Seeking Mobile Nirvana

By Lori Castle, Editor in Chief — January 06, 2014

Holistic, strategic, “mobile first”— is this enterprise mobility version of  Nirvana? Maybe. What it’s not, just yet, is reality.

Though the mobile market continues to change faster than any technology has before, this next year is still predicted to be one where companies and solutions will finally start stepping ahead. 

That will be true for some. But in actuality, many businesses are still putting the pieces together and figuring it all out.

The Mobile Enterprise Editorial Advisory board is made up of leaders who are, in part, charged with the mobility in their organizations.  Their initiatives, challenges and the trends they are seeing reflect this range of maturity across verticals. We asked a few members to tell us more about what is really happening out there.

No. 1 Priority
Brendan O'Malley, Chief Information Officer, NSM Insurance Group, says that a top project for his company will be mobilizing its CRM application to make entries while out in the field.  “Today we take notes and then make entries when we get back to the office,” he explained.

Pat Smith, VP and CIO, Our Kids of Miami-Dade/Monroe, Inc. is also focusing on the field. “We are refreshing our case worker mobile application and want to build a framework so it is both platform and device agnostic.” That will of course lighten the load of those in IT who have to manage it all, but this non-profit is also thinking about the user.

“We are also looking to ensure that we provide more actionable information than we ask the remote worker to collect. The remote worker must see the app as a way to work that makes their job more productive, not a new compliance burden,” she said.

Greg Lush, Senior Vice President, Learning, Quality, Innovation, ABM, had innovation in his title for good reason — because he is doing just that.  He is way beyond just mobilizing the field, working to galvanize it with a focus on “dynamic business intelligence.”

“Mobile computing, with the help of cloud technologies and a wide variety of operating systems and form factors, is finally evolving from simple dedicated path logic. An example would be the silly push of a dashboard to a mobile device; this practice really misses the point,” he said.

According to Lush, this is “looking in the rear view mirror.” He strives to present relative, actionable data which feeds the user with perspective and allows the recipient to apply the newly discovered information with other mobile activities to effect change. 

How? “We address this with the use of data feeds (agents) piped into our Internet service buss. These agents are exposed on the face of a tile, within context of other functions and points of perspective for the user.  This form of dynamic intelligence creates a culture of thoughtfulness and empowerment.  It is our responsibility to provide information workers with information!” he explained.

Don King, INF Solutions Engineer, Kimberly-Clark Corporation is looking at the (really) big and smaller pictures. “Our tasks are to improve customer service, retire Blackberry, convert iOS apps from XCODE 4 to XCODE 5, and possibly approve a new mobile device platform (Android or Windows Phone).

Back to Basics
In the other hand, Joe DeChow, Manager, Information Systems, Munson Medical Center, is getting down to management basics.  “In my company (a hospital system), our biggest mobile initiative is one of securing our applications while making them easier to access from more places.  So we are installing MDM/MAM software to address this,” he said.

MDM is addressing things like provisioning, but the bigger issue for the regulatory environment he serves is securing and accessing its application suite.  According to DeChow, “It has a lot of highly sensitive patient and financial data. Our users need the access, and we want to give it to them, but not without doing the right things first.”

One of the most fundamental things mobility can do is replace paper. That is what is on the syllabus for Kevin Baradet, Chief Technology Officer, SC Johnson Graduate School.  He said, “Our mobile projects are continuing to refine electronic course material delivery. We are looking to get out of paper content generation and handling to take out material costs and repurpose staff time to other areas. Just like pilots are now switching to glass flight bags, we’d like to enable students to have a glass classroom and the ability to access all of their academic materials at any time.”

Still a Challenge
Raise your hand if you think security is still a top concern to mobile leaders? The majority ruled. 

King said that security is the No. 1 challenge facing the enterprise and will need to be addressed with customized applications and encryption.
 
O’Malley pointed out that maintaining security becomes even harder as mobility is opened up to more users.  Lush added that costs for this are still too prohibitive.  He said, “With millions of devices on the market it is amazing that they are still hundreds of dollars for partially functioning tablets (Android and Apple).  Costs need to be in the sub $100 range for processors and screens’ we will then be able to push to all service workers and not just a small percent.”

