Best mobile device management (MDM) solutions 2021

What are the best enterprise MDM tools available for securing your corporate devices?

Mobile device management (MDM) is one of the most important business tools used by UK organisations. This is a system that helps IT administrators to secure and control tablets, smartphones, and computers used by employees in an organisation.

Thanks to new and modern initiatives like hot-desking and bring your own device (BYOD), and obviously the recent surge in remote working, MDM has become more and more popular in recent years. In particular, COVID-19 has led to a surge in the demand of this tool among businesses looking to take on MDM. As the world of work is currently transforming into a hybrid model, it is probable this demand will continue or even grow, with UK businesses aiming to ensure endpoints distributed across their networks stay secure.

It is crucial for GDPR compliance to ensure your employees can only access the data they need, and that they are restricted from accessing other information. After all, organisations will be aiming to remain as compliant as possible to reduce the chance of getting a fine. Two ways that MDM systems can help businesses on their compliance journeys is by locking data if a device goes missing, or restricting data access for employees.

In addition to smartphones, MDM systems can manage laptops, tablets, and desktop PCs. This makes them extremely useful as they can manage cyber security risks across all workplace devices. For example, malware can be downloaded inadvertently in various ways, like through phishing attacks, and infects a number of devices regardless of their form. The best MDM systems out there will manage various devices at once, wiping or treating those infected with malware before the infection has time to spread.

Whatever your needs are from an MDM solution, there are many options available from a variety of providers. Here's a round-up of some of the best options, including offerings from IBM, Citrix and more.

Cisco Meraki

A screenshot of Cisco Meraki's MDM software

Perhaps one of the most well-known MDM platforms, Cisco Meraki allows you to manage every type of device in your business from one dashboard. No matter what you need to monitor - be it Android and iOS smartphones, or Linux, macOS and Windows PCs - you can do so. There's also an app for managing devices while not at your computer, monitoring usage and making sure all data is safe and sound.

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Cisco Meraki offers a bumper feature set, enabling you to enforce device security policies, deploy software and apps, and perform remote troubleshooting if any problems arise, monitoring calls and more on the devices across your network. Every device managed and monitored is regarded as a separate device, even if they're linked. This means you can, for example, allow certain apps to run on an employee's iPad but not on their linked smartphone.

Cisco Meraki enables all of this to happen over the network, so even if you're trying to manage remote employee devices, it's a breeze. You can keep tabs on everything without anyone needing to be on the same network. It’s also easy to test-drive the platform with a browser-based demo with slated network devices and users. Plus, you can request trial hardware and get technical support to help with setup.

Pricing: Available upon request

IBM MaaS360

A screenshot of IBM MaaS360 with IBM Watson

IBM entered the MDM market following its acquisition of Fiberlink Communications back in 2013. Since then, Big Blue has been making some big improvements to its flagship MDM product. The service, which is powered by Watson AI, will easily integrate with existing IT infrastructure, enabling you to manage a diverse, complex endpoint and mobile environment.

IBM Maas360 also puts security at the forefront, securing and containing data accessed by users and keeping corporate apps and content separated while allowing for easy removal and access revocation. Its integrated threat defence also proactively shields corporate data.

IBM might not be the cheapest out there - especially since some of the services that you'd find bundled with other providers come at an additional cost - but with IBM's lengthy experience in enterprise security, you know you're getting a good quality solution for your money.

Pricing: From $4.00 (£3.22) per client device per month

Hexnode MDM

A screenshot of Hexanode's MDM solution in action

Hexnode MDM lets you provision and manage devices, and prides itself on a user-friendly design. Users can add their own devices by connecting to the network or by using a portal installed on your company's website or intranet. Their device will then be added using their Active Directory credentials.

Once the devices are added, you can manage them whether they're connected to the corporate network or being used remotely. That means you can push configuration settings to the device, restrict functionality, manage mobile applications (including blocking App Store downloads and implementing a black/whitelist), check and enforce compliance and even remotely lock and wipe devices.

