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Acer America Corp. is a computer manufacturer of business and consumer PCs, notebooks, ultrabooks, projectors, servers, and storage products.


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News & Articles

March 29, 2012 |

How to Mobilize SMBs: MDM as a Service, Mobile Security, and Hosted Voice

Learn about the mobility market from three different directions, as channel pros demonstrate the options available for mobilizing your customers, including mobile device management and mobile security. By Ellen Muraskin

Three channel pros address the mobility market from different directions, demonstrating the options available for mobilizing your customers.

By Ellen Muraskin

For SMB resellers, the mobility gravy train is just starting its ascent. But what we’re now calling “mobility” started with the specialized data collection devices used by warehouse workers and field forces. BlackBerry email is where it grew, and everywhere is where it’s gone, riding on the iPhones, Android devices, and tablets that working people have introduced into their lives as consumers.

The channel pros interviewed for this article all came to mobility from different directions: one with a background in supply chain mobile scanning and printing, one from traditional product resale, and the third from hosted PBX. But they all agree that today the money is not to be made in reselling mobile end devices; carriers and mass-market discounters do most of that. Neither is it in newly mobilized line-of-business apps. The SMB VAR’s role in the mobile ecosystem is more about everything that supports and surrounds mobility: wireless network infrastructure, mobile device management (MDM), and security. In addition, we’ve seen opportunity in upgrading on-premises wireless networks and optimizing 3G usage, as carriers cap their data plans.

Mobility is also increasingly about putting these ancillary services in the cloud. SMBs’ aversion to capital expense and IT hires, the lightweight storage capabilities of hand-helds, combined with their inherent wanderings, make a great case for SaaS. These “up the ante for educational guidance, business process transformation, and integration skills,” says Laurie McCabe, partner at SMB Group, a market research firm. They also shift the charging model from sales and service contracts to yearly or monthly subscriptions.

Mobile Device Management as a Service
Denali Advanced Integration
, a Redmond, Wash.-based systems integrator, is a case in point. The company has a history supplying wireless LANs and specialized mobile devices from Motorola and Intermec to big supply chain companies such as Amazon and Con-way. While President Chris Gerhardt describes that business as still growing, he now sees his company moving into MDM—the protection of mobile devices and their data—as a hosted service.

For preexisting hospital clients, Denali now assembles fleets of the battery-powered mobile carts brought to patient bedsides. With its own help desk and data center, Denali develops a customized service-level agreement (SLA) around the management of these devices for a monthly fee.

“We get them from the manufacturer [Rubbermaid], put asset tags on them, and put in the computer that they’ve selected. We’ll provide the point services, the devices, make sure they have the right software, and fix and replace them when they break,” says Gerhardt. Through the RFID tags, Denali also knows where the carts are located on the floor, and if they need recharging, hospital personnel are automatically notified.

In another hospital application, doctors access medical records on smartphones. Since the hospital couldn’t control data security on a mixed collection of personally owned mobile phones, Denali came up with a zero-client solution in which the phones only tap the user interface of an electronic heath record application running on a server. A Citrix client on each phone provides the mobile equivalent of a virtual desktop.

No More “Shoot, Ready, Aim”
Typically, says Gerhardt, the sales team or CEO at a client company decides to deploy iPads, so IT can no longer say no. Gerhardt’s team helps clients replace the “shoot, ready, aim” accidental strategy of many mobile deployments with clear roadmaps and execution. “We start going down the list: ‘Have you thought about how you’re going to deploy them? How you’re going to manage them? What about security?’ They start thinking, ‘Omigod, I don’t have anyone on my team who knows anything about these devices.’ That’s where we come in.” Denali makes sure the infrastructure is robust enough to support mobility, and in specific industries, survive regulatory audit.

Denali has also been able to deploy mobility solutions into its traditional retail vertical. In one case, the company provided wireless access for applications designed to keep sales floor employees from leaving the customer’s side. Instead of “checking in the back,” employees check inventory, order from other branches, and even complete credit-card transactions from tablets.

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Another opportunity in mobility involves reselling cloud-based virus protection, network intrusion detection, encryption, packet inspection, and Web filtering. This is now a “huge” part of the business of Virtual Graffiti Inc., an Irvine, Calif.-based VAR selling hundreds of products to thousands of customers, according to President and CEO Hillel Sackstein. When the Prince George’s County school system in Maryland issued iPads to students to take home, school officials began a trial deployment with Virtual Graffiti to provide a Web filtering service from Zscaler Inc., in Sunnyvale, Calif., to ensure the kids steer clear of unsavory websites.

Another Virtual Graffiti customer is Toyota Racing Development (TRD), whose employees work in the pit of a different racetrack every week and need quick access to data. Toyota is now evaluating Web filtering, WAN optimization, VPN, and policy management service through Cisco’s AnyConnect client installed on their tablets and Cisco’s ScanSafe SaaS offering, rebranded through Virtual Graffiti.

Finally, even a service that one might consider inherently mobile—hosted business voice communications—has given the PBX reseller a chance to morph his or her business into mobile data applications. In the first place, when VoIP Networks, of Cherry Hill, N.J., loads a Mitel client into a smartphone, it is more than merely making that phone ring alongside the extension on the employee’s desk. It extends to that smartphone all the transfer, hold, and conferencing functions found in the desk extension, plus presence—a view into co-workers’ availability status. In the second place, it will treat that smartphone as a Mitel extension no matter where in the world it is, as long as it’s online.

More important for developing mobility opportunities, VoIP Networks can run one virtualized instance of the Mitel PBX for each of its customers, and that gives customers ideas. “If we can virtualize an instance of their PBX,” says CEO Chuck Reagan, “they ask what other applications we can host for them.” From there, it’s been a short hop to hosted Exchange and phone-integrated When calls come in, Salesforce pops its caller data to the mobile screen, call-center style.

Reagan says the SaaS business model can be more profitable than on-premises installations. The cash flow is more predictable, and the retention level better. With an on-premises project, “the next purchase may not be through the same channel partner,” Reagan points out.

To get started, survey and learn the technologies surrounding mobile applications—the wireless LAN infrastructure, MDM, cloud security services and/or appliances—and understand the benefits you can bring to customers. Pick your cloud and/or platform partners. Then you can actively start the mobility discussion, treat it as an aspect of all future projects, or be there when the call comes from your customers’ IT team, who can no longer keep the tablets and smartphones at bay.

ELLEN MURASKIN is a New Jersey-based freelance technology writer.

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