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Q&A: Sprint's take on the future of mobile device management

For a while now we've known that smartphones can create lots of potential headaches for IT departments, whether you're securing multiple platforms or managing telecom expenses through multiple carriers.

Sprint Tuesday announced it would try to give its business customers a hand with its new Sprint Mobility Management services that will give IT departments a choice of three mobility management partners to work with to meet their needs. Sprint says when customers sign up for Sprint Mobility Management they can choose Bluefish Wireless, Manage Mobility or Vision Wireless to provide them with a wide variety of mobile device management services that work across different networks and device platforms.

RELATED: Can Sprint realistically support both LTE and WiMAX?

With this announcement, we thought it would be a good time to catch up with Steve Coker, Sprint's Business Mobility Solutions general manager for product marketing, and get his take on how Sprint is adapting its enterprise mobility services to meet challenges in a quickly-changing mobile market.

Can you talk about what each of your three providers brings to your customers and why you decided to give customers access to three different providers in the first place?

Overall we really wanted to provide four different capabilities around managed mobile services. The first is device life-cycle management, where companies determine how do they get the right devices with the right software out to their employees. The second area is telecom expense management, where customers can ensure across multiple carriers that they are utilizing their services in the most efficient manner possible. Our third is enhanced care that provides customer service for businesses using multiple carriers. And the last is mobile device management security that helps businesses make sure they've got policy management, remote wipe, and the ability to determine what apps can and can't be loaded onto devices.

BACKGROUND: Boxtone blends mobile device control with enterprise directories, policies 

All three companies we're partnering with have services in all four categories, so rather than having to mix and match across partners you can pick one partner and work with them across all the services. It used to be back a few years ago that the telecom industry had a walled-garden approach. We've been proactive in having a more open approach where we have partners we bring to table but we don't tell you, "You have to buy from this one." We wanted to have a portfolio of providers that had different capabilities and strengths. One partner might have expertise in integrating with Oracle Back Office, while another might have expertise with a particular interface for mobility management services. When we go out and have conversations with our customers we want to understand what situation they're in and what their configuration looks like. We then recommend which of our three partners works for every individual customer.

You mentioned that this service can work across carriers. Do you even have to be a Sprint wireless customer to use this service?

I would find it hard to believe someone would buy Mobility Management services from us if they're not already buying some kind of wireless service from us, but we don't mandate that you have to have a certain number of handsets from us in order to use Mobility Management.

What have you been hearing from your customers about how their mobile device management needs have changed?

One of things I hear recurrently is that the days in which businesses simply decided to buy certain phones and then support and control them are long gone. Whether the CEO wants his latest favorite gadget to be incorporated into the infrastructure or something else, IT departments are being impacted by the consumerization of IT. They now just want to push that complexity onto somebody else. If there's one thing I hear from people it's that, "It's just too complex, there is way too much going on and my business needs to be focused on what we do as part of our core business." So they want to find someone to take care of these problems for them.

How have tablets changed the equation for your business customers in terms of managing mobile devices?

It depends a lot on whether the business is acquiring the tablets or whether the employees are bringing the tablets in themselves. If the businesses are providing the tablets they typically have both Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity. If employees are bringing them in they tend to be Wi-Fi-only devices. If the company is providing the tablets, they are going to take a more proactive approach when it comes to having corporate data on them, so they'll want a cellular connection to make sure they can enforce remote wipe and other security policies more easily. When they allow Wi-Fi-only tablets to connect to their networks it's largely on a Web-only basis and they aren't letting them have access to business applications with sensitive data on them.

What do you think is the most important upcoming trend is for mobility and how will it relate to enterprise users?

For businesses the most significant trend that is emerging is beginning to recognize that mobile devices are fundamentally different than PCs, laptops and netbooks because they were designed from the outset with GPS and location-based services and many businesses haven't grasped what those capabilities can do. For instance if you're paying your sales force based on mileage reimbursements, you typically have them keep track of their miles and file a report. But if you turn your phone into a tracking device you can both automatically file mileage reports and you can get more accurate data. I think you'll see more businesses behaving that way in the future and that will move the market in that direction.

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