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As More Apps Go Mobile, IT Execs Want More Management Capabilities

Cisco and Sybase roll out latest mobile app additions with some management help

More desktop apps are migrating to mobile devices, and IT administrators are scrambling to figure out how to manage them, even as the number of mobile devices on which these applications run multiplies, too.

"Mobile devices are predominantly a personal choice," says Paul Fulton, senior director of mobility at Cisco's Unified Communications unit. And more often than not, companies don't want to own those devices. "But they do need to own the data, and they need to be in control," he says.

Cisco took a step in that direction last week when it rolled out version 6.0 of its Unified Communications System, which provides one number for a person's office and mobile phones and a single voice mailbox with attached presence information that shows if callers are available. Cisco's system includes the Unified Mobile Communicator, a feature that extends unified communications to smartphones running the BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, or Symbian operating systems, and to cell phones that use the Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless application development platform. The upgrade includes a portal where IT administrators can monitor and authenticate users, decide who can receive presence information, and remotely wipe data from devices. Another portal lets users download apps and set preferences.

Sybase iAnywhere, Sybase's mobile technology subsidiary, added mobile instant messaging and presence capabilities to its Information Anywhere suite. It lets companies synchronize information among mobile devices and business software from BMC Software, Business Objects, Lotus, SAP, and others, so workers can share information when they're away from the office. Sybase addressed compliance and auditing issues by providing support for instant messaging security and management software, such as apps from Akonix, FaceTime Communications, and IMlogic.

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No one vendor has the answer to keeping hundreds of mobile devices working smoothly, especially devices from different vendors and with different operating systems. Several offer mobile device management software, though in most cases it's specific to an operating system. IT administrators can send software updates to BlackBerrys wirelessly, and they can wipe them clean remotely if they're lost or stolen. Microsoft's Windows Vista includes the Windows Mobile Device Center, which automatically recognizes a mobile device and allows it to sync up with Outlook, Office files, applications, and multimedia files.

On the other hand, Altiris' Handheld Management Suite supports Windows Mobile, Palm OS, and BlackBerry devices, and provides for hardware and software inventory along with Web-based reporting, policy-based software management, password authentication, and remote device wipe. Other providers of mobile device management software include Good Technology, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, and Novell.

To help set up, adjust, and troubleshoot the automatic doors Stanley Security Solutions makes, the company provides its 400 field service technicians with Palm Treo smartphones. The smartphones are centrally managed, says Jeff Bonas, a technical support specialist, but he'd like to be able to install software updates remotely without having to send each technician an E-mail attachment with the update or having the technician visit an intranet to install it. "I'd like to know that everyone is up to date without having to track 400 devices individually with phone calls or E-mails," Bonas says.

The tools to do this are available, so it's only a matter of time until businesses like Stanley Security are using them.

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