Employees increasingly are expecting to have access to business tools that are as easy to use on mobile devices as anything they can download from Apple or Google.
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With the consumerization of IT becoming a well-established phenomenon, enterprises are weighing whether they need to develop and distribute smartphone and tablet-style versions of their business applications to employees who, more and more, are bringing their own mobile devices to work.
"If it's not officially BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), it is anyway," said Cimarron Buser, VP for product marketing at Apperian, during a panel discussion Thursday at the Interop technology conference and expo in New York City, a UBM TechWeb event.
For the most part, the panelists agreed that corporate IT departments need to start thinking about how to consumerize their company's business applications, or end users will simply bypass them and find their own ways to get the data they need onto their mobile devices.
"An app-centric strategy is essential to get around the whole problem of the consumerization of IT," said panelist Scott Olson, mobile architect at ITR Mobility. "It's throwing enterprise IT into a tailspin."
The time, expense, and effort that will inevitably go into building an enterprise app store will be justified by a more satisfied, productive workforce, said Michael Dortch, research director at Focus. "There's an opportunity for IT to redefine itself as an enabler of success."
Dortch said enterprise application developers can learn a lot from their counterparts on the consumer side. "Why aren't business applications as easy to use as Facebook?"
Not that "consumerizing" business applications by porting them to mobile-friendly environments and simplifying their interfaces is easy. "There are complexities in CRM that means it's never going to be as easy as buying something on Amazon," said Jay Mellman, chief marketing officer at Rhomobile.
The good news is that there is a plentiful supply of young programmers who are adept at working with HTML5 and native device platforms like iOS and Android. "Often you'll find them embedded in sales; they haven't talked to their boss in IT six months," said Buser.
Deploying business apps to mobile devices raises a number of security issues. If protections are insufficient, crucial company data could be exposed. But if security measures are too stringent or complicated, employees may take a pass. "When users are forced into that kind of approach they just don't use the apps," said Olson.
"You have a series of questions you have to answer for every app you want to deploy," said Buser. "The policy questions can be gnarlier than the technology issues."
But app mobility is an issue that enterprises are going to need to deal with for their own good, he said. "If you make enterprise apps that don't suck you will have a much more productive workforce," he said.
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