Mobile device management products aren’t a commodity, despite past predictions

The scope of enterprise mobility management has widened, and maintaining a core MDM product remains a lot of work.

A few years ago, we regularly heard a prediction: mobile device management products would become a commodity—interchangeable and cheap. However, there’s a strong argument that this hasn’t happened.

Sure, the basics of creating MDM appear to be simple—setup a server, connect it to the web, learn how to format commands and profiles, and you're ready to go. But there are two main reasons that mobile device management products haven’t become commoditized.

Doing MDM well is a lot of work

Look at all the things vendors have to keep up with:

  • Mobile operating systems update all the time, meaning new MDM features to support. For example, besides the yearly major updates, the off-cycle iOS 9.3 and 10.3 releases also had significant new MDM features. Android enterprise is still evolving rapidly; Samsung Knox has a couple of releases per year; and don’t forget about the other custom Android APIs that are still out there.
  • MDM is more than just the latest APIs, though. There are a lot of platform services that need to be integrated. For Apple, you have things like the Volume Purchase Program, Device Enrollment Program, and Apple School Manager. On the Android side, you have Google Play for Work, identity integrations, and now support for zero touch provisioning. Samsung has Knox Mobile Enrollment, E-FOTA (a service that allows MDM to control OS updates), and Knox Configure.
  • Next, most MDM offerings have at least an enrollment agent app or app catalogue that need to be updated, and many have a lot more other apps, like browsers and email clients. Plus, if they offer mobile app management SDKs or app wrapping tools, these need to be kept up to date, too.
  • Then there all the ecosystem integrations that are becoming common, such as identity management (to do conditional access based on device state) and mobile threat defense.
  • Servicing federal or regulated customers adds the challenges of additional feature requirements and extensive certification processes.

You might be asking, what if you just want MDM to cover a few basic use cases? Even then, mobile device management products will still have to be kept up to date on more than a few of these elements.

My point here is that even though MDM seems simple, there are a ton of moving parts under the hood.

MDM and EMM are becoming part of “Workspace” and UEM offerings

If you look at where EMM vendors are going today, the differentiation is even more apparent when you consider at Windows 10 management, identity management, and “workspace” management.

Now, we could argue semantics, and some might say that the MDM components of today's EMM and “workspace” products are indeed similar. But to recap my argument, the combination of all the effort it takes to stay up to date, the deep integrations, and today’s broader offerings mean that mobile device management products are not easily fungible, and that we haven’t seen the commoditization that was once predicted.