Mobility management with VPNs

Mobility management with VPNs

Virtual private networks can help organisations achieve greater productivity and deliver exceptional customer service, while improving security and reliability.

With more and more enterprises such as local councils, transport operators, logistics companies, security firms and others turning away from traditional two-way radio and embracing smartphone and tablet technology, it’s important that they do not overlook the back-end systems that tie these communications solutions together.

Delivering applications and data to mobile workers is a key initiative among organisations with critical communication requirements. In a 2015 Aberdeen Group survey, 83% of companies reported that implementing fully connected mobility (real-time access) was either extremely or very important to them. Among the reasons cited were worker productivity (60%), faster service resolution (41%), cost control and reduction (32%), better resource visibility (24%) and revenue opportunities (21%).

A mobile virtual private network (VPN), such as that delivered by NetMotion Mobility, is the key to achieving best practices in a deployment and realising the full benefit of mobile communications investment. A VPN provides secure, reliable network connections for mobile workers; builds worker acceptance to overcome common change-management issues; and allows greater span-of-control for field managers and IT staff.

Enhanced customer service and improvements in worker productivity have corresponding benefits for customer service levels. Solving problems on initial service calls is both a cost saving for the company and a convenience for the customer. Giving field personnel more timely access to CRM, support and other customer data allows them to handle a wider range of service issues face to face, deepen the customer relationship and earn loyalty. Service information such as parts availability or repair tips can be checked at the customer’s site for faster problem resolution.

Updating service tickets in the field also allows call centre-based service reps to give real-time status reports. This improves the customer experience and lays the groundwork for web-based, customer self-service initiatives.

The role of a mobile VPN

Implementing a mobile-computing system can be a challenge because it typically involves significant organisational change and new work habits. Selecting the right VPN — an often overlooked yet vital piece of the infrastructure — is essential to facilitating a successful rollout.

NetMotion Mobility is a mobile VPN widely used by critical communication organisations. Like a conventional VPN, it secures enterprise data across public networks through encryption and protects corporate networks by ensuring that only trusted users and devices gain access.

However, it does much more: it is a key to delivering the full promise of the entire mobile deployment. Mobility is expressly designed for the unique characteristics of mobile environments, where workers roam and use computing devices constantly, while expecting uninterrupted use of open applications throughout the workday. Mobility is the essential ‘glue’ that ties together multiple networks including various cellular data services and Wi-Fi, aggregates disparate mobile devices and manages them as a single virtual network and deployment.

High-profile users of the NetMotion system in Australia include public safety agencies and utilities such as NSW Police and South Australia Water, with the local provider being Wireless Data Solutions.

The following are some common challenges organisations face in field deployments and the role NetMotion Mobility plays in achieving best practices.

Secure, seamless user experience

The most common reason for failed mobile deployments is lack of user acceptance. If field tools are cumbersome or difficult to use, workers will not embrace them.

As many organisations have discovered, connectivity problems are the most common source of frustrations. Workers often lose connections and need to re-log in; and when applications are running during those interruptions they often crash, requiring workers to not only log in again, but re-enter the data they lost.

NetMotion Mobility handles logins automatically as field workers transition between various cellular networks and access points, and keeps the applications and connections alive as they traverse those boundaries and encounter coverage gaps.

Workers only need to log in once at the beginning of their shift. This single sign-on also supports two-factor and multi-factor authentication via RSA SecurID (used by many telecommunications service fleets) smart cards, user or device certificates, or common Radius servers. Workers freely use their devices without having to manage connections. Plus they can suspend or hibernate applications throughout the shift without having to re-authenticate or risk data loss. Data connections remain secure without hindering users.

In mobile deployments that begin with conventional VPNs and are subsequently replaced with Mobility, this simplified user experience leads to significant productivity gains. In new deployments, it delivers a positive user experience that facilitates change-management and speeds adoption of field tools.

Management control

Managing mobile devices across a dispersed workforce is a challenge, and more so in large deployments. Securing and maintaining hundreds or thousands of field-based devices, miles from the corporate data centre, is much easier with Mobility. Giving the IT team and field managers control over remote devices enables them to:

  • set and enforce policies to manage user and device access to networks;
  • improve security and protect users from inadvertently taking action that bogs down devices or connections;
  • set rules to limit access to specific applications, prohibit web browsing or restrict access to intranets or specific sites;
  • enforce restrictions based on connection speed or time of day;
  • prioritise users by line-of-business applications, so critical traffic has the highest priority.

This policy-management capability is especially useful for keeping file synchronisations and other large data transfers off cellular networks, where they might interfere with customer-related business applications. Workers carrying laptops, handhelds or smartphones can all have different policies, or supervisors may have policies separate from the workers they manage.

Visibility into usage patterns and problems

Monitoring performance across multiple networks is a challenge, especially when networks are outside of IT’s direct control. Mobility Analytics measure and report on device, application and network usage. Administrators can spot coverage or connection problems, determine high bandwidth consumers, drill down to monitor traffic patterns, verify version details, monitor battery life and much more. In addition, proactive notifications based on adjustable thresholds can dramatically decrease help-desk calls. Staff are alerted to potential device or network problems so they can be resolved before they disrupt workers or impact service quality.

In environments where safety is a top-line concern, such as for utility crews or other potentially dangerous work environments, a mobile VPN can provide an added level of safety. An active device indicates that all is likely well at the work site, and the mobile device also provides a reliable communications link.

Enforcing device security

Mobility Network Access Control software verifies that devices have required security precautions in place — such as patches, operating system updates and active antivirus with current signatures — before allowing a connection. Depending on the severity of the issue, administrators may choose from a variety of actions, ranging from simply warning the user, to requiring immediate remediation, to quarantining the device. This gives administrators the flexibility they need to protect the corporate network without hampering worker productivity. They can also automatically remediate the device, at a time and in a way that doesn’t interfere with its productive use.

Patch management and upgrades

Mobility allows field-based devices to be managed ‘over the air’, through third-party systems management software, as easily as the organisation manages desktops and laptops on the wired corporate network. Application updates and patches may be pushed out while the unit is still in the field, but when users aren’t actively logged on, between shifts. This eliminates the need to dock a unit or wait for a wired connection and can provide significant labour and cost savings for IT staff.

Mobile initiatives have great promise for field organisations. Deploying a VPN built for mobility such as NetMotion Mobility is essential to realising the full benefits of the investment and achieving best practices. These include delivering secure, reliable network connections, promoting user acceptance and gaining management visibility and control. In this way, organisations can ensure that they achieve greater productivity and deliver exceptional customer service.

Image courtesy NetMotion.

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