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Retailers face array of challenges, including flood of new operating systems

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The use of mobile devices by sales assistants and other associates presents retailers with new opportunities — and new challenges. Of the latter, one of the most critical has do with managing and maintaining the devices. According to one expert, the help desk can't be expected to do it all.

"Every device needs to be configured and supported and managed in some way," said Alan Dabbiere, chairman of AirWatch, a provider of mobile security and enterprise mobile management, in a presentation at the National Retail Federation Conference & Expo.

According to Dabbiere, many retailers' internal systems are not in place to do the job properly. Implementing a mobile device management (MDM) program is a means to simplify mobility for retailers by improving lifecycle management and employee enablement.

"If you give your employee a smart device and say, 'Put on these restrictions, configure it, set up corporate email,' most people can't do it," Dabbiere said. The value of MDM is to roll out the new capabilities mobile provides, but in a secure manner that is simple to install and easy to deploy, he explained.

Retailers are further challenged by the onslaught of new operating systems — iPhone, Android, HTC, Windows, Blackberry and others all continue to introduce new versions. Meanwhile, the use of mobile devices is becoming pervasive in the work environment, and not just corporate-owned devices. Dabbiere cited a recent survey in which 63% of respondents said they use their personal devices for work in some way, shape or form. There are now a billion mobile devices operating worldwide, with about half touching corporate enterprise, and more are coming.

Retailers need to set up systems whereby "a user can pick up the device, put in a passcode, hit enter and get the device fully configured and managed without calling the help desk," Dabbiere advised. He suggested creating a secure Web-based setup where employees can go to learn and perform these tasks.

"Mobile devices are holding information like laptops, but they are not being secured like laptops," said Dabbiere, who noted that application protection is also becoming a major issue.

"Look at your PC," he said. "It is a foundation and just like it, a phone or tablet is becoming a foundation piece of technology."

Mobile scalability is not simply "putting devices into the hands of millions," explained Dabbiere, but controlling "the effect of those millions of devices on your network."

Laura Klepacki is a contributing editor to Chain Store Age.

© 2014