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mobile application manager (MAM)

Contributor(s): Lisa Phifer
This definition is part of our Essential Guide: Mobile endpoint security: What enterprise infosec pros must know now

A mobile application manager is a tool used by network administrators to remotely install, update, remove, audit, and monitor software programs installed on smartphones and tablets. The term is also used to describe the person whose job involves managing mobile apps

Unlike mobile device managers (MDMs), which focus on device activation, enrollment and provisioning, mobile application managers focus on software delivery, licensing, configuration, maintenance, usage tracking and policy enforcement.

Administrators have long used system management tools – especially patch managers – to perform similar tasks on enterprise servers, desktops, and laptops. However, mobile applications introduce a new set of challenges which may vary based on device type, OS and ownership.

For example, many smartphones and tablets never connect directly to the corporate LAN or log into an enterprise domain. Instead, mobile application managers must administer software over mobile broadband and/or Wi-Fi while being sensitive to factors such as network bandwidth and cost to keep applications up-to-date without running up huge bills or negatively affecting business use.

Some mobile devices – notably those running iOS and sometimes Android – do not support IT-directed server push software installation. Instead, mobile users must “pull” public applications and updates from authorized distributors such as the Apple AppStore and Google Play. A corporate mobile application management team may present employees with catalogs of recommended public apps or prompt users to install required public apps, while letting users decide if and when to permit software installation or update.

Some third-party mobile applications require point-of-sale payment or licensing to become operable. Mobile application managers may facilitate this activation – for example, pushing a license file with an Android application, or allocating an iOS application usage token acquired from Apple’s Volume Purchasing Program.

Privately-developed mobile applications may follow an entirely different path, being pushed by mobile application managers onto mobile devices from enterprise-operated servers, often referred to as enterprise app stores. Some mobile application managers provide additional enterprise app store functionality, helping developers with tasks such as software testing and version control.

Many mobile application managers can compare mobile device type, ownership, user and group to IT defined policies, determining which mobile applications should be provisioned when a new device is activated (or reset and then re-enrolled). Required private applications may be pushed over-the-air (OTA) to the device; required public applications may trigger notifications (user prompts) to complete installation within a prescribed time period or before the device is considered fully-active and compliant.

Along with software distribution, mobile application managers may assist with configuring application settings or supplying application profiles and credentials required for operation and access to enterprise application services. For example, a mobile application manager that deploys a third-party mobile VPN or messaging client may also install certificates, logins, or passwords required for enterprise authentication.

Most mobile application managers can help IT determine which devices and users have installed each application package and version. Typically this kind of information can be obtained through real-time queries and historical reports – for example, letting IT identify devices that need to be updated or users that have not yet followed prompts to installed required programs.

Some mobile application managers can proactively apply and enforce application policies – often referred to as application black lists and white lists. For example, a mobile application manager may generate an administrator alert, a user notification, or quarantine a mobile device when a user installs a risky black-listed public application from the Apple AppStore or Google Play.

Mobile application managers to monitor business application usage – for example, by periodically retrieving mobile application connection, traffic, or error log files. Mobile application managers may use this data for report generating, alerting, or make it available for help desk trouble-shooting.

Mobile application managers also play a critical role in application de-installation and device deactivation. For example, a mobile application manager may be able to temporarily disable an application by removing its provisioning profile. It may permanently disable an enterprise application by removing a previously-installed application program – but this action may not be desired or even allowed for user-installed application programs, especially on employee-owned devices. In some situations, the IT department may prefer to fall back on mobile device management commands such as remote wipe to remove all applications, authorization credentials and data from a lost or stolen device.

These are just some of the tasks that a mobile application manager may help IT carry out on smartphones and tablets used for business. Note that MAM always focuses on software enablement/disablement. However, this may involve setting certain device parameters, and the precise details usually depend on the mobile device type and OS. As a result, many enterprise mobility management products implement both MAM and MDM functionality, giving IT administrators a well-stocked toolbox to meet a broad set of remote administration and monitoring needs.

This was last updated in July 2012

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