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Can Mobile Device Management Improve the Data Collection Processes?

By Guest Writer on February 19, 2018

Mobile Device Management

When doing large scale monitoring, evaluation and research, organizations often deploy hundreds of frontline workers with hundreds of devices for mobile data collection.

Naturally, people being people, enumerators download Candy Crush, Facebook, YouTube videos, mobile screen savers, and use up significant battery life and data on those apps rather than on their actual work app. This can be frustrating to a project and push them way over budget and deadlines.

IT staff often implement ad hoc solutions like the free App Lock tool for Android mobile phones, but it’s far from perfect. It delivers annoying ads, it eats up battery life, and it’s extremely easy for workers to circumvent.

Enter Mobile Device Management

It turns out there is a better way. It’s called Mobile Device Management, and its typically used by multinational corporate entities and large established sales teams.

Thinking this might be a solution for the international development sector, I tested demos from the various options for MDM, such as Miradore, AirWatch, and HexNode. I quickly realized these existing MDM tools were developed specifically with large corporate enterprises in mind.

  • Miradore had too many complex steps to setting up individual devices
  • AirWatch was prohibitively expensive – over $3 per device per month
  • HexNode required heavy training and admin support to use the tool

Overall, all of them were clunky, hard to use, and required constant administrative monitoring and support rather than just working on their own. Most of us in international development don’t have the capacity for that kind of overhead.

Mobile Device Management for International Development

I think there could be an even better way to solve the mobile device management problem for international development. It’s time we create an MDM tool that meets our specific development needs, including:

  • Data utilization management
  • Application blacklisting
  • Location tracking
  • Group notifications
  • Remote lock/unlock/wiping of devices

The tool should also just work, without the need for external training, be cost-effective, and function easily in our low-connectivity environments.

So, I’ve convinced Dimagi to build one. MobileAtWork is an MDM tool for the international development sector. In March, we’re running a free beta pilot test with a few select organizations.

If your organization has dozens or hundreds of mobile devices with field staff and you are frustrated by:

  • Constant data over-usage and top-ups
  • Erroneous app downloads and non-work usage
  • Unclear geographic location of workers
  • Losing sensitive patient data from a stolen or lost phone
  • An inability to communicate one clear message to the entire workforce

Then apply now to join our free beta test, and let’s work together to end the pain of mobile device management at scale.

By Shabnam Aggarwal, a strategic advisor at Dimagi.

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10 Comments to “Can Mobile Device Management Improve the Data Collection Processes?”

  1. Samuel Johnson says:

    MDM is something the development sector has desperately needed for a long time. Because this type of security has been non-negotiable on projects involving client-level data, we’ve had to use commercial packages such as MobileIron in development projects, and although they were very powerful, we faced all three of the issues you noted above: they were complicated to deploy, too expensive for sustainable use, and complex to administer.

    In terms of “our specific development needs”, could I also suggest adding the following:
    – decentralizes key aspects of device management (for example, national and local administrators are able to amend some policies, but not others)
    – allows flexibility in encryption and password policies (for example, password policies can be varied to accommodate local scripts/keyboards)
    And the most important one of all:
    – for sustainability, available under a free-and-open-source license.

    Kudos to the team not only for identifying a huge gap that has existed for a long time in ICT4D, but also for moving forward so quickly with a potential solution…

    • Thanks for your vote of confidence, Samuel. I think the suggestions you made for additional features make a lot of sense, I’ll get to work right away on adding them into our V2 of this product! if you’re keen on getting more involved, please feel free to reach out to me at saggarwal at dimagi dot com. I’m always looking for active and technically savvy pilot participants to help us hone our product into a useful tool for ICT4D users. It sounds like you’d have a lot of value to add.

  2. paul johnson says:

    Thank you Naomi for including me in and for your endeavors and determination to get what is needed. May I take a step back and ask what kind of devices you are using? I am concerned with device accuracy and means of testing this in the field. many devices are not testable because appropriate outputs are not available, as is the case with many high priced consumer devices such as fitbit.. There are some good ones there and could be ‘joined up’ to so-called passive phone sensors in phones such as that used in student-life for tracking changes in behavior over 10 weeks . Is there interest in more on this?I .

    • Thanks Paul for your feedback and response. I think you’re right that many devices have a difficult time with connectivity and syncing data in real time in the field. We’re focussing this mobile device management product specifically on Android devices- could be tablets or smartphones. We find these to be the most commonly used devices in data collection and research. Your use case sounds very interesting, though! I’d love to hear more about this application.

  3. Janna says:

    Hi, and thank you so much for your article!
    I’ve applied mobile data collection more in the humanitarian sector, and while we understood the benefits of mobile device management, we also saw great benefits to intentionally NOT using mobile device management in certain situations. Your article inspired me to write about a few of these benefits, which I’ve linked to in the URL, but in short:
    – not using MDM can lead people to actually take care of their devices better
    – personal use of devices can actually be used as incentives
    -if operating in a sensitive area, having the phone look “personal” can be a safety precaution if there is sensitivity around data collection
    – prevents organisations from having access to possibly sensitive off-business-hours personal location tracking
    – allows staff and volunteers to try out new apps to try to be more efficient, try new things, and tell the rest of us how to do things better

    While I fully agree that there are benefits to MDM, I believe that each context is unique, and sometimes the better solution is to NOT use MDM. Just thought I’d share, to provide a balanced perspective in case someone was wondering if MDM is the only way to go when it comes to managing hundreds of devices at a time…

    Thanks again!

    • Hey Janna, thanks for your note, it’s very insightful. I actually (perhaps surprisingly) completely agree with your position- it’s been a point of contention for us over here as well- as we’ve been trying to figure out the “right” amount of security and control when we’re all clearly and squarely in the business of increasing tech-literacy among our frontline workers. Old school MDM definitely goes against that endeavor. I think, that being said, that we still have a lot of wiggle room for our administrators to be able to manage devices and to restrict *certain* capabilities of a normal smartphone- especially during work hours. With data breaches like the one CRS suffered (https://www.irinnews.org/investigations/2017/11/27/security-lapses-aid-agency-leave-beneficiary-data-risk) I think it’s safe to say we’re all a little on edge about ensuring we protect our patients and their data.

  4. Esa Hietikko says:


    I’m sorry to hear that you felt Miradore Online difficult to use.

    We’re continously arranging free demos and webinars about Miradore products, if you want to have a second look and let us introduce the solution for you once more?

    We’ve also made a lot of videos to help people get started with mobile device management. For example, on this video, it is explained how easily one can blacklist and block a certain application on Android devices:


    Again, this video shows how you’d enable location tracking for Android devices with Miradore Online:


    Please let me know if you’d like some more information about our solutions 🙂

    Best regards,
    Esa Hietikko,
    Content Manager, Miradore Ltd

  5. Kathryn Clifton says:

    Just as an FYI to the author you can get better pricing for airwatch if you negotiate and enterprise or organizational wide license.