BYOD – Bring your own device to work

August 31, 2011, 9:00 AM UTC

Employees who choose their own gadgets are a headache for tech support. But new software is here to help.

FORTUNE — Life was a whole lot simpler for IT departments back when BlackBerrys ruled the workplace. Today’s offices are populated with iPhones, Android-powered gadgets, and a slew of tablets — and a growing number of companies and institutions even encourage employees to “BYOD” (bring your own device — i.e., buy whatever you like) for work-related calls, e-mails, and other communications.

Now a cadre of companies is stepping up to help beleaguered IT teams handle device proliferation. MobileIron, based in Mountain View, Calif., sells software that enables its customers — including the University of Chicago and semiconductor company KLA-Tencor (KLAC) — to track, manage, and, most important, secure a broad range of wireless phones and tablets on all the major mobile operating platforms.

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MobileIron’s software lets a company’s techies monitor their fleets of phones and remotely wipe a device clean of sensitive data if it falls into the wrong hands. It also offers a tool that allows employees to do some self-maintenance of their machines, such as registering for Wi-Fi access or locating a lost device. And if workers miss an important update or start using their devices in an unauthorized way, the system alerts the IT department. “MobileIron gives us the ability to reach out to our iPad users,” says Malcolm Collingwood, senior technology strategist at Proskauer, a New York City-based law firm that recently outfitted 600 attorneys with iPads. “If Apple (AAPL) comes out with security updates, we can very quickly see who has upgraded to the latest version of iOS and then follow up with people who haven’t.”

The idea of mobile management has been around a few years — MobileIron launched in 2007 and rival Good Technology of Redwood Shores, Calif., in 1996 — but the field has exploded in the past 18 months. Gartner earlier this year published an analysis of the industry and identified 23 companies offering device-monitoring tools, including full-service security and enterprise-software companies such as Intel-owned McAfee (INTC) and Sybase, an SAP (SAP) company.

MobileIron, which recently raised $20 million in funding and signed up 200 customers in three months, welcomes the competition. “We think there’s an opportunity here to build a standalone, profitable business,” says Bob Tinker, MobileIron’s CEO. (The company is not yet profitable but has raised a total of $57 million.) “We’re in a market that just got really big really fast.” Indeed, with more companies giving their employees more wireless choices (Good says 60% of its customers already offer employees a BYOD program, and another 30% plan to do so by the end of the year), there’s plenty of work to go around.