Hexnode MDM also offers a 30-day free trial if you want to get give it a test run.

Pricing: From $1 (80p) per device/month

Soti MobiControl

A screenshot of the SOTI MobiControl MDM solution

Soti allows you to manage Android, iOS, Linux, macOS, and Windows devices from one place, for the entire lifecycle of the device within the organisation. They can be provisioned when first added to the company's fleet of devices, managed throughout their service and then wiped when it comes to retirement.

The platform was designed for use with ruggedised devices often used by fieldworkers and the healthcare, logistics, retail, and transport sectors.

The MDM platform can be installed on-premise or deployed on Soti's cloud. You can add devices to the platform using its Express Enrollment feature, which automatically delivers the settings, apps, and files a user needs over the air to get them up and running.

Pricing: From $4 (£3.22) per user/month

Citrix Endpoint Management

Citrix Endpoint Management is an MDM tool that allows the containerisation of business apps and personal apps, making it best suited to BYOD workplaces. Every device, including desktop PCs, smartphones and tablets, can be managed from one centralised console and devices don't even need to be enrolled to benefit from MAM, too.

As well as allowing the device owner to use a device provisioned and managed by the organisation, Citrix Endpoint Management has also been designed to let multiple users have access to one mobile device. This is particularly useful for industries such as healthcare, where field workers and emergency service workers may need shared ownership of one device.

However, it's likely one device will need applications and service provisioned with different access rights and this can be set up simply with Endpoint Management's MAM capabilities. IT managers can also lock down the device depending on the network location, stopping staff from using certain features outside of the corporate network.

Pricing: From $3 (£2.24) per device/month or $2.89 (£2.33) per user/month for up to 10 devices

VMware Workspace ONE

The VMWare Workspace One Airwatch mobile platform

VMware Workspace ONE (formerly called Airwatch prior to its VMware acquisition) offers endpoint protection for all devices, regardless of the operating system, with full device management, whether it's a BYOD or shared corporate device.

You are able to deploy and manage any app via the platform's app catalogue, whether employees are trying to access them natively, on-device, via the web or remotely. The layered security across the individual user, endpoint, data, and network can all be centrally managed using the same mobility platform too.

Workspace ONE uses automation to carry out many everyday MDM tasks, which reduces the strain on IT staff. You don't have to manually provision or enrol devices - this happens without the need for any manpower, making it a perfect option for resource-stretched businesses.

Pricing: From $3.78 (£2.78) per device/month

Next Steps

As offices begin to reopen at a limited capacity, ensuring the security of employees’ devices will continue to be one of the main challenges for IT departments.

This is largely due to the rising popularity of the hybrid model of working, which combines working from home most of the time with coming into the office at least a few days a month. One notable example of a company which champions such an approach is Salesforce, which earlier this year announced that its employees will have the choice of three working models; flex, fully remote, or office-based in its San Francisco premises, on the condition of a proof of vaccination. Prior to the pandemic, around 18% of Salesforce employees were fully remote. In June 2021, the number of employees continuing to work remotely was estimated to be at least 50%.

However, mixing remote with in-office working might raise particular security concerns, as the lines between what is considered a home or work device is blurred – even if it was provided by the company. Moreover, this also means that employees will be dipping in and out of their private networks, unknowingly become a victim of malware, and potentially infect other devices on the company network once they return to the office. This is why companies should not only be wary of their network security, but also consider adopting a formal BYOD policy. 

MDM solutions will have an important role to play as employees return to the office, and is seen as a dependent solution to enforcing not only security, but also GDPR compliance. Hoever, they can come at a high price. Before investing, look at the options and decide which would suit your business best; take into consideration the cost and scalability of the software, the security it offers, and how many employees and devices it supports. There are many more parameters that you could consider before choosing your perfect MDM, but these will give you a good starting point.

Of course, it would also be helpful to devise the appropriate MDM business plan on whether you are likely to see an ROI. However, security should be of paramount importance to any business. Failing to protect data in these times can lead to massive fines so there's no excuse not to take every measure to make sure your business stays afloat.

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