O’Malley and others are also discovering a dearth of talent and/or resources in this area. Mobile hastens the change equation that IT already struggles with because of lack of resources, according to Smith.  “Few managers in leadership positions understand the resource costs required to maintain and upgrade IT systems.  Mobile just accelerates that with devices that are ‘old’ in 18 months and nearly constant operating system upgrades.  Secure mobility is part of the corporate network so every change and upgrade must be properly managed and tested.  The larger the IT infrastructure, the more difficult this becomes and may become a competitive disadvantage for organizations that are not prepared,” she said.

DeChow again mentioned providing simple, secure access to systems as a concern, but went on to say that finding people with the skills to do these things is an issue. “We are developing in-house talent to do that, but that comes at a cost of taking longer and some mistakes.  We could, of course, hire out services, but then we are not developing the skills.”

Add to that, the lack of funding he often faces, and mobility becomes almost impossible.  “The ability to provide mobile or any other new service without breaking the budget is problematic.  I am in a business that is used to using the venerable beeper at just a few dollars a month per unit.  That isn’t the norm anymore, but moving all those users to a smartphone or even a basic cell phone is many times the cost,” said DeChow.

Baradet mentioned the support side, saying, “It is always tough to train the staff to keep up with the latest versions of things while maintaining the historical. On the flip-side, new always seems to keep the technology staff motivated and happy.”

BY-Uh-Oh?
Lush noted, BYOD is not new, however, he said it remains a challenge "as it is charged with lagging confidence and adequate legal precedence.” Here, it could be that smaller companies will set the bar.

“In an uncomplicated, non-litigious world, BYOD would be a widely adopted process, it makes very good sense.   Those organizations operating closer to a family than an enterprise will likely lead the way.  Larger organizations will be hesitant until a happy balance point is reached between fair compensation for use of a personal device and the recovery/protection of corporate data,” he said.

King stated:  “To BYOD or not to BYOD, that is the question.”   Echoing Lush, he pointed out that some companies who may have decided on BYOD are now reversing their stance and are moving back to corporate owned.  He said, “It has to do with who owns the information. It is easier to enforce policies and limit information on a corporate device than a personal device.”

Cultural Shift
Is anyone still fighting the change? Surprisingly yes, said O’Malley, who worries about overcoming cultural resistance. “There is a fear of loss of control that is holding us back from the ‘work anywhere/everywhere’ paradigm that I am used to [in prior roles].  I thought people were passed that everywhere, but there are still pockets of resistance.”

He will be happy to know, that he is not the only one. In Baradet’s case, the students are driving the change to mobile from traditional systems, but he also believes it will take a while for the internal culture to adjust to the rate and types of change that the contemporary student is looking for — “Like many cultural shifts, there are always the early adopters/promoters and there are those whose hands from which you have to pry the old technology.”

The vast majority, he noted, are somewhere in-between looking for a device/service that makes their educational and social experience easier at a price that they are willing to pay.

For DeChow, resistance has turned to expectation and the latest and greatest is becoming a hiring asset.  He explained, “We find that as we attract and recruit new healthcare professionals that they are of the generation that assume mobile devices and applications are part of the package. There are some that even say it is a big consideration in their decision on accepting a position.”

Social Perception
Keeping up with the times also means enabling social. In the same vein as expecting mobile to be “part of the package,” social media has become the place for communication. Lush said, “While the younger population may be seeking additional platforms to collaborate (past FaceBook to Instagram, Vine, etc.) the enterprise still perceives social as a spare time activity.  Our ability, as an enterprise, to capture and share experiences will enhance every workers experience and deliver creative caring results.”

Perhaps, this is the next cultural/mobile challenge, as he pointed out that the move from social to community will take time. “However, it’s well worth the effort,” he said.

King sees social as a challenge here too —but is looking at it from a risk perspective rather than the cultural lens.  “Employees are using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snap Chat, etc. to a wide degree and forcing companies to rethink security.  Confidential document or pictures can be posted on the internet for all to see and the terms that a user/employee signs by registering to these sites may not protect the company.  This could create a huge impact down the road.”

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