Is Managing Data Usage on Mobile Devices Hampering Your ICT4D Project?

A few weeks ago, I found myself in the midst of a compelling conversation with one of our colleagues at Dimagi. I was speaking with a member of our global services team about an exciting project she was managing. She recently supported the build and deployment of a CommCare app for 225 field operators in an urban part of Cameroon. While our chat started off with her discussing the various aspects of the project that went incredibly well, it took a sudden turn.

Although the project was going well from a CommCare usage perspective, our partner was struggling with managing all the mobile phone devices they had purchased specifically for this project. As my Dimagi teammate put it, our partner wanted to know how to stop their field operators from downloading so many YouTube videos and WhatsApp songs, which eat up all the data on the phones every month.

It was an interesting problem I had not considered before, not having led my own deployments at Dimagi. This got me thinking about how often this kind of problem occurs in large scale mobile device deployments like the example above.

A couple days later, I was chatting with another colleague who is based in our Senegal office. We were discussing one of his projects where the CommCare app setup, training, and mobile phone deployment had gone exactly according to plan. However, only three weeks into the pilot phase, the partner came back to him complaining that the data plans on all the devices were exhausted. With no budget for bigger data plans, the partner was at a loss. 

I said: “Wow, the partner must have been quite frustrated. What did you do?”

My colleague then explained to me that there were a couple tricks up his sleeve. The first was enabling “app lock” parental control applications on the partner’s phones. These apps deter field operators from downloading unapproved apps.

While this was a start, it was not a robust solution. First, there is no real way to truly control the mobile devices or the way the data was being used on those devices. Second, these apps tend to push annoying ads to the devices, distracting field workers.  And finally, and perhaps, worst of all, bypassing the app is very easy.

“How often do your partners end up resorting to these apps?” I asked.

“100% of the time,” he said.

“Shouldn’t there be a better way to handle this?” I said.

“Yes, but there isn’t,” he said.

After a lot of research and internet digging, I discovered that there is a better way. It’s called MDM, or Mobile Device Management, also more recently dubbed EMM, which stands for Enterprise Mobility Management.

I pulled together a matrix comparing the various options for MDM, and sent it around to my colleagues. I also realized that many of our partner organizations must face this exact same problem, so I wanted to share my findings.

How to receive the MDM matrix: 

If this is a problem your organization is facing, enter your email below to receive the matrix. I am asking for your e-mail before I send it to you so that I can reach out and ask you a few more questions if this is a key problem you face. You can also email saggarwal at, and I’ll be in touch.



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