As people come to rely on their mobile devices and apps for more and more of life’s — and work’s — essential functions, IT must develop the strategic thinking and acquire the background knowledge not only to manage, but also take optimal advantage of this mobile revolution.
IT must make it possible for employees to connect their devices to corporate resources without compromising security. It must manage a proliferation of devices with different form factors, operating systems and capabilities. It must develop apps to mobilize customer interactions, employee data and more. And to do all this, it must standardize on an open mobile platform that will enable IT staff to manage and enhance employee mobility with a minimum of sleepless nights.
Below are the main trends and concerns surrounding the mobile revolution and guidelines for meeting the challenges they present.
1. How do I enable “Bring Your Own Device” — and help employees actually use their devices?
In IT circles last year there was much consideration of implementing policies to allow employees to bring their own devices and use them on company networks. This year the discussion is evolving: Whereas earlier, the question was whether to implement BYOD, the reality now requires us to figure out how to do it, and do it competently and securely. Your users are bringing their own tablets, smartphones, and in some cases PCs, whether you’ve invited them to or not.
We see users connecting their devices to corporate WLAN networks and accessing enterprise information resources, usually without adequate security. In spite of the many issues you and your users might encounter — data ownership, diversity of operating systems, complexity of device capabilities (security, management, application functions), and lack of support — this trend has only been increasing.
Our job is no longer to prevent BYOD from occurring. Our job now is to use the right combination of technologies, processes and polices to enable our users to have compelling, secure and prolific application access so they can actually use their devices to get work done. BYOD, if supported with platform-based approaches and Web technologies, has the power to transform IT from a gatekeeper to an enabler of productivity.
2. How do I handle the constant stream of new tablets, ultrabooks and other non-PC devices?
Here again, much has changed in the past year. Where before, the advent of the tablet was raising a variety of questions — (Would there be an iPad killer? What is the optimal form factor for a tablet?), this year an overall answer has manifested itself: It doesn’t matter. The tablet is here to stay, in 10-inch, 7-inch, 9-inch, and any other sizes that may come out. The operating systems, too, will come in a staggering variety.
As we see more ultrabooks in end users’ hands, these too will lack consistency in OS, display and even input capabilities.
In addition, increasing numbers of non-traditional devices — telematics, TVs, printers, appliances and even alarm clocks — will provide users Web access, cloud services and information inputs. While none of these devices will replace the PC, we need to understand how they fit into a workstream and the best ways to provide rich, optimized experiences for both our employees and our customers in a cost-effective, manageable way.
Because this process will involve all departments — lines of business, IT, HR and legal — CIOs must secure commitment at the CEO level to build a “mobile center of excellence” to support this wide range of mobility endpoints. The mobile center should meet regularly to establish policies for device ownership, security, application development and acceptable use and to develop a matrix to support and evaluate new app requirements.
Finally, the center must implement technologies to support those policies including mobile device management (MDM), mobile application management (MAM), and adoption of an open next-generation mobile app development platform.
3. What context-enabled services should I integrate into my mobile applications, and how do I do it?
This question will probably be an open-ended one for years to come. We’ve only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to how context-enabled services allow more compelling interactions on mobile devices. What most of us aren’t yet addressing adequately is this: How can these apps, and the context they provide, enable us to provide better experiences for our end users, including at times when those users aren’t actively using the application?
For example: If you know where a person is and what he’s talked about on his social networks, then you know the right time to offer him something you know he already wants. As the technology marches forward, the apps and the devices themselves begin to interact and provide context to each other, enabling information to reach him before he even knows he needs it.
The obvious, low-hanging contextual fruit are location and search; but enterprises should experiment with other cloud-based context services like social network interfaces, shopping lists and discussion topics. Using cloud-based services with open interfaces will enable you to rapidly integrate these elements into your mobile applications.
4. I’ve got a B2C strategy. What’s next?
Over the past few years, the IT departments we’ve been speaking with in industries like insurance, mobile banking and retail have been working with their customer-facing business units to mobilize customer interactions, both transactional and informational. In the process they are transforming their relationships with those customers.
Increasingly, those same leading organizations are looking at mobilizing information for their employees as well. As you would expect, given trends #1 and #2 above (BYOD and device proliferation), the days of one application to a single device are past. Rather, we see a constantly evolving landscape of apps, services, devices and device classes.
Layered on top of this are the apps your employees already use and the need to integrate a wide variety of information sources both enterprise-owned and publicly available. The old platform approaches cannot handle this complexity, so the enterprises we’ve been talking to are looking at more open mobile platforms, along with cloud-based approaches.
5. Who builds these mobile apps for me, and how should they do it?
With a predicted 70 percent of customer and employee interactions occurring on mobile devices by 2015, most IT organizations asking the above questions have a long-term desire to bring the development of mobile applications in house. That said, at this point very few of them have the skills or people required to do it. Typically, in the present environment, the organization hires a third party to build the application, then takes the reins once the required skill sets and training have been achieved.
The issue encountered by many larger organizations, particularly those with a significant number of mobile applications projects, is that these third parties all use differing methods of development. These often-proprietary methods and platforms leave the enterprise with a morass of incompatible code and applications.
Additionally, in many cases third parties follow their own design paradigms, making it impossible to provide a branded look and feel. This issue can be mitigated somewhat with an enforced enterprise standard for development platforms, a standard that should be included in the sourcing documents and enforced during the development process.
- Support your users’ own devices with secure platform-based approaches and Web technologies so, instead of worrying about BYOD, you can leverage it.
- Handle the proliferation of different devices by activating a “mobile center of excellence” with CEO-level support.
- Take advantage of context capabilities — the obvious ones like location and search but also making creative use of other cloud-based possibilities.
- To progress in the new world of mobile, look to today’s open platforms and cloud-based approaches.
- Ease third-party-developer pain with an enforced enterprise standard for development platforms.
Michael King is director of enterprise strategy at Appcelerator. He formerly was a principal analyst for Gartner, covering all aspects of wireless. Michael has more than 17 years of experience including roles in marketing, sales and network design.