Mobile device management (MDM) is the concept of managing mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) similar to how IT manages computers. Expected features include performance monitoring, encryption, the ability to remotely wipe the device, and so on. BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) is the original MDM solution, and now at least a half dozen third-party vendors have entered the space that, in many ways, bring the features IT loves from BES and extends them to Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and webOS. (That's an oversimplification of the story, but bear with me. You can read more on MDM in Product Comparison: Mobile Device Management Options and More Options in Mobile Device Management: Telecom Expense Management and Cloud-Based.)

In the past few years, this space has exploded (which is a lifetime, really), but now a newcomer has come to steal the show. It's called mobile application management, or MAM. (Are the acronyms too similar? One thing that helps me is to think of the more casual ma'am vs. the traditional madam.)

Awful puns aside, here's the thesis behind MAM—in today's day and age, many employees are bringing their own smartphones into the Microsoft Exchange Server environment and other corporate networks. (Vendors in the space call it BYOD, or "bring your own device.") In this crazy BYOD world we live in, employees don't want the whole phone managed, monitored, and controlled. And on the same coin, not all employers want to deal with the liability of having that individual's data under their umbrella. (You know, compliance, SOX, all that jazz.) So, MAM comes to the rescue as the best of both worlds, or BOBW. (Sorry, couldn't help it.)

But does application management alone truly cut it? Let's dive into that question.

What You Get with MAM

I recently spoke with two vendors in the MAM space, AppCentral and Apperian, and while the two are different, there are some commonalities. (I won't dwell on the differences in this article—my purpose is to give you an overview, and you can do your own research and ask all the good questions should you go down that road.)

So here's what you get in a nutshell: You hook up the MAM solution to a client machine, either a software download or a Software as a Service (SaaS) solution. And from here, you can manage both the apps that your company has developed for employees, and (to some extent) the apps your employees use that came from those big scary app stores (a term that is finally safe to use!).

You can push apps that you develop to your employees and make sure they download them. You can also determine who should get what apps based on department, title, etc.—and those policies can integrate with Active Directory, thankfully. Also, you can recommend specific apps from public app stores to your users, again by department or what not, and you can even restrict users from accessing the public app store beyond what you've recommended if you feel the need to do so. (You can't technically prevent a smartphone user from accessing the iOS or Android stores, but you can set company policies to monitor this and reprimand those who fail to comply.) Oh, and you can also use these solutions to push documents out to mobile devices, such as a PowerPoint slide to the sales team. So there are lots of nifty features there.

Another feature that AppCentral offers (not sure about the rest of the competitors) that's interesting is application purchasing management. This means, you might not want to restrict users from the app store, but you might want to manage how much they're spending (or how much they can spend), and work on bulk licensing so the whole executive team can get Fruit Ninja at a 15 percent discount, or whatever other essential apps you need.

There are plenty of other interesting features, but that should provide a brief overview of what you can expect from an MAM solution.

But What About Device Management?

A valid question to all this is, what about device management? What about performance monitoring, remote wipe, expense management, etc.? Well, most MAM vendors would probably say ActiveSync and BES are sufficient for those needs for most companies. And maybe that's true. But if that's not true for your company, you can also deploy both an MDM and an MAM solution. It's all about choice.

Update: Thanks to @abraunberg on Twitter for pointing out that BoxTone (an MDM vendor) and Apperian are partnering to offer a combined MDM/MAM solution. I don't think they're the only ones doing this (have heard about several MDM vendors that are offering increased application management), but it's interesting to see two well-recognized vendors in these spaces working together. Check out the press release here. 

So in a nutshell, MAM can potentially offer everything you need to manage mobile applications, at a lower cost and lower level of control than MDM solutions. And for many organizations, that's a pretty sweet deal.

Wham, bam, thank you MAM!

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