think BYOD, we always think tablets and smartphones, but it can also extend to laptops as well,” he says. “One of the areas that a lot of companies are struggling to support is that people want to go out and buy a MacBook Air, but they have no way to do endpoint management on a Mac OS  device. So … giving IT the ability to support BYOD on laptops as well is important.”

6. Scalability

Regardless of what you might need right now, VDC Research vice president David Krebs says it’s crucial to take a long-term view on the issue of scalability. “Most MDM platforms can relatively efficiently support tens of thousands of users,” he says. “But when you go from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands to potentially millions of connected devices … it starts to look very different. So really understand not only what you need to support today, but what that might look like down the road.”

7. Innovation in security

VDC Research senior analyst Eric Klein says it’s also worth examining the ways an MDM provider may be innovating on security. “There are obviously a multitude of ways to secure not only the device side, but the application side – and that’s really where the innovation and differentiation is occurring, on the different solution options that these companies have developed to secure devices and applications,” he says.

8. Analytics and reporting

Whether it’s part of the core MDM solution or offered through a partnership with another provider, advanced analytics can offer some key benefits. “That’s one thing that’s becoming increasingly important, where they’re really measuring application usage and trying to help people use their applications the most effective way they can,” Klein says. “If they’re investing in expanding the mobile applications that they give to their employees, they need to have metrics around how those applications are being used.”

9. Support for all mobile operating systems and devices

Regardless of which mobile operating systems you may currently need to support, it’s advisable to look for a vendor that can handle them all, including Android, iOS, Windows and BlackBerry. And it’s not just about operating systems – Gartner research vice president Phil Redman says partnerships with specific handset providers can also be helpful. “Samsung has partnerships with about 11 MDM vendors, but that’s it,” he says. “So that means only 11 of the top vendors have the ability to support Samsung devices as securely and capably as they can be supported.”

10. Financial stability

Finally, Redman says, there’s another crucial area to consider that has nothing to do with technology. “How successful are they in the marketplace? … With smaller companies, there is a concern that, if you sign a two-year contract with them, they may not be in existence by the end of the contract,” he says. “That is something to be concerned about, especially in a growing market like this.


Jeff Goldman is a freelance journalist based in Los Angeles. He can be reached at jeff@jeffgoldman.com.