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Is The Mobile Thin Client An Impossible Dream?

During numerous interviews I did for a story to publish March 30 on software and smartphones, many CIO types said they hoped to one day avoid distributing software to employees' BlackBerrys, Windows Mobiles, and other devices, and instead have smartphones entirely dependent on software in the cloud. But given what my research revealed about how employees use smartphones, that seems an impossible goal.
During numerous interviews I did for a story to publish March 30 on software and smartphones, many CIO types said they hoped to one day avoid distributing software to employees' BlackBerrys, Windows Mobiles, and other devices, and instead have smartphones entirely dependent on software in the cloud. But given what my research revealed about how employees use smartphones, that seems an impossible goal.A very thin Web client would solve a lot of the problems facing CIOs and other managers trying to deploy business software to smartphones. There are the traditional issues, such as the hassle of software deployment, and newer ones, such as the constant barrage of new devices and mobile operating systems hitting the market. If one could have employees tap into CRM and ERP systems over the Internet using a Web browser, then IT shops wouldn't have to worry about developing or updating applications for these constantly evolving devices. It also would make it much easier to support multiple types of devices, including the iPhone, within a company or organization.

But in every one of these hopeful instances, the CIOs found the roadblock to be that there is never a 100% guarantee of a wireless network connection. Somewhere on the device, the employee needs a software application to be able to store, offline, whatever data is gathered or updated in the course of a job function.

Whether it was a pharmaceutical rep, retail rep, financial services rep, field technician, or what have you, I never heard one example of where it would be possible to avoid software on the client without the potential for significant job disruption. Yet, I heard plenty of CIOs say they'd like to make that possible.

So there's the $10 million question: IS it possible to have smartphones work as a thin Web client for accessing work processes, without any compromises to productivity? If someone has figured out a way to do this, I'd love to hear about it.

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Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
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