Managing Mobile Devices: Anywhere, Anytime

Remote support is one of those bugbears that is never going to go away. At least with PCs and laptops you know where you are, and remote desktop tools make it easy to log in and take control of a user’s PC. You can grab logs, check files, and see just what your users see.

Things aren’t so easy with smartphones. It’s hard enough getting a screen capture from one – let alone controlling it from halfway across the country.

Managing smartphones is becoming increasingly important. They’re a lot more than a phone plus contacts and email – mobile applications have matured and are able to handle many key business functions, from CRM to field service, with a mix of custom and packaged applications. It’s not just businesses that are using smartphones to replace or work alongside laptops; government and public services have plenty of custom applications that you’ll need to support if you have clients in those sectors. There are applications that support out-of-hours doctors and probation officers, as well as tools for law enforcement and other public services. If your clients need to keep staff in the field, then they’re likely to be using mobile devices as well as laptops; a BlackBerry will work all day, and it won’t weigh the managing director down.

Managing smartphones
So how can you manage your clients’ smartphones? The answer doesn’t have to be asking the users to post them to you to check out in person. There are plenty of enterprise grade support platforms, which can scale down to SME levels. If your clients have standardised on Windows Mobile, System Center Mobile Device Manager will help you manage their devices. Like the rest of the System Center family of management tools it’ll need to run on their network and their servers, as it’s tied to Active Directory. It’ll certainly make your life easier, as you can use policies to handle many device management tasks, from controlling enabled devices to making sure that only approved applications can run.

Mobile Device Manager also gives you the tools to manage software deployments over the air. New users only need to connect to a network once to be provisioned – for everything from mail accounts to software to database files. If you’ve used System Update Services you’ll find this very familiar, as Microsoft has taken its PC technologies and adapted them for use with Mobile devices. Alongside the deployment tools you’ll also get an inventory that you can use to determine what could be causing problems. Security tools manage VPN access to network resources, and there are remote wipe features to scrub sensitive information of lost and stolen hardware.

Microsoft obviously has a lot of confidence in its Windows Mobile platform, as Mobile Device Manager is really just a provisioning and deployment tool. There’s very little scope for actively managing devices in the field – so while it’s a powerful tool and a key piece of any Windows Mobile-based mobility strategy, it’s not a tool to be used on its own. You’re going to need more than provisioning tools to keep mobile workers up and running.

If tools like System Center Device Manager and RIM’s BlackBerry Enterprise Server let you provision and control a fleet of devices, where are the tools that let you deal with problems? PCs can be managed with remote desktop tools, from the basic screen sharing capabilities of VNC and Windows Remote Desktop Services, to managed services like LogMeIn and GoToMyPC which let you control machines from your browser. If you’re using Microsoft System Center, then Odyssey Software’s Athena is worth considering, as it combines device management tools with support tools, including a remote viewer that lets you see the phone screen your end users are seeing. There are versions of Athena for SMS 2003 and System Center Configuration Manager 2007, making it suitable for managing mobile devices as part of your existing desktop and server management and support tools.

Get access with LogMeIn Rescue
One useful option comes from LogMeIn. The Rescue platform wraps a customer service environment around its remote desktop tools. Users are often familiar with remote desktop tools like LogMeIn’s eponymous consumer service, so there’s very little training required. You don't need to deploy software on user PCs in advance, or on your PC for that matter: on the desktop everything is downloaded through the browser as needed (and it can be deleted as soon as a support session ends). The LogMeIn’s cloud service handles connections between support and the supported.

Rescue isn’t just for desktop PCs and laptops: it gives you remote access to Symbian, Windows Mobile and BlackBerry devices. You’ll need an appropriate subscription in order to use Rescue, though there’s a free trial to help you get started (this doesn’t include mobile device support, but it’s a good way to get to see what the system offers).Mobile device support is a premium service, so you may want to charge a premium in your support contracts as well. You can buy subscriptions online for up to 20 staff and pay monthly or yearly; if you need more logins, you’ll have to contact the LogMeIn sales team.

Rescue has two different views, one for service managers, and one for support staff. You can use the management view to assign roles to support staff, and control which features they can use. You can unlock features at an individual level, or build groups of different classes of support staff – so you can triage support cases and assign them the appropriate level of support. Not everyone will need remote access to devices, and not everyone will need to send and receive files from remote devices. Tier one support engineers can check basic device diagnostics before handing calls on to more experienced team members. A simple PIN access code will direct users to specific support sessions, and PINs can be emailed to users in advance of a support session or given to them over the phone or in a text message (they’re only valid for 20 minutes). You can also build support channels on your Web pages to give users self-service access to online support, or have a dedicated support number that they call.

