Not long ago, the terms “mobile” and “smartphone” were exclusively associated with the consumer world. All of the growth we have seen so far has been due to the consumer market, which consists of individuals ranging from homemakers to businessmen.
But as Bob Dylan sang, “The times they are a-changin.’” A decade ago, most enterprises were only beginning to explore phase one of enterprise mobility: voice, generally deployed on a basic feature phone. Phase two of enterprise mobility was more associated with the delivery of e-mail on a mobile device. This has changed significantly in the last few years with different mobile applications being explored for different scenarios. Companies in the transportation/logistics were the early adopters of handheld devices for specific business functions. These were primarily rugged handheld devices with expensive proprietary hardware and software.
The third phase of enterprise mobility resulted in these handheld devices being utilized in other industries such as consumer and packaged goods and manufacturing. During this phase, businesses started to recognize the value of enterprise mobility. As mobility benefits such as cost reduction, increased productivity, and customer retention started to emerge, CIOs got on the bandwagon.
Where We Are Today
We are now in the fourth phase of enterprise mobility, where smartphones are being widely used instead of their predecessors, such as PDAs that required proprietary software. The consumer and enterprise worlds are converging. The strategic decisions of some of the leading companies such as RIM and Apple highlight the trend. While RIM—traditionally a very strong player in the enterprise space—has reworked its strategy to provide consumer-oriented devices, Apple is a very strong consumer company that has been trying to gain a footing in the enterprise market with its recent software releases.
A few years ago, when mobile phones—and later, smartphones—were first introduced, enterprises expressed concern that employees would resent this change. Today, however, such concerns are largely irrelevant; staying connected has become essential, and employees and organizations have realized the value of this disruption.
Before just delving into enterprise mobility, however, companies need a sound strategy that outlines the benefits and value of a mobile initiative to the company as well as to the employee. Strategies should also align with the overall business objectives in terms of ROI and take into account economic and financial implications.
Who Needs Mobile Tools?
Enterprises also need to consider the potential users for any enterprise mobility applications. Workforce segmentation helps business leaders understand which employees requires enterprise mobility and which features and applications are required for each group. Though it may vary from organization to organization, workforce segmentation can be broadly categorized into two categories:
- Professionals spending 30% or more of their time out of the office
- Professionals spending less than 30% of their time out of the office
- Mobile internal staff who spend 10% or more of their time out of the office
- Local support staff who spend less than 10% of their time out of the office.
Enterprises should also have a technological understanding of the various smartphone platforms available on the market today, as there is significant fragmentation in space.
A company mobilizing its business processes and workflows must also consider the nature of its transactions and the type of applications needed for specific worker segments. These applications also need to be customized for specific business functions.
When developing a mobile strategy, enterprises should be sure to consider another critical element—governance. It’s extremely important that businesses develop the right usage policies for the company and employees and consider the complex issues involved with security.
Executing Your Strategy
There are a number of different ways to execute a mobile strategy. Depending on the enterprise’s needs, the CIO office typically has to prioritize elements ranging from cost, control, time to market, maintenance/support, performance, and functionality.
These approaches essentially fall under build-vs-buy buckets:
- Buy mobile extensions from bigger players like SAP, Oracle: A large enterprise that has a sufficient budget and large-scale deployment would consider this option. The nature of the application and associated maintenance is complex. Also, the business requirements in this scenario likely will scale up in the future. Usually in such companies, there are existing investments in enterprise software such as Oracle, SAP, and others.
- Custom/homegrown mobile solutions. This approach is suitable for medium-scale businesses that have a decent IT team and specific business requirements that need to be mobilized. Scale of deployment is not huge.
- Custom solutions from a third-party provider. This is a similar scenario to the one above, but involves a small- to medium-size business that does not intend to increase its IT team, and the company would prefer to work with a third party provider. These companies also have worked with an outsourcing vendor in the past and realize the benefits.
- Purchase specific product-based solutions. Such companies will be similar to the first bucket but they are usually not very large enterprises. These companies also would have a specific set of business requirements that need mobile enablement, and time to deployment is key. Though they might have sufficient IT staff, these groups prefer to invest in product-based offerings from smaller enterprise mobility platform vendors.
- Hosted solutions. Companies would have lesser concerns of security and are usually small- to medium-scale businesses with a limited IT team and IT budget. They also have specific business requirements that are identified for mobilization.
Currently the decision to deploy mobile enterprise solutions is a double-edged sword. There are multiple mobility options, technology approaches, and potential benefits. However, the deployment process can be challenging given the fragmentation that exists in the mobile.
In the coming year, the enterprise mobility landscape will become more intriguing as there are increased operating system choices for enterprises in 2011, including BlackBerry, iPhone, Android, and Windows 7, not to mention the different tablet OSes. The addition of the iPhone to Verizon’s network in the U.S. will also add an interesting dimension to the decision-making process for the enterprise. Ultimately, the criteria for enterprise mobility will revolve around standardization, utility, security, ease of deployment, maintenance, and cost.
In addition, tablets will become increasingly popular in the coming year. The iPad form factor will continue to lead disruption in various segments of the enterprise. Tablet devices also will begin to displace desktops and laptops from the IT landscape.
Remote access, virtualization, and VPN solutions for mobility will also be hot topics in 2011 with regard to security and threats. Also, there will be slow but sure movement toward cloud-based mobility services. Internally managed and controlled cloud-based services will become popular.
Mobility will be essential to an enterprise’s competitiveness. The deployment timing may vary, but mobile solutions eventually will become and remain an integral element of enterprise IT strategies.
Vadiraj Aralappanavar is the head of the Mobile Applications Practice at MindTree Limited.