How The Mobile Enterprise Puts Business Leaders On The Hot Seat

Guest author Robert LeBlanc is Senior Vice President of IBM Software Group.

The era of the mobile enterprise has officially arrived. Half of American workers are now using smart devices for work as well as personal usage. The use of those devices is now at a critical mass and it's just the beginning.

Yet Gartner, a leading information technology research and advisory company, says few organizations plan and manage mobility with a truly strategic or proactive approach. They’re mostly reactive and tactical.

Mobility Isn't About The Device

For enterprises, mobility shouldn’t be about the device. Instead, it needs to be about figuring out what an organization can do differently and better now that its employees and customers use mobile technologies so frequently at work and in their private lives, and can access processes and data anywhere and anytime. 

Simply put, mobility changes everything for the enterprise. And that puts business leaders on the hot seat — forcing them to grapple with one of the biggest challenges of business today. Its a question of when, not if, mobile technology will impact the business.

A mobile enterprise is an organization built on a foundation of technologies and business processes that enables people to connect, share information and participate in the business processes no matter where they are. This facility allows businesses, employees and customers to better understand the world around them so they can make smarter and quicker decisions. And just as importantly, it helps them interact more effectively with all of their constituents.

How a Mobile Enterprise Works

Mobility forces leaders to rethink how they operate their businesses, how they deal with employees and customers and how they manage their information and their technology. By its very nature, mobility makes it more difficult and challenging for IT leaders to control people and information. So they have to achieve a judicious balance between the need to loosen their hold on many aspects of their businesses with the need to assure the security and integrity of business processes and information.

What are these challenges?

How to operate the business? Many fundamental business processes were established in an era when companies tightly controlled every aspect of their operations. Mobility disrupts those linear flows of work and information. Now, business leaders have to restructure their business processes to take into account new kinds of interactions with customers, employees and business partners, and new sources of information. Example: How can a B-to-C company run an outstanding marketing program without taking into account the locations of customers and their real-time communications via social media?

How to interact with clients? Today, most businesses recognize the importance of their clients, but mobility and the emergence of big data add new elements to this calculus. CEOs understand that their most important assets are not just their employees but also the vast storehouses of information they possess and the day to day interaction with their clients. Leaders have to deal with the fact that, because of the mobility revolution, many of their most important clients have choices in who they interact with, when they interact and the type of interaction. It is imperative they take advantage of this new paradigm, embrace it, innovate around it and improve their client experiences.

How to manage employees? For all the talk about flat organizations and employee empowerment, many organizations still operate under the command-and-control management model. Today, thanks to mobility technologies, employees have the means to gather information and make decisions on the spot, and, increasingly, they’ll want to act. Leaders should empower them to exercise their judgment and creativity. Mobility is a great enabler. At the same time, though, organizations need to establish policies, practices and training programs that protect the company and its customers from undue risks.

How to manage information? Many companies keep their information in silos aligned with particular business units and functions. Most of what they gather sits in databases in rows and columns. But the coming era of big data means a tremendous amount of information of different types is now available—including unstructured data from sensors, video and Web pages. This information must be shared across the enterprise, and, naturally, it will be pushed and pulled via mobile technologies. Companies have to manage their information so it is easily accessible for those who need it and, at the same time, protected from unauthorized access.

How to manage technology? For established business, most of their technology was installed before mobility became such a big factor. It makes no sense to rip and replace it. Instead, companies should add-on capabilities that make it easy for the data and business processes managed in legacy computing systems to be available via mobile devices. New business processes and software applications should be developed with a “mobile first” mindset. That way, accessibility and security will be designed in from the start. Mobility should always be evaluated in the context of the other major technology shifts that are around it today, namely, cloud computing, data analytics and social business. These new capabilities are all game-changers individually, but together they can transform a business, making it more efficient, dynamic and productive.

Embracing change and the impacts of technology like mobility is a great opportunity for most businesses. Change is inevitable. Those that harness it and exploit it correctly will be leaders. But technology for technology's sake is not the full equation. The combination of technology along with new business processes, insights derived from data analytics and the evolving interaction among people is the game changer.

Note: This post originally appeared on IBM's Building A Smarter Planet blog. IBM has recently announced a new generation of mobile enterprise technologies that are based on the point of view in this post.