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Manufacturing mobility rises while MDM adoption lags behind

Mobile devices are becoming more commonplace in manufacturing organizations, but the necessary mobile security measures are not being made.

Smartphones and tablets are everywhere we look in our personal -- and, increasingly, our professional -- lives. Manufacturers have taken notice and are bringing these devices into their shop floors and warehouses in larger numbers than ever, but they are not securing these shiny new devices at such a fast pace. In TechTarget's annual IT Priorities Survey, 38% of IT managers are planning a mobility project in 2013, but only 29% are implementing mobile device management (MDM) and only 28% are implementing mobile security programs. There are a number of potential factors contributing to this disparity between mobile adoption and MDM adoption, according to industry experts.

Cindy Jutras, president of Windham, N.H.-based Mint Jutras, was not surprised by these low numbers. "I don't know that it's manufacturing only, but a lot of people underestimate the ramifications of bring your own device," she said. "On the surface, [BYOD] seems like a good thing -- the business doesn't have to provide devices and saves money. But it's really opening up a potential nightmare in terms of managing all this, since a lot of manufacturers don't have large or sophisticated IT staff."

The manufacturing industry is notoriously slow to adopt new technologies and, according to Jutras, this may contribute to the low numbers of MDM and mobile security system adoption. "[Manufacturers] view enterprise applications and their support systems as a necessary infrastructure that they just have to deal with," she said. "So they don't always put time, money and innovation into those back-end systems."

Manufacturers want technology that shows clear results on the shop floor, such as automation; MDM's usefulness in that environment might not be so immediately clear, Jutras said. "[Manufacturers] don't want to spend more money on infrastructure that won't help them produce more products, unless they really need to," she said.

Vendors can work harder to promote mobile device management

If the importance of MDM and mobile security isn't as evident as it should be to manufacturers, mobile device vendors may be partially responsible. "If I were a device manufacturer, the last thing I would do is point out the vulnerabilities of [my device]," said Jutras. "Unless they have a good integrated solution to sell to address security and solve that problem, [vendors] are not going to bring the problem up."

On the other hand, vendors have an opportunity to improve their products by embedding the sort of MDM technology that companies are lacking, Jutras added. "It's a win-win for them; they get to sell more stuff and they get to address a problem," she said. Jutras is doubtful that many manufacturers will seek out MDM on their own, unless there is a highly publicized, mobility-related disaster in the industry.

Jutras recommends that manufacturers adopting or planning to adopt mobility bring in an outside group – either an independent one or one that their device manufacturer provides -- to do a security audit and pinpoint where the organization is vulnerable. "I'm most worried about security, particularly if those devices aren't staying inside the four walls," she said, and pre-implementation risk assessment may be the best way to combat any future mobility security issues.

Management plays significant role in mobile security

The barriers to mobile security adoption are often more about management than technology, according to Harry Forbes, senior analyst for automation at Dedham, Mass.-based ARC Advisory Group. "Managing devices, managing the information on those devices, having policies in place for sharing expenses and application sets -- those things are issues that some manufacturers have addressed and some have not."

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The most common technology-related barrier, according to Forbes, is the fact that most consumer mobile devices don't have the built-in security guards that businesses need. Specialized devices are available, but getting those set up to corporate standards is often a long process.

Forbes added that the first step toward better mobile security and MDM for any interested companies, not just manufacturers, is to create enterprise-wide policies around mobility and decide on a strategy for BYOD. "BYOD really shines light on previously existing, unaddressed data security issues," he said. "This is an opportunity -- maybe not a pleasant one -- to review those considerations."

Mobility trends strongly suggest that BYOD is the inevitable future of mobile in manufacturing, according to Christian Kane, analyst for infrastructure and operations at Forrester Research, in Cambridge, Mass. In the context of smartphones, BYOD makes enterprise mobile adoption easier, since people already have the devices, he said.

However, as tablets are still more of a luxury than a necessity for most people, companies looking to integrate tablets into the workspace may find themselves supplying these devices to employees. The need for more ruggedized tablets in shop floor environments also discourages BYOD, Kane said, as more specialization is required.

Mobility newcomers slow to decide on MDM adoption

Kane believes that the mobile security and MDM adoption lag in manufacturing is largely a technology maturity issue. "For a lot of companies, they're just getting familiar with new platforms, and it will take them some time to evaluate their options," Kane said.

He added that most companies have some sort of email client that can be accessed on a mobile device and so are thinking of mobile security as a simple, password-protection issue. "They at least have the basics in there, so for their initial take many companies have said, 'Let's use this for now and later see what we'll need moving forward.'"

Manufacturers also tend to launch mobility as a pilot project, according to Kane. This means that only a select group has access to the devices and apps, so MDM and security aren't necessarily viewed as pressing issues right out of the gate.

Company size is also an issue at play here. "We see MDM as much more of a concern for 1,000 plus employee organizations," Kane said. "It mostly has to do with cost and time spent with these devices, and many of the smaller companies think they'll be fine with something like Exchange ActiveSync [for email]."

Kane predicts that while MDM adoption is slow at the moment, it will catch on as enterprise mobility itself continues to grow. "I think even the companies who don't have MDM today are absolutely planning around it, and evaluating the vendors enough to make a decision," he said.

Follow on Twitter @ManufacturingTT.

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