During the past decade, a seismic shift happened in the realm of personal computing. Mobile devices overthrew a domain that was once dominated by legacy desktops. These devices range from handheld smartphones and tablets to laptop computers. In 2021, the number of active mobile devices stood at almost 15 billion and it predicted to rise to 18.22 billion by 2025.

The tremors of this shift resulted in a need for a solution to efficiently manage and secure these devices. Still, the existing solutions only covered traditional desktop management software that could handle on-premise desktops – not mobile. This is what gave birth to mobile device management (MDM), an administration approach that has seen an impressive development over a short period of time.

The Dawn of Mobile Device Management 

2001 was the year Pizza Hut delivered a pizza to space. Destiny’s Child was still together. The Pope publicly approved Pokémon, and the first real MDM solution was born. SOTI was the first MDM to gain traction and enabled enterprises to control and provide real-time support to mobile devices remotely. This caused demand for more remote management solutions, and in 2003, AirWatch was founded, offering multiple support across multiple platforms.

At the time Apple and Android had a relatively lower feature set when it came to device management unlike Windows, which has been using SCCM (system centre configuration manager) since 1994. The catalyst that would cause the device management niche to grow into what we know now didn’t happen until 2010. It all started when Apple released iOS 4, which featured many MDM capabilities never seen before. That same year, Google released Android 2.2, code-named Froyo. Froyo incorporated some device management capabilities using the Android Device Administrator API set, but its features paled compared to Apple, Microsoft, or even Blackberry.  

These MDMs offered basic device management features like device provisioning, enrollment into manufacturer’s device programs, encryption, and password enforcement. In addition, they provided for device monitoring, remote lock, and remote erasing if the device was stolen or misplaced. 

The Rise of EMM and Containment

As mobile devices became more entwined into our personal lives, MDM became one part of several other lovely acronyms. Mobile Content Management (MCM) emerged to provide access for end-users to share corporate data. Corporate networks needed to be secured by identifying and giving access to employees, and so Mobile Identity and Access Management (MIAM) was introduced. The inflation of mobile applications created a need to deploy, update, and secure apps, and so, Mobile Application Management (MAM) was born. Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) ultimately arose from the convergence of these solutions and MDM.

In 2012, Apple released iOS 6 with a far greater number of APIs for enterprise mobility. EMM vendors were able to take advantage of these added capabilities to cater to a rising trend of containerization. It allowed a single device for work and personal life by creating containers that separated the two. Android soon followed suit, and Google launched the Android Enterprise Program with Android 5.0 (lollypop) in 2014. In addition, Android Enterprise was made mandatory in all GMS-certified devices with Android 6.0 (Marshmallow). At the end of the day, even if your company provides corporate devices or promotes a bring your own device policy (BYOD), EMM solutions could use the APIs provided by the operating system to manage and secure them efficiently. 

Bringing It All Together 

The number of EMM vendors saw a drastic increase from 2011 to 2012. EMM shifted from an add-on technology to one built by huge enterprises. Microsoft launched Intune MDM, and Blackberry announced that Apple devices could be controlled using its Blackberry Enterprise Server. By 2013, new players were also competing in the niche: ManageEngine, Codeproof, Sophos, and many more entered the domain during this period. Even our own Hexnode was released in 2013. 

When Windows and macOS incorporated mobile device management functionality into their desktop operating systems, it was the next stage in the evolution of device management. As a result, EMM vendors started supporting desktops and laptops in the guise of a unified solution. Unified Endpoint Management (UEM) was born as a result of this pivot. In 2018, Gartner announced that they are officially moving to the UEM label. Hopping in this direction, Intune became Microsoft Endpoint Manager, and Blackberry Enterprise Server became Blackberry Unified Endpoint Manager, along with many other EMM vendors.

UEM solutions today are capable of managing desktops, laptops, mobile devices, IoT devices, browsers, applications, and virtual desktops all from one platform.

What’s Next 

The device management market is predicted to reach $98.7 billion by 2030, and the acquisitions made by tech giants in the past decade are an obvious testament to this fact. In 2013, IBM acquired Fiberlink’s Maas360 to launch their own IBM Maas360. In 2014, VMware acquired AirWatch, and in 2015 Blackberry acquired Good Technology, two of the oldest names in mobile device management. Even more recently, Ivanti acquired MobileIron in 2020. Apple also recently took a step in enterprise tech by acquiring Fleetsmith and releasing their own Apple Business Essentials.

The rate of change and innovation is not slowing down. The eruption of new IoT-capable devices and new cloud-based operating systems are new spaces for UEM solutions to grow. Furthermore, business security experts believe that zero trust architecture is the final frontier in enterprise security and UEMs are a vital part of it. In the network security front, SASE (Secure Access Service Edge) offers the combination of edge capabilities with cloud security. If the past decades have been about initiating mobile devices into the workplace, then I suspect the next will show us how much these technologies can flourish. 

Apu Pavithran
Apu Pavithran is the founder and CEO of Hexnode, award-winning UEM platform
Hexnode
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Recognized in the IT management community as a consultant, speaker and thought leader, Apu has been a strong advocate for IT governance and Information security management. He’s passionate about entrepreneurship and spends significant time working ...Read more