CIOs would like to be champions of the next big data analysis project, shuttling their companies toward that next customer insight. They would like to be the brains behind a coherent cloud strategy, the cornerstone of a plan to create an agile and efficient infrastructure. Those accomplishments would be nice, but today's most urgent CIO project is mobile device management (MDM), a product category normally relegated to the rank-and-file IT department.
A comprehensive mobile strategy embraces consumer technologies, including a bring-your-own-device policy and access to applications under an app store model. Of course, CIOs, CSOs, and CEOs want that access to take place in a secure, private, and regulatory-compliant manner.
If you're not feeling it, you will. A recent Accenture study on the consumerization of IT labels the movement "unstoppable." Half of the 4,000 employees it surveyed across a variety of industries and organizations in 16 countries are using their own personal devices at work at least sometimes.
"The genie is out of the bottle, and CIOs have to quickly adapt and respond," says Accenture executive research fellow Jeanne G. Harris.
"Executives might as well wake up and deal with the mobile reality," says Michael Feibus, principal at TechKnowledge Strategies in Phoenix.
One executive who's dealing with this reality--and enjoying the competitive thrill of trying to stay a step or two ahead of competitors--is Phil Easter, director of mobile strategies at American Airlines. "The game has changed and the key now is not to squash creativity," he says.
Echoing several other experts I interviewed, Easter describes a three-tier development structure as the best way to introduce mobile applications. On the first tier sits the big databases and other data repositories underpinning financials, inventory control, and customer data. The second tier consists of a services layer that matches corporate policies. Those services include security, user access, privacy, and compliance controls. The third tier is the presentation layer, where user interfaces are developed mainly for mobile devices.
Easter demonstrated a prototype mobile application where an American Airlines frequent flyer is able to access his current flight data and AA customer service to make a flight change. This might sound like a common application, but Easter demonstrated it being done while the customer was en route, at 35,000 feet, and customer service was already aware of flight delays and had restructured the customer's itinerary even before the customer could call. Easter explained that the FAA had allowed the prototype app development and deployment.
While the tiered approach is familiar to most enterprise application developers, there are substantial changes from past approaches. Conventional enterprise applications have been developed as a single process, where data, services, and customer UI are all part of one application. Fracturing these elements requires a new approach to development: APIs, common services, and UI expertise become key. And as Easter noted, it's time to compress the old multi-year approach to app dev into three months.
"Mobile application development flips the old-style approach," says SAP America's VP of mobility, Vishy Gopalakrishnan. "Now you are in a kind of perpetual beta where you need to iterate quickly."
This mobile mindset requires CIOs to take a much larger view of MDM than simply developing an approved device list, locking down particular corporate applications, and creating lists of mobile do's and don'ts. It also presents a new way of working for corporate IT departments that were built around structured approaches to deploying systems to employees.
The one-size-fits-all approach to application development and deployment is withering in the face of a generation raised on the app store model. If you don't like one drawing app for your iPad, no problem. Just try another. That "try one" mentality runs counter to the process for corporate apps such as email, rolled out over a period of years and updated on the vendor's--not the users'--schedule. Mobile applications are especially suited to this app store model, as companies increasingly comprise full-time, part-time, and contract workers all needing separate levels of corporate data access.
The risks for CIOs and other IT executives unable to develop a coherent mobile strategy are very real. A lax strategy risks corporate secrets and customer data leaking to the outside world. A rigorous "no way" strategy risks the IT department being seen as the stifler of innovation and a roadblock to company growth.
While no CIO wants to be left without an answer when the CEO asks if the company has the resources and capabilities to compete in a mobile first world, IT departments, once secure in their rigid policies and procedures, risk being sidestepped by employees using their own mobile devices and applications for work duties that include proprietary corporate data.
"The growing ability of employees to bypass their IT departments and create their own technical solutions is eclipsing the IT function's role as the source of technological innovation in the organization," states the Accenture study. "It's not hard to understand why employees are moving in this [consumerization] direction. Sidestepping enterprise IT and using your own devices and applications is usually easier, more fun and, let's face it, often cooler than using what the IT department doles out."
[ A key and related question is: How Much Risk Should CIOs Take? ]
Accenture's Harris describes the mobile first corporate movement as a "Darwinian" moment for IT departments. She offers the following advice:
1. Learn what your employees are doing with consumer technology at work.
2. Understand that future IT innovation will most likely come from the consumer world.
3. Pick a group, set some ground rules for a technology category (smartphones), set a per-person budget, and see what people do with it.
4. Embrace consumer tools as a recruitment tool to attract the best new employees.
5. Understand that while IT has played a vital role for business innovation in the past, business executives are now able to create these opportunities on their own.
6. Re-examine corporate IT's priorities, budget, and responsibilities.
Mobile device management is about a lot more than managing and monitoring mobile devices. It's about a strategy. Successfully developing, designing, and deploying mobile devices and applications will be the cornerstone to your company's future success and your advancing career.