Like the internal combustion engine, which mixes air, fuel and heat to make it explode with power, three key enabling technologies have come together in an unprecedented manner, forcing businesses to look at mobility in a new light, and in many cases move it to the top of their IT agendas. In other words, a mobile renaissance is afoot as a result of more powerful devices, faster wireless networks and broader use and acceptance of Web services and SOA.
What is the impact on the software industry? These trends and other influencing factors have created a “Mobile Big Bang” in business culture and flipped the old IT model on its head:
- More powerful devices. There is a seemingly endless stream of devices … laptops, 3G iPhones, next-generation BlackBerries, smartphones, Windows Mobile devices, and so on. Improvements in processing capability, memory, user interface, battery power and screen resolution now add up to a very strong mobile computing hardware platform.
- Faster networks. There has been a tremendous investment in networks, from wireless broadband to third-generation networks to WiFi and WiMax to seamless, ubiquitous networks. These technology improvements allow much faster, more reliable communications.
- Adoption of Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) and Web services. These technologies reduce the “heavy lifting” required for application integration and enable easy access into a variety of different points of information.
These technology advancements have created a more volatile computing environment for many IT departments. In fact, the combination of these fundamental shifts in mobile computing has caused many companies to think about their businesses in an entirely new paradigm. Customers we work with see mobility as the next computing platform that in many ways has little resemblance to the PC/laptop computing world to which we have grown accustomed. There is a real opportunity for mobility to provide exponentially higher returns if enabled properly within the enterprise.
It’s a brave new world
The enterprise mobility phenomenon is unique. While most technology initiatives start in the enterprise and over time push their way out to consumers, mobility’s origins are the opposite. Consumers have driven a strong personal-use demand for a variety of different mobile services on a variety of different mobile devices. The demand has penetrated and permeated the enterprise with a cry to use the same devices and services for work as well. We think of it as an outside-in demand.
This creates a challenge for the IT organization, as it must balance the strong consumer/employee demand with enterprise needs such as security, control and audit compliance.
Outside-in demand has also created a significant new market opportunity, but it requires unlocking technology constraints and dispelling many traditional IT practices. Getting access to the ton of data, information and processes embodied in a number of different enterprise systems and presenting it in a meaningful context to whatever an employee is doing is a key concept in the Mobile Bang Theory.
Mobile technology trends
Several recent technology developments and mobility trends are also helping to redefine what an application is and what it can do, as follows:
- Real-time mobile communications and presence technologies (i.e., knowledge of where people in work groups are and the ability to communicate with them instantly)
- Composite applications that enable the automatic update of disparate information and disparate data stores, based on a certain transaction by a mobile user
- Location-based services, allowing presence and location to be layered in along with some sort of context within mobile applications
- The ability to accelerate or improve business processes (i.e., the ability to automate order-to-cash or an invoicing cycle, sales fulfillment or ordering of inventory)
The Mobile Bang Theory describes the kind of explosive impact that context-aware mobile composite applications and composite transactions can have on business processes. It is based on the notion that one mobile action can spawn myriad business reactions — yielding returns exponentially higher than the initial mobile investment. Some organizations are reporting payback of the initial mobile investment in less than six months.
The value of mobility soars, however, when the mobile app transcends the boundaries of the enterprise to provide a user experience that combines real-time interaction with relevant, accurate and timely information. This accelerates business processes, which impacts sales cycles and service response times; and it integrates social networking and location-based technologies to build a real feeling of being connected and empowered. Business value increases exponentially when companies implement mobility strategically across an entire organization, rather than as a one-off or point solution.
The cascading effect of mobility in the enterprise
Already companies have achieved many highly successful examples of Mobile Bang — one action spawning multiple reactions and improving productivity, efficiency and control, dramatically.
For example, at DIRECTV, Inc., after a meeting with a prospect, a sales rep uses a BlackBerry to input a meeting note into the CRM system, which automatically triggers a thank you e-mail to be sent with relevant collateral attached. It eliminates the sales rep having to contact several constituents throughout the enterprise to cobble together all the follow-up actions. Five or 10 minutes after the sales rep leaves, the prospect receives a letter with actions coming out of the meeting; it creates an impression that is proving to have great returns. By outfitting its national sales force with an easy, secure way to access vital sales information while in the field, the project has resulted in a 432 percent ROI and full project payback within 2.6 months.
In another example, the service team repairing HVAC equipment in a large retailer’s facilities must discard the refrigerant in compliance with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations. They close out of a trouble ticket using a mobile app; and the system automatically creates information used for compliance reporting to the EPA, handles inventory and warranty issues regarding the equipment and handles time-and-expense reporting. Information is updated once, and it automatically updates several other systems.
Pitney Bowes’ field service engineers repair office equipment. Their mobile application takes parts ordering to the next level, taking advantage of a composite transaction and automatic event trigger. They use Siebel Field Service and set minimum/maximum inventory levels for each service rep’s trunk or truck inventory of parts. As soon as a rep uses a part and enters it on the mobile application, the system automatically orders new parts and sends them to the rep if the inventory drops below the minimum level. The rep does not even need to think about ordering parts.
