Good to Great Mobility: You Will Need to Outsource Some of it

By Jim Haviland
Topics: Mobile Strategy

IT outsourcing goes through phases like fashion.  Some will swear by outsourcing, while others remain certain that insourcing is the only way to go, but the prevailing winds shift year by year. For most of IT services, of course, a learned, experienced professional knows that the answer to the outsourcing question tends to be “it depends.” The context of the current moment and the focus of the organization will change over time and will make one or the other more advisable.

There are only a few truly unchanging truths to the outsourcing question:

  1. You should be prepared to make a different decision in the future and
  2. When things are changing quickly, you need a strategy to minimize your risk.

In spite of enterprise mobility management having a place on center stage for over a decade, the complexity, pace of change, and shape of the risk still make it an excellent candidate for outsourcing.

When a tech sector is brand new, you have to either avoid it completely or be prepared to make some mistakes.  Once it matures enough that you know how to make it useful, you bring the strategic portions back in house to lock in your advantage.  If the technologies stabilize sufficiently you might find it cheaper to bring things back in-house or you can put it out to RFP as a commodity.  Thus far, mobility has remained resistant to these common trends, though some have tried to apply them to their own peril.

You can follow some simple rules to help determine the applicability of outsourcing to your current circumstances.

Complexity should be outsourced – at least a little

The number of vendors in a mobile solution create the type of complexity that makes it difficult for most organizations to get sufficiently good at delivery to have any chance at improving service, reducing cost or managing risks the way you can with an outsource partner.

Here is a shortlist of elements that you would have to develop proficiency in order to successfully operate a modern (not advanced, mind you) enterprise mobility management program:

  • Mobile Device OEM: With few exceptions, this is a shortlist, dominated by Apple and Samsung but with a wide array of options once you include specialty devices (which you should), like rugged scanners. It is also a major source of velocity described below. Unlocked devices, meaning device versions that are not customized for a given mobile service carrier, are easier to come by, but as you stray away from the bigger players, you will likely experience carrier lock-in, meaning devices will only work within a given service area and only with a specific carrier.
  • Mobile Device Reseller: For the most part, you will need to purchase the hardware through someone other than OEM.  This reseller may or may not have included services and warranties or limitations on availability for replacements or refreshes.
  • Mobile service carrier: For the most part, Apple has forced the carriers into a minor part of solutions involving iOS, as they simply provide bandwidth.  Increasingly, you should also develop an awareness to carriers that don’t offer consumer packages but instead focus on tailoring services to mobile deployments.  This can deliver significantly better service at a significantly better price.
  • Leasing/ as-a-Service vendor: The smart money is buying all of the hardware, software, and services from a financing vendor that understands the shape, nature, and complexity of a mobile solution.
  • Device insurance: Unlike your desktop computers or even laptops, mobile device fleets consistently have a monthly break-rate that needs to be contended with.  Even if you choose not to buy insurance, you have to allow for the cost and logistics of replacing or repairing 3% to 12% of your fleet EVERY MONTH.
  • Deployment Services: The initial deployment of a new mobile solution is likely to be at a scale that a general IT department will fail to do well both because it happens so infrequently and because of the factors associated with the length of vendors on this list. The deployment can include procurement, storage, kitting, configuration, testing, logistics, and Day 1 support.  Every one of those steps has its own set of tooling or understanding that make them poor candidates for a stable and efficient IT shop.  If nothing else, outsource this piece.
  • EMM/MDM/UEM software platform(s): Like the hardware OEMs, the number and range of providers supporting enterprise mobility management of mobile hardware has consolidated around a few primary vendors and a long tail of specialty packages.
  • Physical protection and accessories: Aside from specialized rugged devices, a mobile device, out of the box, is not ready for work.  Cases, handles, and data entry accessories are important parts of making the devices more likely to survive the month and make usage more useful.   At the very least, you will need a case.

Mobility’s complexity is sometimes described with the term The 3 Vs: Velocity, Variety, and Volume. Each of these provides a number of reasons to consider, if not fully justify, outsourcing.

Velocity defies standardization

In a more traditional area of Enterprise IT, you might be able to limit your complexities by defining a limited number of vendors or technologies, “locking down” your environment sufficiently enough for you to keep up a level of competence.  Windows operating system upgrades were timed to maximize Microsoft’s profits but also to comply with this model of enterprise management.  In the world of mobility, the enterprise segment is not the most important or valuable to the vendors.  Apple, Google, and Samsung have sensitivity to, and interest in, enterprise customers but it is foolish to think that will ever change the way they cater to consumers.  A bit more control has been provided to enterprise customers around the timing of operating system upgrades, but only a matter of days rather than the years you have been able to hold off on upgrading Windows.

