SOTI Sync: The power of remote control
Written by: Sam Fenwick | Published:

The annual SOTI Sync event was a great way to catch up with the latest thinking in terms of enterprise mobility management. Sam Fenwick has the details

SOTI’s annual event, which focuses on the company’s and its partners’ recent efforts in the world of enterprise mobility management (EMM), took place at the Scotiabank Convention Centre, a few dozen metres from Niagara Falls, making for a spectacular and unusual setting. Much of the two-day programme was given to updating customers on the latest improvements made to SOTI’s products, such as the introduction of SOTI MobiControl support for Linux, which will allow IT departments to remotely manage Linux-based devices and automate or schedule OS and app updates to patch vulnerabilities. However, rather than repeat much of the content from my interview with SOTI’s CEO, Carl Rodrigues, this article focuses on the presentations given by SOTI’s partners and customers.

David Still, managing director, Android Enterprise at Google, said it had recently launched a zero-touch over-the-air (OTA) enrolment process, with SOTI being one of its launch partners. This allows companies to configure Android devices and have them shipped with pre-configured management and settings, so employees can get up and running out of the box. He highlighted the ability to curate company-specific versions of Google Play (to restrict the apps that can be installed on corporate devices).

Adil Katchi, technical product manager at SOTI, discussed Apple’s Device Enrollment Program (DEP) and its Volume Purchase Program (VPP). He explained that the former allows seamless large-scale zero-touch deployments of iOS. This involves them being shipped from carriers or authorised reseller to company users, who then turn them on and follow the on-screen steps – and DEP can be set up to skip certain screens. He added that SOTI MobiControl v14 allows administrators to push operating system updates to devices remotely and that DEP allows the device supervision process to be done wirelessly when the user sets up the device. DEP can enforce MobiControl enrolment at device set-up and prevents users from being able to unroll themselves from SOTI MobiControl. He noted VPP allows organisations to buy apps in bulk for Apple devices and deploy them onto the devices that require them. It also allows apps to be installed without an Apple ID and means that companies don’t lose app licences when employees leave – it allows administrators to assign and revoke the licences as required.

Jay Klauser, systems engineer at NetMotion (which has been a SOTI partner for more than five years), discussed some of its customers’ problems that the company had been able to solve by providing greater visibility and data on their users’ devices and their performance, via its Mobility IQ solution. He gave the examples of a hospital where staff were using devices that were unintentionally connecting to unsecured visitor Wi-Fi and transferring patient data – “a big no-no”; and a stalled device roll-out due to unreliable performance – NetMotion was able to identify a particular model of device that was responsible for a high percentage of the 4,161 recorded dropped connections, allowing the company to make an informed buying decision.

Klauser also gave an instance when a company had provided its employees with expensive rugged devices, but suspected they were just sitting on people’s desks. NetMotion created a report showing the devices that were transmitting data but hadn’t moved for five days, allowing the company to reclaim a lot of the devices that weren’t being used in the field.

AR and VR in practice
Gunjan Shah, Lenovo’s general manager – North America connected and smart devices, spoke about virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), saying it is easy to create VR content, it just requires multiple cameras and consolidating the footage, while AR requires a lot of development work. “If you’re going to get into AR/VR, you should embrace the most immediate opportunity – VR; it’s very easy to get into this space. Then, if you’re going to play in the VR space, try to find a content partner – you’ll have to quickly figure out how you can take the VR content and transition it to AR, because that’s where the biggest benefit is going to be,” he said.

“VR is a smaller piece of the pie because there’s only so much VR content you can absorb during the day. Whereas you’re going to see more people playing in the AR space because it’s something you can use for a more extended period, so there are more opportunities. It’s going to get the lion’s share of the revenue.”

Lenovo’s Gunjan Shah discussed the potential of VR and AR, and looked at how AR is being used to solve real-world problems today

Shah added that AR is being used to solve real-world problems. Amazon is testing the use of AR as a means of encouraging people to order expensive items such as TVs. An app that allows potential customers to see how the TV would look on their wall and whether or not it will fit changes the consumer journey and could help reduce returns. Similarly, he noted Ikea’s work with Apple to allow customers to see how new furniture will look in their home. He added that one problem for Fiat is that the level of customisation it provides can baffle some customers. However, with AR, a virtual version of the car can be placed in front of the customer and they can see how every option they choose changes the car’s aesthetics. Shah also said Walmart is starting to use VR to teach its employees how to manage its inventory systems and stores and set up aisles. Switching from retail to the museum sector, the Detroit Institute of Arts provides visitors with smartphones to allow them to see x-rays of the mummies in its Egyptian exhibition and additional content when looking at the exhibits, via an AR-based app.

Shah added that Google is interested in AR for indoor navigation and that as humans use peripheral vision to do this, devices require a fisheye camera and depth perception. “Lenovo mimicked the human eye from a hardware perspective, [while] Google mimicked the human brain from a software perspective. When you tie those two elements together, you’ve got AR.”

The threat from quantum computing
Scott Totzke, ISARA Corporation’s CEO, discussed the future impact of quantum computing, pointing out that “[all encryption methods used today are] vulnerable” to quantum computing, as it can solve the underlying mathematical hard problem that underpins them.

Totzke sees 2026 as an inflection point – being the year when large-scale quantum computers will be commercially available and will break today’s public key encryption standards. He recommends thinking about how your organisation can put quantum-safe cryptography in place and emphasised the need to speak to critical infrastructure vendors.

“It’s really important that the vendor community that provides solutions to you understands that this is something that you are aware of and needs to factor into their infrastructure, because if they don’t hear the requirements from you, they’re not going to be in a hurry to bring these solutions to market.”

Totzke explained that as some organisations may need five or six years to transition to quantum-safe cryptography, they “really need those solutions next year, not five years from now”.

Sophisticated cyberattacks
Microsoft’s Shawn Porter, technical solutions professional – modern desktop, highlighted the sophistication of some attacks, using the Strontium hacking group’s phishing attack on NATO a few years ago as an example. It involved sending a specially crafted email to specific users with content crafted to appear relevant and interesting to them; it asked them to click on a link for more information. Clicking on the link triggers an exploit, compromising their browser while also taking them to a legitimate website so the user was unaware that anything was amiss. Another tactic is to force computers to crash, prompting administrators to log onto the system in an attempt to fix the problem, thereby giving the hackers access to higher credentials.

Mobility: getting planes off the ground
Ben White, manager, mobility infrastructure services at American Airlines, spoke about the use of Samsung mobile devices and SOTI MobiControl at his company. He said that since he joined his current team, “every time I see paper, I see an opportunity.

“We’ve deployed almost 30,000 Samsung devices and we’re able to manage them globally using SOTI’s technology. We have a refresh of that programme that will take us close to 35,000 devices.” Despite the Samsung Note 7 incident, American Airlines is staying with Samsung devices for the refresh. White added that the company’s mechanics use Samsung tablets, allowing manuals to be pushed to them.

He said that the company is “definitely” interested in IoT, given the number of vehicles involved in getting aircraft off the ground. “Some people are still writing down on a piece of paper where a tug was last left for a plane that’s about to come in. If we were connected to the tug, we’d know exactly where it was at all times, how long since its last maintenance and its driver’s driving record. It wouldn’t take very much to sell that to the people living with that headache every day.”

I left SOTI Sync (and Canada) with a new-found appreciation for the tools at IT departments’ disposal and the extent to which many issues associated with large device fleets can be automated. Clearly, developers are working hard to make it easier for problems to be identified and to free up IT departments’ valuable time – both good things given the increasing importance of mobile devices in today’s connected world.

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