3 Keys for the Mobile Enterprise

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Guest post by Dan Eckert

An agile organization is a mobile organization. And, given today’s technologies, there’s no reason why your company shouldn’t be both.

Today’s alignment of smart handhelds, information clouds, and social networking innovation can finally take the power of IT to the edge of your enterprise where it belongs. Making the most of this alignment is where success is achieved or lost. So what does technology leadership need to know before they begin addressing the advanced mobile enterprise?

3 Keys to Mobile Success

Here are three things to consider if you hope to succeed.

1. Choosing a software platform is more critical than which hardware you should buy.

I recently worked with a company that had over 10,000 mobile devices in the field. Two years back, they had a rolling refresh strategy, updating 25% of their devices every 6 months. Their problem: they were being forced to support more than 4 generations of devices, all at the same time ― mainly because the manufacturers of those devices continued to update their product lines every 6 to 12 months.

In addition, each grouping of devices came with slightly different specs. For example, a device purchased in month 1 and another purchased in month 6 were never exactly the same device. And each new one required a new software build.

So, no sooner did they get a build stabilized for one device than it seemed to break something in their other devices. It was too much code churn for the CIO, so he made the call to replace the whole inventory once every two years.

Twelve months into the new strategy, they discovered that they had standardized on a lemon; the device broke so often that the enterprise consumed all its spares and had difficulty securing replacement parts.

In short, it was time for yet another change.

This time they decided to choose the platform they would develop on first, then sought out devices that would meet their needs: they let their users choose from many different devices, since it was the platform ― not the device ― that helped them achieve success.

2. Mobile innovation is driven by the consumer.

I was reminiscing the other day with a CIO friend of mine who manages a billion dollar plus IT budget.

For both of us, it seemed like only yesterday that a Blackberry clipped to one’s belt conferred the ultimate in corporate status. Yes, it only brought two apps together ― email and voicemail, but oh what a difference they made. Sure, my friend admitted, he was tethered to his job. But he felt so productive being in near constant communication with his team while working away from his desk.

Then, in 2007, something happened. The iPhone changed the nature of smart phones forever.

The day it was released, the VP of Sales at my friend’s company called him to ask how to access his corporate email from the device. “Apple at this company?” my friend thought. “Not a chance.”

But when the requests just kept coming ― from one VP after another in the coming weeks and months ― he knew something was up. And by the time iPhone 3 hit the market, he had lost control. Rank-and-file employees were simply figuring out how to get around the IT roadblocks.

In the end, he had no choice but to enable corporate email on those devices. And when iPhone4 was released in mid-2010, Android devices also started popping up. Now they are everywhere, too.

The days of just two devices ― a Blackberry and a feature phone ― are long gone. Today’s employees (who are also consumers) demanded more than just two apps. And since we couldn’t provide it, they got them from the consumer marketplace where there were literally hundreds of thousands of applications they could use.

“When I touched my first iPhone,” my friend said, “I knew we didn’t have a chance [of keeping Apple out of the enterprise]. Then, when I purchased the iPad, we ordered 50 for the organization within 3 months. The consumer demand simply fueled the tech innovation that can now be leveraged for the mobile enterprise.”

“Frankly, I’m disappointed in myself for not realizing this earlier.”

3. Delivering even basic mobile capabilities requires functionality that is complimentary to what the company already offers online.

I spend a lot of time with technology executives in the consumer banking industry. Mobile banking has started to crest with features like remote deposit capture, fund transfers, and bill pay ― not to mention basic services like account status, inter-day balances, and alerts. The next big wave will be mobile payments, which is just now starting to bubble up. But as recently as 2009, only one or two of these features were even available via a mobile device.

So, how was it possible to create an entirely new channel for banking in just two short years?

It’s fairly simple, really: most of these banks leveraged their existing e-commerce and Internet platforms. The banks have been building these platforms and wrapping their legacy mainframes since 2001 in an effort to cut customer service costs in both the physical and virtual channels. Mobile technology uses the same technologies as online applications.

In large organizations, it’s nearly impossible to get everyone on the same device. But, since mobile uses the same technologies as online applications, leveraging the existing investment in online goes a long way toward cost effectively deploying mobile applications across the enterprise.

HTML, XML, web services, content management, etc. are all similar technology stacks to mobile. And while mobile does enable the developer to create “fat” applications (that is, those native to that device), they are easy to build. The real cost is in accessing content and data from inside your firewall. But, if those services have already been created because of an online requirement, then adding a mobile app can be much less expensive than you might think.

Photo shared by kiwanja

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