Smartphones offer tremendous potential to connect with customers, make employees more efficient and create new markets. Yet nothing is simple in the enterprise space, where security, data storage, authentication, and management issues are mission-critical. The key to enterprise mobility is getting past the quagmire to the art of the possible.
Mobility in the enterprise is, almost by definition, transformative. It is transforming how employees work, what devices are used, how data is gathered, maintained, distributed and secured and how companies interact with customers and clients. Navigating transformation is never a simple matter.
There are two primary concerns that enterprises must contend with when developing mobile strategies: internal and external.
Internal enterprise mobile issues are, on the surface, relatively straightforward and follow the traditional concerns of IT departments: hardware deployment, software distribution, data security, communication solutions and day-to-day management. But straightforward does not necessarily mean easy. Enterprise computing is complicated by consumer choice of smartphones: the “bring your own device” problem. IT departments are forced to balance productivity and security.
In a meeting in Boston this week, IBM’s VP of marketing for mobile, Mike Riegel, identified the three biggest hurdles that enterprises face in creating internal mobile solutions.
- How to secure devices and data.
- How to create solutions across multiple smartphone platforms and operating systems.
- How to connect everything (back-end systems, cellular connections etc.).
Those three primary objections in the enterprise create a quandary for enterprise mobility. The problem is figuring out the future application of mobility as opposed to recreating traditional functionality in a mobile landscape.
The same three issues also apply to external (customer- and client-facing) enterprise mobile strategies. This is where enterprise executives face the most anxiety. They know they need to do something on mobile, but what and where to start are pain points that often do not have a clear solution.
In talking to many mobile development firms that work with these large enterprises, a surprising theme emerges. Many Fortune 500 companies are woefully ignorant and understaffed to handle mobile application development and deployment.
There are large, very recognizable companies in the United States that have one mobile developer on their IT staff that handles everything, from iOS and Android apps to bug fixes and customer queries. The art of the possible is moot when one very overworked mobile developer is struggling to handle everything. Traditional IT staffs are equipped to manage problems and create solutions, not build apps.
Most enterprises work on both internal and external solutions in predictable cycles that range between 12 and 36 months. This system is a legacy of the old client-server paradigm that evolved with the rise of personal computing through the 1990s and 2000s. This is where the transformative qualities of mobile clash head-on with existing enterprise structure. Whereas mobile is a fast-moving industry that iterates quickly, enterprises are simply not used to short cycles. Resources are deployed elsewhere from previous development cycles that did not prioritize mobile, leaving a vacuum in the enterprise infrastructure.
A cottage industry has developed over the past several years to fill that vacuum. Companies that are creating mobile solutions for enterprises come from every segment of the technology industry, from independent developers and consultants to startups to established mid-market companies to billion dollar behemoths looking to create new market verticals for themselves. There are boutique developers that specialize in making apps for enterprises on a contract-by-contract basis to companies like Brightcove that provide integrated development and cloud services solutions. Companies like SAP, Microsoft, Google and IBM specialize in both providing tools and resources to enterprises while also acting as consultants. Startups like StackMob or Kinvey can handle backend mobile infrastructures while wholesalers like Apptopia buy and sell apps from developers to enterprises. Almost anything that an enterprise needs to jump into the deep end of the mobile pool can be found with off-the-shelf third-party services.
In the near term future, these third-party services will be essential for enterprises. The reason for this is fairly simple: scarcity. If I am a mobile app developer (working on either front or back end systems), the last place I am really going to look for work is a non-tech related Fortune 500 company. The technology industry is rife with talent wars for top developers with startups battling billion dollar companies like Google for a finite amount of qualified developers. Enterprises are then forced to work with those companies as opposed to employing the developers themselves.
In a meeting with forward-looking mobile thinkers in Boston, it was IBM’s Riegel that posed the question: what is the art of the possible?
In this context, the possible is not the current landscape that enterprises find themselves but rather the next step where companies fully harness the capabilities that smartphones can offer. As it stands right now, most enterprises are just trying to catch up to the transformation that mobility has brought. The companies that can quickly iterate through the current obstacles and move onto creating dynamic new functions will be the ones that will reap the benefits.
The question then becomes, what are the types of dynamic new functions? The near-term future will be less about repurposing CRM systems for mobile (or something similar) and moving to features that harness contextualized data, persistent location and authentication, human behavior and social awareness. Features that not only know where you are, but who you are and what you are doing. There is extreme power in that notion, but it cannot yet be harvested by most enterprises while they still search for solutions to basic problems.