As the need for ruggedized devices increases, organizations must ensure that their unified endpoint management systems can properly support a rugged device management strategy.
Many organizations in a variety of verticals -- from utilities, field service, transportation, delivery services, health care and retail -- deploy ruggedized devices. These ruggedized devices, which include kiosks, ruggedized handhelds and tablets, often run OSes that differ from the rest of a device fleet and have different needs than a regular device.
Why a UEM is crucial to rugged device management
In these cases, organizations should deploy unified endpoint management (UEM) because the market for specialized and rugged devices is changing. Previously, organizations purchased fixed-purpose devices and deployed that product for many years in a single and unchanging mode of operation. That's generally no longer the case, and there is an increased adoption of durable smartphones that act as substitutes for fully ruggedized devices.
It's important for organizations to be able to manage a fleet of devices that allows flexibility in choice based on newer features, better security, lower cost or better user experience. A true UEM approach makes sense because it provides maximum flexibility while also creating a single management system for all devices in the organization. This lowers overall costs and improves support.
Organizations that are about to purchase a UEM platform should ensure that the product can accommodate rugged devices as well. Organizations that already invested in a UEM deployment should use their existing product to manage rugged devices if it's possible -- or if they can't, consider moving to a separate system.
The first step is for organizations to take an inventory of all devices and their corresponding OSes. This seems simple, but many companies don't know what they have installed. Ruggedized devices may run an OS such as Linux or Chrome, an embedded OS such as QNX or an older OS such as Windows Mobile or Windows CE for devices that have been in the field for a while.
Next, IT staff should build an inventory of not only the devices, but also what they are used for, what apps run on them and how critical they are to the business. If there is a small number of unique devices that run a simple app or few apps, don't change often and are not mission-critical, it makes sense to keep them at a lower priority for fitting them into a UEM strategy. In some cases with few specialty devices, it may make sense to have a unique management function for those devices. For organizations that use a large amount of special-purpose devices and few standard commercial devices, it may make sense to concentrate on the best UEM for the special purpose devices.
UEM features to prioritize for rugged device management
Next, IT should create a list of necessary features by device type and use. Organizations with general-purpose smartphone devices should prioritize features such as zero-touch enrollment, zero day security protection, the ability to create multiple user profiles by roles and/or other uniqueness, remote control for support and the ability to create a protected work container to run corporate apps and store that data securely and separate from the personal side of the device.
For most ruggedized devices, however, many of these UEM features are unnecessary. Since many ruggedized devices have a single function, there's no need to protect against consumer apps because the devices don't have the ability to upload. This limitation can be built into the device or enforced with a management system. Rugged devices are not often replaced, so the need to have a zero-touch enrollment process is unnecessary and, in some cases, not even desirable.
Some specialized devices are shared between users, so profiles and the ability to work in kiosk mode, or reformat the devices uniquely for each user, is important. All management systems should offer a full lifecycle management capability, but it's important to understand what that means for specialty devices as they often have a very different lifecycle than a more traditional smartphone or PC. Ruggedized devices, for example, may have a useful life of 7-10 years, while smartphones and PCs' average lifespans range from 2-4 years. Organizations should also consider other needs associated with ruggedized devices. For example, these devices may need to comply with certain regulations and require specialized support interactions.
Choosing a UEM vendor for rugged device management
Many vendors that built mobile management products over the past 10 to 15 years, such as BlackBerry, Citrix, MobileIron, VMware and Microsoft, have morphed into full-service UEM vendors. They have added capabilities to manage not only iOS and Android devices, but also Windows and Macs. Rugged device management vendors have also started to move towards a more inclusive management product strategy by producing a more complete offering for both specialized and traditional computing platforms. Not all of these vendors, however, support all OSes.
To properly select a vendor, organizations must evaluate which OSes a UEM platform needs to support. If the UEM supports the OS of the rugged devices, an organization should be able to manage them. Not all ruggedized devices require support for specialized OSes. Some ruggedized devices, such as mounted computers for vehicles, run Windows; other devices such as rugged scanners often run Android OS.
Other rugged devices run more niche OSes, however. Several vendors, including VMware and BlackBerry, support Linux OS and added support for Chrome OS as it makes its way into specialty devices such as customer-facing kiosks and smart signage. Several of the traditional rugged device management vendors, such as SOTI and TinyMDM, often started with rugged device management with support for Windows Mobile and Windows CE. These are no longer the default OSes for new rugged devices, but there are still many devices in the field that run them, and organizations need to assess whether or not to include them in a rugged device management strategy.