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Managing Wearables in the Workplace: Conversation with MOBI President

By May 3, 2016Article

Editor’s note: With more participation in the IoT, how is this impacting the way the use of wearables in the workplace is developing? What are the trends in developing corporate policies for managing wearables in the workplace, whether or not they transmit sensitive information? I spoke with Mitch Black, president of MOBI, a provider of Managed Mobility Services (MMS), about these and other wearables management trends. 

Your company issued a press release in Q1 about revenue growth, which mentioned that the number of mobile devices you manage for customers grew by 42 percent last year and that a key growth area is the M2M and IoT space. How is the trend of more participation in the IoT impacting the management of wearables in the workplace? Or is there no significant impact yet? 

Mitch BlackMitch Black: Before, most corporations focused on managing tablets and smartphones. Now we’re beginning to see IoT and M2M devices become a bigger part of what we’re managing for them. And we’re managing the connectivity and auditing component with the telecommunications carriers to ensure that those assets are all contained in one place within the software solution. 

As to the impact, I think we’ll have to wait and see how quickly the evolution of technology moves. When some of these wearable devices are able to do more types of monitoring or transmitting sensitive data, that’s when the need for managing wearables will hit the tipping point. Today, most people think of healthcare and fitness as probably one of the big primary applications for wearables. But to date, outside of healthcare, I’ve not seen a lot of other business uses created from wearables. 

I followed the development of BYOD management processes and policies when that first started. Are the policies and procedures for BYO wearables developing slowly and on an as-needed basis like it happened with BYOD, or is it happening faster because most companies have already put policies in place for mobile devices? 

Mitch Black: We don’t yet manage consumer-type wearables like Apple Watches or similar types of wearables for our clients today. We’ve had a lot of very deep discussions with our clients on this, but most of them currently consider those types of wearables as accessories. The policies that we manage are more around connecting to systems and connecting to email. Typically, MOBI becomes the gateway to the exchange server, to email or to the application management platform where all of the corporate apps are housed. Most wearables today don’t have access to that platform, so secured data is not at risk, at least in most of our clients’ determinations to date. To be honest, we have not seen a wearables type of policy to date. 

I assumed from talking to people that the Apple Watches, for instance, are actually being used in some business intelligence uses. 

Mitch Black: We’ve heard some of that too. But as to security features today, a watch is like your handset. If you lose the watch or unhook it, you have to log back in and a lot of those emails that were in there go away.   

We have a lot of large healthcare organizations among our clients. There has been some socialization around patient applications monitoring things. But most of those are still in-the-funnel type of discussions. The hospital systems that we support have not deployed a policy yet around wearables to date. 

But that’s bound to change soon, don’t you think? 

Mitch Black: Yes, I absolutely think so. But I think a lot of the discussion that you hear in the marketplace today may be ahead of the actual business applications that are being created – at least in our client base. And I would tell you we have a good mix of corporate clients that are a pretty good reflection of the market today. 

I just don’t think we have reached that critical mass where wearables are being considered a key asset that corporations need to manage and control today. But we’re getting closer to that. 

What is the time frame when you think managing wearables in the workplace would be a key consideration? Two years? Five years? 

Mitch Black: I think one to three years. But there are a couple of things in healthcare that I think will happen sooner; that’s being pushed more by healthcare regulatory issues and not having patients come back again and again to the emergency room and doctor offices. Those monitoring systems work through tablets and contain some very sensitive information. I think we’re very close to developing management policies for some of those types of applications, but most companies are still scoping and discussing. I think in 2017 we’ll see some things happen. 

So when it happens that corporations pay more attention to managing wearables and start to develop policies, do you think there will be a lot of overlap or synergies with policies they already have for BYOD, or will the policies for wearables differ from BYOD phone policies? And if so, how? 

Mitch Black: My anticipation is that BYOD policies will be fairly similar to BYO wearables policies. I think corporate applicability on how the policies impact employees that are using corporate devices may be amended because there might be more commercial business applications, where the sensitivity in healthcare, financial services or government may be much different. 

With BYOD, in some corporations if you bring your own device, you get access to everything as long as mobile device management (MDM) is on the device to ensure data security with access to the application management platform. BYO may be similar, but corporate liability might have another level of policy applicability. 

When it becomes more critical and wearables transmit more mission-critical data, what do you think will be the biggest challenges for managing wearables in the workplace as the wearables themselves evolve? 

Mitch Black: I think it will be ensuring that people understand the importance of how valuable those wearables are compared to a phone. Today, if I lose my smartphone, I’m literally in a panic and freaking out. If I lose my healthcare wearable, I really don’t care. If a wearable has a critical nature associated with it, it’s important to make sure that employees that use those devices understand that sensitivity. And that will come through policy enforcement and education within that workforce. An MMS provider like MOBI can help provide that for them. 

There will be a lot of device manufacturers and a lot of application developers coming to corporate IT promoting wearables. So companies need to be aware of the importance of management policies today because planning cycles take a year or two. So it’s important to understand this today. 

Give me the elevator speech on why Enterprise Mobility Management services (for phones, tablets or wearables) are more beneficial than an in-house approach. In addition to the education aspect you mentioned, what are the advantages of engaging with an EMM service provider? 

Mitch Black: Our company was founded in 2009 as a spinoff of Bluefish Wireless, a managed services company partnering with telecommunications carriers. We provide a SaaS-based solution that manages the full life cycle of mobility for our clients. They are predominantly larger corporations that have a very complex mobility environment – multiple markets, multiple devices and operating systems and different Enterprise Mobility Management systems. 

Our solution has a large number and significant layer of APIs that we built out into the prominent wireless carriers. So a lot of very robust data comes back from the carriers on our clients’ corporate usage, not just from an overall macro level but from an individual end-user level. We marry EMM data with telecom carrier data; we also connect with our clients’ HR systems and, in a lot of cases, their ERP systems. So the solution and robust data enables a corporate mobile administrator to easily take a variety of actions. We also provide end-user help desk support for mobile phone devices. And we can do large migrations or device deployment configurations, all centralized and managed through our software. In short, our solution simplifies the complexities of managing mobile environments throughout the mobile device life cycle. 

Mitch Black is president of MOBI. Leveraging his years of industry leadership experience and knowledge of the enterprise mobility space, Mitch works closely with the MOBI co-founders on the company’s overall direction while providing daily executive leadership with the MOBI team. Previous to his position at MOBI, Mitch spent 20 years in other executive positions in the mobility industry, leading companies such as BrightPoint, BrightStar, PCS Wireless and Verizon Wireless.  




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