Outsourcing Mobile Device Management

With many information-technology managers increasingly overwhelmed by the rising cost and burden of supporting mobile wireless workers, some businesses are beginning to outsource the management of their handheld computing devices. According to a recent Gartner report, wireless outsourcing providers come in four general categories:

  • Software vendors such as Asurion, Traq-Wireless, BBR Wireless and ProfitLine.
  • Network service providers, including Sprint PCS, AT&T, British Telecom and Equant.
  • Hardware vendors, including Motorola and M/A-COM.
  • Systems integrators such as EDS, Hewlett-Packard and IBM.

    Their offerings range widely, from expense management services, which entail billing, procurement, provisioning and help-desk support; to higher-level managed services that may include application hosting and network strategy and implementation.

    “Outsourcing can be extremely valuable because mobile wireless technology is changing so rapidly,” says Ellen Daley, vice president and research director at Forrester. Outsourcers have the manpower that most information-technology departments don’t. As a result, outsourcers are better equipped to track changes in the mobile software and hardware markets. “Outsourcing helps firms diversify their risk and shift it to a partner who knows more about the topic, allowing information-technology departments to get back to their core expertise,” Daley explains.

    “Many firms don’t have the facilities to manage mobile devices internally,” adds Phil Redman, research vice president at Gartner. He says companies often have multiple carrier platforms and users who represent a disproportionate cost burden in comparison to typical non-mobile users.

    Outsourcing is potentially cheaper as well. Eric Roza, general manager of Asurion Managed Wireless, says that customers who use Asurion’s device rental plan on average save 20% on their mobile-hardware costs. Asurion’s device rental plan uses old PDAs and smart phones that Asurion has wiped clean of data and refurbished for use. Customers then rent the devices instead of owning them. And since one-third of all mobile devices are typically lost or stolen, according to Roza, customers save by not having to replace the devices at full cost. Outsourcers, particularly network providers, also offer significant discounts on voice and data charges, which can represent as much as 46% of the operating costs of a handheld mobile device.

    Daley warns, however, that the mobile outsourcing market is still in its infancy. There is no standardization between offerings, so it is difficult to compare vendors and assess whether they meet a firm’s needs. Also, the costs of outsourcing plans can vary widely–from $2 to $150 per user per month. Redman emphasizes the importance of obtaining a service-level agreement before signing with any vendor. The agreement should contain clauses holding vendors to established targets for response time and billing accuracy. Companies should also ensure that none of their wireless outsourcing partners take a commission from telecommunications carriers. “That will help ensure the vendors’ objectivity,” Redman says.

    And outsourcing may merely be putting off the inevitable. As Daley puts it: “Outsourcing pushes off the learning that firms might otherwise have done if they kept it in-house.”

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