Beyond the Device: The Next Era of Mobile Computing

By Bob Sutor, Vice President of Mobile Enterprise, IBM — July 12, 2012

When you look down at that shiny mobile device in your hand, what do you see? A way to get work done on the go, play some games during your commute and check out the latest tweets?
When I look down, what I realize is that the power of these gadgets isn’t in their touchscreens or their elegant design. It’s in the variety of apps and communication services we can use on them to stay connected.
That’s why, when it comes to thinking about how these new mobile devices are remaking the workplace, retail and the business of information, I start by thinking about what these devices can accomplish, not the gadgets themselves.
By thinking beyond the device, companies can prepare themselves and figure out how to make the most of this age of the mobile device.
Here’s what I mean. Look back down again at that device in your hand and consider the hardworking banking app. Chances are, you use one pretty often to check your balances or do transfers. Many people do. Financial service and banking apps, after all, are one of the top areas of mobile development these days.
What’s the consequence of that? Suddenly, hundreds of thousands, even millions of people, can connect to their bank accounts at any time of the day, wherever they are, whenever they want and do some pretty sophisticated things quite easily.
For the banks, this apparent simplicity creates huge new responsibilities. Mobile connections amp up traffic massively. They open up new security risks. They create new software development issues because companies are now catering to an ever increasing array of platforms and devices.
Does the bank have the appropriate infrastructure to handle this new service? Do they have the right tools to build apps? Can they do real-time management of their consumer applications? Can they integrate all the new data with the information they already gather from ATMs and the branch offices? Can they do updates across all their customers’ devices when needed, whether for security updates or new features on the app?
Separately, these different tasks may not have seemed so overwhelming in the past. But nowadays, with the skyrocketing adoption of smartphones and tablets, companies are running just to say in place and extend their applications to mobile. In fact, for the first time ever, shipments of smartphones exceeded total PC shipments in 2011. And within just two years, 90% of all organizations will support corporate applications on personal devices.
Getting ahead? Planning strategically? That seems so out of reach for many. And it often is, when companies are piecing together solutions from a lot of different vendors to stay up and in business.
That’s why companies are realizing that they need a complete mobile platform solution. They realize that to be prepared for the opportunities that mobile offers, not simply to keep up with what’s happening here and now, they need a more holistic approach.
For instance, location-based services, so long the evergreen promise of mobile devices, are becoming a reality. Because they’re about locating individuals in time and space, they really do have a transformative power, letting an airport, say, reach out to you and let you know, as you’re making your way to your transfer gate for a flight in an hour that a restaurant with your favorite food can get you in and out in 20 minutes.
To plan for new mobile opportunities like these, companies need to have a handle on their existing mobile infrastructure. It’s really only once a company has a solid, dependable foundation in place that they can move on to the next round of development. Having such a platform allows you to think about the next five, ten or fifteen apps and not just the one that is your current focus.
That’s why it only makes sense to think beyond the device. Device makers will make their money on the hardware and low-level software. Success for the rest of the world -- the retailers, the employers, the information hubs -- comes in building on top of these gadgets to create new markets and spur productivity. For us, devices are a springboard into the future, where the apps can significantly improve the quality of our personal or business lives by allowing us to do things we have never done before.


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