Zenprise, one of the pioneers in mobile management software that supports a variety of phone platforms (BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Palm Pre, Android, iPhone), has now released a Remote Control add-on for BlackBerry smartphones. With the Remote Control application, IT staff can connect to any BlackBerry device over the Internet and both see the user's screen and actually control the device.

If you've ever tried to walk a user through a technical scenario over the phone (especially with a less technology-savvy user), you're well aware that it can be a painstaking experience. An action that would take you less than a minute could easily take fifteen by the time you help the user navigate where he or she needs to. This is exactly the scenario that Remote Control solves.

"When the user is calling from the road, you really don't know what they're seeing on their smartphone. Or they could be in a branch office with no IT staff. So, people will provide support over the phone—tell me what you see, click on this, click on that," said Ahmed Datoo, vice president of marketing for Zenprise. "It's really challenging when you can't actually see the user's screen—and what compounds this problem is how many different interfaces there are. For instance, one of our customers has 8,000 BlackBerry devices and 85 different firmware versions. Every carrier has their own flavor of the smartphone."

How Zenprise's Offering is Unique
If you're familiar with Bomgar or LogMeIn, then you know that BlackBerry remote access already exists in the market today. (Bomgar also provides remote control for Windows Mobile smartphones.) However, what makes Zenprise's offering unique is that they offer Remote Control as part of an existing monitoring and management suite.

"When you think about supporting an end user, the device is probably the last thing you want to look at," said Datoo. "You want to first ask: 'Is there something wrong on the Exchange server; is there something wrong on the BlackBerry server; is there a network problem; is the carrier experiencing a problem; is the RIM network down?' These are all the things that you want to rule out before you get the customer on the phone."

Granted, most enterprises already have the systems management tools in place to confirm these types of outages, but I see Datoo's point. When he demoed the Zenprise suite for me, I could see how intuitive the dashboard was. The second you connect to the system and to the user's phone, you see an extensive dashboard providing information on many of the outages he just described that could cause a potential problem. You have the data right at your fingertips, in one place, and you're just a click away from taking control and helping remediate the problem physically. The potential time savings in troubleshooting (and goodwill amongst company VIPs) is significant.

Pricing and Future Direction
The Zenprise MobileManager suite (which offers monitoring, management, and expense management) costs about $35 per user but will vary based on volume. To add the Remote Control add-on, it's an extra $25 per user per 1,000 devices. And while Zenprise will support organizations with as few as just a dozen smartphones, Datoo concedes that the technology is generally ideal for organizations with at least 200 smartphones.

 Down the road, Zenprise plans to offer Remote Control across more smartphone platforms, to match the widespread support offered by its base MobileManager suite. And as part of a bigger picture, Datoo sees the future of the company as developing one consistent platform to serve all of a company's IT needs related to smartphones.

 "Our vision is to provide a single console to solve any problem that the IT department would have with any smartphone. The problem could be security related, optimizing the span of devices, remote control, getting applications on the device, and what we find is that as it relates to the smartphones, there are a ton of different tools that you'd need in order to solve a basic problem. While troubleshooting, it's not uncommon for an IT person to have 10 consoles open. Wouldn't it be great if they just had one screen that allowed them to do everything they needed to manage that smartphone? Think of all the time that would save."

 To see the Zenprise offerings in action for yourself, visit the company's demo center.