Making the connection
It’s a good idea to use email for a user’s first connection, as the connection URL will allow them to download and install the Rescue client software on the smartphone. This is a local agent that handles screen access for remote support, along with access to device information and the file system. There’s also a chat window where you can give instructions and feedback. If users find downloading applications through the device browser difficult, you can use other mobile systems management tools to push the Rescue software to all the devices you manage.

If you’re used to supporting PCs with LogMeIn the view of mobile devices is rather different. Once the user has connected you can start a chat; you can also request device information from the user, who needs to give permission on the device. The System Info dashboard shows information about battery level, wireless connections and storage. You’ll get a lot more information from a Windows Mobile device than from a BlackBerry; the various operating systems give you different levels of access to low level operating system functions. Windows Mobile will show you what’s running, what’s running at start up, and the applications that have been installed.

Dashboard management
You can cut and paste information from these dashboard views, so you can use them to log call details for further research, as well as maintaining continuity between different support tiers. It’s possible to make changes to some devices from these screens, for example controlling Windows Mobile ActiveSync settings. You can even reboot some devices remotely. Devices get their own Rescue Ids, so you can quickly see basic session logs from previous support connections, so you know what’s already been done and what the device user has already been told.

There’s more to Rescue than just looking at devices; you can interact with them too. A File Manager lets you transfer files to and from a device, either grabbing problematic data and configuration files for further study or delivering new versions of applications and data. If that’s not enough, then you can use Rescue’s screen sharing tools to take control of the device and try and reproduce faults working with the user. The mobile device viewer gives you crisp and clear images, if a little slow at times. You can use your mouse and keyboard to control the device, clicking controls on the screen. Both you and the device user have complete control, so you can use Rescue’s screen recording tools to capture a user’s actions as they duplicate the issue that’s brought them to your help desk.

LogMeInRescue doesn’t have to be a standalone package. You can build links to your own support tools using its Web services API, so you can initiate sessions and extract problem and resolution information from a trouble ticket. If you’re using or Autotask to manage your customer support, LogMeIn has already built the integration tools, so you can quickly link the two services together. As it’s a cloud service, there’s no need for additional infrastructure, and the subscription model lets you add (and remove) support resources as you need them.

Supporting bespoke mobile applications
No two businesses are the same. They all have different needs and different ways of working – which is why bespoke applications remain popular. Building and managing mobile applications isn’t easy, though tools like Athena and Rescue go some way to helping, as they let you see just what a user can see. The alternative approach is to work with companies like Cognito to develop and support applications.

Cognito will build mobile versions of existing applications and you have the choice of supporting the app yourself, providing initial support and referring more difficult problems to them or having Cognito provide all the support without your customers involving you in the request. Their tools can handle over-the-air upgrades, along with pushing out access permissions and handling device configurations and show device screens, so support staff can see what users see.

The advantage of working with a larger service like Cognitois that they have developed relationships with the mobile operators, as a significant proportion of mobile application problems come from congested networks, where voice has priority over data and diagnosing and fixing these means working closely with the operator.

LogMeIn’s Rescue service lets you see exactly what your users are seeing, sending you a live view of their device’s screen.

Use the Administration Center view to manage support staff’s Rescue permissions – and group them to build appropriate support triage mechanisms.

Once you’re connected to a device from Rescue you can use the Dashboard to get basic device information, including the current power state.

If you’re managing a Windows Mobile device from Rescue you can get lots of additional information, including current running processes.

Rescue also gives you remote access to a device’s file system – so you can upload updated configuration files or new versions of software. You’ll also be able to copy back files for testing and to explore application logs.

Microsoft System Center Device Manager

RIM BlackBerry Enterprise Server

Odyssey Software Athena Mobile Device Manager

LogMeIn Rescue -  Yearly $1,188.00 Add support for Smartphone devices  $768.00, Monthly $129.00, Add support for Smartphone devices $90.00

LogMeIn Rescue trial
Get a free trial account to see if LogMeIn Rescue will work for your clients

LogMeIn Webcasts
Watch LogMeIn customers discuss how they use Rescue with mobile devices

Managing Remote Devices with Odyssey Athena and XML Web Services
Use Athena’s tools to build your own management interfaces for mobile devices

Link to a Relevant FeatureClick here to see the article Setting up Blackberry Enterprise Server BES with Exchange 2007

Link to a Relevant FeatureClick here to see the article Small Business Applications for Blackberry


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