Partner insight: How to see employee devices as a corporate fleet in the cloud

One of the challenges for any medium to large enterprise is how to manage the sheer number and diversity of PCs that connect to the corporate network. In a sense, IT managers need a fleet management solution for thousands of data taxis.

Factor in the increasing use of employees' own desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones for business - not to mention the taking of office devices off premises for working on the move - and the device management challenge grows ever larger as the corporate perimeter widens.

The capital expenditure (CapEx) savings in allowing staff to provide their own hardware (rather than supplying everyone with a fast-depreciating device) may seem persuasive, but many IT leaders report that the device management costs in their organisations are increasing.

That's one of the key findings in recent research by Computing. A survey of 150 IT leaders in medium to large organisations found 53 percent saying that the management costs had increased slightly, while over seven percent said they had increased greatly.

A total of 60 percent is a persuasive, if not overwhelming, majority; but with only 20 percent saying that device management costs have fallen in recent years, the trend is clear, which must be a concern for IT professionals.

Culture shift

The core issue is perhaps cultural as much as practical and technological.

For many years, IT departments played a predominantly operational and maintenance role as fixers and patchers of on-premises systems. But today, more and more IT leaders are being asked to support the business strategically - as barrier hurdlers and front-office enablers. As such, they need to be nimble, agile, and smart, not slow and obstructive.

Yet at the same time, the backroom challenges such as device management, authentication, compliance, and security, are increasing, creating a tension at the heart of the IT estate.

In this polarised environment, IT leaders have to find a way to regard a more diverse mix of devices as being part of a single officially sanctioned estate. That's a challenge akin to taking a random mix of cars off the road, painting them as licensed taxis, and releasing them to pick up passengers on behalf of the city.

As fleet overseers, IT leaders need a way to manage, secure, diagnose, maintain, and update PCs remotely - particularly in the current climate when most people have been forced to work from home, a change that may become permanently embedded in many organisations.

Viral threats

The security challenge alone is complex. Viruses are on the rise in the digital world as well as the human one; malicious code is rife, along with scams that seek to exploit people's fears during the pandemic.

Computing found that security compliance was the biggest single driver for using an enterprise device management platform, cited by 51 percent of respondents. Next on the list was the need for more efficient device management (cited by 49 percent), and the need to reduce the IT team's growing workload (35 percent).

And that's not all: IT teams may need to remotely and securely wipe a device if it is lost, stolen, accessed by an unauthorised person, or there is an employee problem that puts privileged data at risk. No IT manager wants rogue data taxis on the road.

In a world where passwords are frequently known, guessable, or hacked, team leaders need a deeper and more sophisticated approach to estate management and security.

Version control is another critical issue: employees all need to be working on the latest version of core applications and other systems, so that collaboration can be both secure and standardised in terms of functionality.

The volume of patching and updates was cited as a major driver behind the search for new solutions by respondents to the survey. Other management challenges included the increase in remote working, the number and diversity of devices, their wider geographical spread, and the resultant security risks.

Beyond the device

All of this reveals the wider, contextual dimension to the challenge facing IT leaders: managing a fleet of diverse devices is no longer something that can be limited to the devices themselves, particularly if they are employee owned. Tech teams need to be able to authenticate access to core data, applications, and systems by authorised users.

In all of these scenarios, an integrated cloud platform for remote manageability is essential, because it is the only realistic way for IT leaders to achieve fleet stability - or, to put it another way, to manage all of those free-flowing data taxis as officially licensed flag-bearers for the enterprise.

A recent Forrester Consulting study, commissioned by chip vendor Intel, found 28,160 hours saved in improved employee efficiency by using the Intel vPro platform, which supports hardware based remote cloud manageability, resulting in claimed savings of $1.3 million over three years.

Cloud device management allows IT managers to direct thousands of freshly painted data taxis to just where they need to go.