Enterprise Mobility: Cost Vs. Risk

Just because employees are mobile-savvy doesn't mean IT managers should settle for low-cost, flimsy software implementations.

Mary Brittain-White, Contributor

October 14, 2013

4 Min Read

Analysts say we are witnessing the "consumerization of IT" in the corporation. Here's an example: a business manager needs to store common documents for his staff to access, gets tired of waiting on his IT department and simply buys access to cloud storage with Box.com for employee use.

This example is real and horrifying. Corporate data is an asset that today is often placed outside an organization's safekeeping, without anyone's knowledge. Questions on security, scale and integration with corporate systems are not asked. So the consumerization trend means that unless IT can respond quickly to requests, users will find their own solutions outside of standard governance.

The primary effect of the consumer mobile and Internet explosion is that corporate users know that software can be easy to use, intuitive and accessible. They also know that their company's IT system is often difficult to use, expensive and slow to arrive. And now, because of their consumer experiences, employees know it doesn't need to be like this. It's an "emperor has no clothes" moment -- they know that their IT department is naked.

[ For more on mobile security strategies for the enterprise, see How To Keep Enterprise Mobile Apps Secure. ]

Mobile applications are a great indicator of how the fundamental rules of engagement are changing. With enterprise mobile apps, end users are insisting that:

-- Priority should be given to mobile apps that help get the business's real work done. These requirements need to be prioritized ahead of new ERP systems that deliver the same functionality as the current ERP system or mobile apps that focus on low-value administration tasks.

-- End users be able to change apps easily to reflect business changes. In the best-case scenario, the apps should be able to modify or reconfigure themselves, but in all cases they should be painless and fast.

-- New apps be deployed quickly. They should not be part of system integration projects that are bogged down by bureaucracy and measured in years. They need to be intuitive and meet the workflow needs of employees.

-- Apps be device-independent. Some users use an iOS phone, while others may prefer Android or a Windows tablet. Apps must be fast, reliable, work out of coverage and not time out while users are completing another task. Apps need to have recovery and communications running in the background so the end user doesn't need to get involved.

Unfortunately, consumerization has also led to another expectation: low- or no-cost software. When you can download free apps to your iPad all day, why should you pay more than a few bucks for a business app?

Consider a tradesman buying a drill. He could buy a $50 drill from the hardware store, but it may not be reliable. If it fails on a job, the tradesman could lose time and be forced to delay appointments with other customers. The smart tradesman will buy a high-quality drill that will last for years.

Similarly, with mobile apps, industrial strength means the application is reliable and will always work, that no information is ever lost and recovery will be swift if something unexpected occurs.

But management loves a bargain, so they often opt to use free or nearly free mobile software. Since these apps usually come with substantial implementation fees and ongoing support charges, however, they are simply a time and materials consultancy sale dressed up as cheap software. In enterprise mobility, we are now seeing vendors with an 80/20 split of consultancy IT service fees to product income.

For example, a large U.S. electrical maintenance company bought a mobility platform for $50 per seat. However, the application development is scheduled over 12 months and will be essentially completed by the vendor's team in India, begging the question of what advantage the platform offers if its development is so lengthy and labor-intensive. The result can only be a homespun solution that requires a lot of care and has great difficulty adding new features.

In all software assessments, the focus needs to be on the total cost of ownership, and project risks. In such a light, investing in quality products with fast and inexpensive deployment is the best strategy for mobile success in the age of IT consumerization.

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