Whose responsibility is mobile device management?

Summary:Mobile Device Management needs to be in the hands of the people supporting the end user not in the tight fists of ivory tower dwellers.

"I have great wisdom but no responsibility."

I have seen a few lively debates about who (which support group) has the responsibility for mobile device management. While there is no single right answer for every situation, I think I have the 'final' answer: End User Support, fka Desktop Support. I know that stance will stir a lot of unrest but that's where the support responsibility lies from a simple and practical standpoint. Mobile devices more closely resemble desktop computers and laptops (another type of mobile device) than anything else in the enterprise.

The argument for Desktop Support goes something like this:

A mobile device is an end user tool and therefore it falls under the support umbrella of desktop computing.

The argument for a System Administrator group is as follows:

Mobile devices require more security and management from a remote perspective and less so from a 'touch' standpoint, therefore desktop support isn't appropriate.

I can see both sides of that argument.

Some argue that a new group, Mobile User Support, take on the responsibility.

I can't see that perspective unless you're trying to manage thousands of devices. Then, it makes sense.

Several years ago, when I worked at WorldCom in Desktop Support, I had the dubious honor of working directly with users and their broken computers. We (the Desktop Support group) were considered by many to be on a fairly low support tier--just above Help Desk personnel. We were actually a group of very skilled technicians. I would have put our technical expertise up against any in the company.

We, however, were second-level support and that's what we did: Run tickets. We had no administrative access of any kind. If the problem could be resolved by messing with a user's computer, training the user or re-installing an application, we were good. We had no real authority over anyone or anything but we had a lot of responsibility for resolving user problems. And, as far as I know, we resolved every problem satisfactorily. I would have known because I was the Team Lead for that Desktop Support group.

The Help Desk, our level one support, had administrative access to everything. They had no real responsibility except to try to resolve problems in five minutes or less or pass on the ticket to my group or some other group who could bring the problem to resolution.

The third-level support group, called PC Support, was supposedly the "gurus" of the whole IT department. They tested software, they played with all the new toys, they set standards, they created the "Gold" images that we had to use, they setup everything and even deployed all the new PCs to the company. I hated that group. Their manager was a jerkette and their attitude was that we were really second stringers. They had God access to everything and kept it all to themselves.

Had mobile device management (MDM) become a thing back then, they would have been the people to manage it. Not because it was right but because they were seen as the ones who could do no wrong*.

My point to this mild rant is to illustrate that responsibility for fixing what's broken and that of handing out policy are often disparate. Unnecessarily so.

I believe in an end-to-end responsibility chain in IT.

That means that, if you're putting me in charge of fixing something, I need to have real access to fix it. I need to be able to remedy the situation at the source, not at the endpoint. For example, my team at WorldCom cleaned up thousands of virus infections that were actually being deployed by our own IT department. We had no power to prevent further infections but the whole scenario certainly caused a few days of chaos--and lots of high-fiving by my group.

The bottom line is that the group that has the burden of support also needs to have the benefit of handing out policy. You can't have two separate entities doing the work because it creates tension between IT groups and havoc for the end user. If our goal, as IT support personnel, is to support and not hinder, then that's what we need to do: Support. We need to provide the best possible support to our customers, the end users.

We might think of ourselves as gods and gurus, but really, we're in a support role. Gods and gurus sit cross-legged and dole out bits of wisdom to their eager and foolish worshipers. Support people, on the other hand, serve and are worshiped by no one.

So, to answer the question again, "Whose responsibility is mobile device management?"

End User Support.

The same people who must face the end user and the problems and the complaints.

Empower the food chain.

*That is until yours truly found that their team was sending out hundreds of new PCs fully equipped with the NYB virus. Ah, the sweet smell of smackdown. Will give you the whole sordid tale in a later post.

**By 'awesome,' I mean not awesome.

Topics: SMBs, Mobility, Wi-Fi

About

Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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