Clearly, the business case for mobility has been proven many times over for specific workgroups, namely field service and field sales. But we are now experiencing the cascading effect of Mobile Bang, whereby other departments and/or other geographies of an organization are seeing firsthand the value of better visibility and the ability to share information in real time, regardless of location. As such, companies are experiencing a groundswell of demand for mobility from department to department, rippling throughout the organization. Companies are also hyper-aware of the need to develop mobile applications for services that serve as competitive differentiators.
Taking this up a level, Mobile Bang is causing CIOs and IT organizations to realize that the impact of mobility throughout an enterprise over the foreseeable future will be profound. In the past six to 12 months, we have noted a tipping point. CIOs are moving away from tactical, point solutions, recognizing that to drive business benefits across the entire organization and to be truly cost-effective, they must centralize and implement mobility strategically. They are coming to companies like Antenna Software saying they have a number of constituents they need to satisfy and are interested in a platform approach to achieving that.
Characteristics of a mobile computing platform
As mobility erupts, so do the number of solutions out there to choose from. Some of these focus on mobilizing a single back-end system or work with only one device platform. In the long run, this is a myopic approach. Mobilizing on one device or system is almost like an engine that only stays in first gear and will just burn itself out because it is limiting. Just look at the rapid-fire pace of the wireless device industry: Even though RIM represents at least 50 percent of enterprise smartphone deployments today, Apple’s iPhone is already disruptive; and Microsoft, potentially Google and multiple other devices yet to come will have a disruptive impact as well. CIOs are realizing that their mobile strategy will need to support a range of devices.
Likewise, Mobile Bang is more than just extending back-end CRM systems. Such point solutions are not able to handle mobile composite applications and force IT into a siloed approach to mobility, which results in little flexibility, high cost of change and higher TCO.
Mobile Bang is a many-to-many concept. Composite applications enable one action in the field to influence and trigger a number of other actions, all with the aim of accelerating the flow of business in a “frictionless” process. The real game-changer is to mobilize diverse business processes, applications and data from a variety of internal and external sources — from one unified, cohesive platform. Such a platform will make a real impact on the strategic advantage and profitability of businesses in the next decade.
Key characteristics of an effective mobility computing platform include:
- Prepackaged horizontal and vertical solutions (i.e., field service, field sales, etc.)
- Rapid application development (write application once – deploy to many devices)
- Composite application capability
- End-to-end mobile management
- Option for hosted SaaS model or behind-firewall deployment
- Multi-tenant architecture
- Multiple device platform support
- Multiple back-end system support
- Value-added services for integrating location-based services, Web Content, etc.
The Antenna Mobility Platform™, for example, brings together the myriad of disparate devices and back-end systems into a unified platform that is simple and manageable for customers. It enables our customers’ IT groups to standardize on a common framework to ensure rapid deployment, consistent quality and end-to-end security. On this platform, enterprises can design, build, deploy and manage their mobile applications across multiple organizations within a company.
A premise for the software industry going forward
Not long ago, companies like ours were building, managing and providing a solution that organizations could consume to meet their mobile application needs. But this has now evolved from a solution-centric model to a platform-centric model. How can a company identify when a market is ready for a platform?
Timing is crucial, and it is difficult to get it right and be able to recognize the signs of when the market is primed for a new, radical change. Knowing these signs, however, is key to being a leader instead of a laggard. Just as important, the enablers must be in place (in this case, the more powerful devices, faster networks and SOA and Web services) for deploying the platform. If the platform had been pitched before enablers were in place, it would have fallen on deaf ears. Mobility has had great promise for a long time, but it is only recently that these elements came together to provide the foundation where mobility can really hit its stride.
But as much as mobility is red hot, it is also complex. There are many components in a business mobility solution — networks, devices, business systems, processes, people and more. And a CIO’s decision criteria for a mobile enterprise solution should include all of them: the number and type of devices supported, the wireless networks to utilize for data services, the enterprise systems and processes to be mobilized and the business units and user groups that will be impacted.
Clearly, mobility will be a key strategic component for software applications and infrastructure in both consumer and enterprise markets. There are many exciting developments on the horizon. For example, the mobility-as-a-service model is evolving, and the smartphone is emerging as the next computing platform. As more players enter the enterprise mobility industry, IT will look to consolidate vendors and seek out a mobile platform that can be used across the enterprise. Vendors that can offer flexibility and scalability for mobile applications — without a custom-build and intensive IT resources — will dominate.
Jim Hemmer is president and CEO of Antenna Software, providing integrated Web and wireless solutions for the mobile service industry and the only company providing a unified platform approach to mobility. He has a wealth of management experience in the hi-tech and communications industries and a proven track record in building successful start-up and publicly held companies. Jim has been a senior executive at ADC Telecommunications, Cap Gemini, CSC, Fujitsu, and a number of early-stage technology companies.