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Device enrollment is a sticking point for IT pros, especially those who work in larger organizations with a lot of devices.
A QR code scan is not considered an automated device enrollment method, but it's still a simple way to achieve effective enrollment to a mobile device management (MDM) server. And as support from device manufacturers broadens, QR code enrollment is becoming a more viable method for IT admins.
QR codes haven't been a popular form of device enrollment for a variety of reasons. Google didn't allow QR codes as a provisioning method until Android 7.0 and higher. Apple and Google only recently allowed users to natively scan a QR code without downloading a separate app with iOS 11 and Android 8.0, respectively.
Benefits of QR code enrollment
SMS enrollment is another common method to enroll devices to an MDM server. With QR codes, however, admins can save on both the monetary cost to send an SMS message and the implied cost to manage the SMS method. For example, admins might have to inform end users to disable a do not disturb feature for SMS messages and ensure that end users don't consider the SMS to be spam.
Admins can generate a QR code and send it via email, which then prompts the end user to download the applications and policies that the managed device requires. Admins that need to enroll devices in bulk may not have the ability to send users an email, such as admins that prepare devices for healthcare, retail or shared device scenarios. In those cases, some MDM platforms enable admins to upload a CSV file for bulk enrollment.
QR code enrollment offers an improved workflow over the device enrollment process with a sign-in URL, device policy controller identifier or near-field communications. Admins and users don't have to download a separate app or go into the provisioning site; they can simply open their work email and scan the QR code, which takes them through the process to download and set up the configured policies and profiles. IT can also embed Wi-Fi information in the QR code to automatically configure an internet connection.
Most MDM vendors have a straightforward process to create QR codes and enrollment instructions for both iOS and Android.
Near-field communications (NFC) is another common device provisioning method that uses QR codes. Admins download a provisioning application on the device. Then, they can scan a configured QR code with the app. Once the scan is complete, the enrollment information is transmitted with NFC to the managed device. For Android devices, the first screen of the Android setup wizard will appear at that point.
QR code enrollment use cases
QR code enrollment isn't a silver bullet; rather, it is best for niche use cases. QR code enrollment is beneficial for admins that need to provision a large number of devices but don't have the ability to send end users an email.
Some admins, for example, need to provision devices for new employees that haven't set up a work email, employees that don't have regular access to email or employees of a small company without an email setup. Bulk enrollment with QR codes is also common with traditional and rugged devices for field service workers. QR enrollment is a good method for admins that need to enroll devices that don't support NFC, such as tablets.
There are a few limitations of QR code enrollment, however. Android devices must run an OS of 7.0 or later. And although it is easy for admins to use MDM to push the QR code, it is still a time-consuming process to scan and enroll devices one by one. Most admins opt to use Apple Business Manager to enroll iOS devices for maximum efficiency.