Element Change Frequency Who Controls the Change
Device Hardware Annually The OEM unless you have an inventory plan.
Device Operating System Many times/year The OEM (and without warning)
Mobile Carrier Program Quarterly Depends on who you ask
MDM/EMM/UEM Traditional Enterprise Schedule (except for the Device OS part) Lots of stakeholders

Table with headings: Element – Change Frequency – Who Controls it (you or not you)

Devices: annually: The OEM unless you have an inventory plan.  Most MMS providers can help you source devices, either new or refurbished, to help you refrain from having to adopt the newest device every year.

Device operating systems: many times a year: OEM without warning.  Each new release contains changes (enhancements) in dozens of areas that can be challenging to identify or understand the impact of. If you don’t use any custom software, you may be able to navigate these changes without consequence – for a while anyway.  Some of the upgrades will be addressing significant security or compliance issues and you will want to be sure you have the processes, systems, and plans for getting all your devices upgraded as soon as possible.  MMS providers will be supporting dozens or hundreds of companies through this process, eliminating it from your list of predictable fire drills to manage.

Mobile carrier services: quarterly: that depends.  As much as you might feel pretty good about your multi-year contract terms with your carrier, you haven’t negotiated a special deal.   The carriers continue to make substantial profits by moving the goal line and changing the context your terms live in.  No one with 4-figure monthly carrier bill has ever regretted adopting telecom expense management.

MDM/EMM/UEM: more traditional enterprise release schedule: sane, controlled processes except for the part about supporting the Google/Apple/Samsung agenda.  More than likely, this will be your least problematic vendor relationship on this list – as long as you order off the “Leaders” list.

Variety as a Strength

There may be a handful of mobile use cases in your organization that will allow you to dedicate a device in a specific configuration for all time. For everything else you do, consistency will be challenging to attain and impossible to maintain.  It is better to embrace the notion that there will be a rich tapestry of device states and configurations that you will encounter and provide for.. and then get very good at operationalizing the flux.

Let’s take the use of third-party mobile apps as an example. Every device you give to employees will contain apps that you hadn’t planned for – some of which will prove to be valuable to their work and your best course of action will be to make it easier for them to adopt them and for others to follow suit.  Other apps will be harbingers of disaster, stealing productivity, creating data silos, or allowing malicious actors to enter your business.  If you focus on keeping everything out that isn’t approved first, your process will be choked with requests that are hard to validate and the savvier departments will find a way to work around you, leaving you even more exposed.  If you put no controls in place, you will likely have malicious software on your network in a matter of weeks.

The best approach, currently, is to allow individuals to innovate while you monitor and respond to their choices, providing better and better guidelines with each iteration.  The model for accomplishing this dance involves internal IT resources focused on enabling good innovation and monitoring the safety of their most precious data while utilizing an outsourced security provider to apply insights from a broader swath of apps and usage from across the industry.

Volume: Both trickles and floods

The beginning of each mobile deployment tends to look like a flood.  Materials, software, and systems need to come together in proper sequence and with a high degree of reliability otherwise mistakes and rework eat deeply into budgets. This all happens only once.  Even if you go through a refresh in a few years, everything will be too different for any of that learning, even if you retain it, to be meaningful.

This is the most obvious place where an outsourcer can reduce risk.  Service providers that are deploying fleets of devices on a regular basis have the processes, systems, tools, and experience to keep you out of trouble you haven’t even thought of yet…and do it like just another day at the office.

The steady-state of most mobile programs tends to be a consistent trickle of activity that, to many organizations, never achieves the size or importance to warrant managerial focus or expertise. Somewhere in most organizations, there is a drawer or box full of mobile devices that no one knows what to do with.  They had some value at some point and might still represent a liability based on the information on them, but it didn’t seem like a big enough problem to solve.  Multiply this scenario by all the touchpoints in a mobile program and you’ll have a meaningful issue, but that almost never happens.  With an MMS provider, you can rely on them to optimize every step in the process and treat each workflow and asset as an opportunity for improvement or value realization. Once again, the proper provider can solve problems for you that you didn’t realize you had.

Getting to Greatness

Mobile initiatives are almost always part of a larger Digital Transformation or Digital Business strategy now.  The key to making these efforts worth the investment of time, focus, and treasure is to take advantage of the potential for continuous improvement to business process and user experience, not to learn a bunch of stuff that doesn’t add value to the business.   The risks to security and unplanemmned costs are too great to ignore. Outsourcing to a qualified Mobility Management Services provider like Vox Mobile, can get you to a great program faster and with more reliably.