Mobile has become mainstream with worldwide subscribers reaching over 5 billion, nearly 74% of the world's populace, at the end of 2010. While devices such as smartphones and tablets are still a minority of the connections we see today, these products are changing both consumers' and enterprises' views of what can be accomplished with a mobile device. This shift to a mobile culture creates three trends that will change the business landscape.
First, mobile-device and operating-system fragmentation will continue. Unlike Windows in the PC world, no single mobile OS will gain dominance within the next three years. We have at least 10 active mobile operating systems, with the major variants including Android, Blackberry, iOS, Symbian, and Windows Mobile. While the number of viable operating systems will shrink over time, IT will be forced to manage at least two, and more likely three, in the short run, as well as numerous device types.
Second, employees are bringing their own devices into the workplace. Over 30% of the employees we interviewed in September said they're using personal devices such as smartphones and tablets in the office today. While many companies have a policy that prohibits accessing company data on personal devices, employee-owned devices are making inroads into companies regardless of IT's policy. As a result, IT must revise mobile policies and deploy a set of management and security tools to support multiple platforms.
An important outcome of this trend is that a majority of the workforce, not just the top executives, will have mobile access and will expect access to more than email. This will require businesses to change their application, development, and services strategies, leading us to the third trend.
Consumer applications are mobile, and employees expect business apps to follow. Unfortunately, many firms start the process by trying to replicate desktop environments on smartphones and tablets, and they quickly need to retrench. Mobile application strategies are not about the device, nor are they about the app itself. Successful mobile strategies focus on improving and changing business processes to create competitive advantage and improved operations.
The constraints of mobile devices and networks require firms to consider what parts of a business process make the most sense to be accessed on portable devices. Companies must also reformat the apps to be more task-driven instead of menu-driven. Consumer apps have trained users to expect results within two to three clicks. These same consumers won't expect to click through four menus on a smartphone to get to the point where they can view inventory or approve an order.
Given these three trends, IT needs a strategy to take advantage of the consumerization of IT, while maintaining the security and reliability that businesses demand. As mentioned earlier, IT should evaluate and adopt enterprise mobility management tools. EMM is a combination of mobile device management, security management, applications management, and services and expense management. IT will need to work with multiple vendors because no vendor can provide the entire suite.
IT should also work with business-unit leaders to define the initial processes that should be mobilized, what applications are associated with those processes, and how these apps will function when disconnected from a network. Companies should rank app deployment by what business results can be defined. For example, will it improve billing cycles, help close sales, or improve customer care? In some cases, IT may create a composite app that collects information from various data stores.
The decision of whether to build applications to run natively or as mobile Web applications is complicated, and most companies will need a combination of both. Native application development provides full access to device features, the benefits of faster on-device processing, and offline access. Native applications also allow integration with other native apps such as the address book. Developing Web applications, on the other hand, lets companies run apps on multiple OS platforms, tap a larger pool of developer talent, and incur faster development times because developers only need to write the code for the Web once instead of writing and testing it for each native operating system.
Before choosing an approach, enterprises should consider the pros and cons of each. For example, mobile enterprise application platforms offer pre-built applications in areas such as field service and sales automation; mobile development frameworks don't. Mobile enterprise application platforms also typically offer a level of security and management that doesn't exist in mobile development frameworks. However, mobile development frameworks are considered a more open platform, and many are open-source based. Both product types deliver cross-platform support.
2011 will be a year in which more business is conducted over mobile devices. As a result, IT organizations need a plan for delivering access to any back-end data source over a variety of mobile operating systems to a range of devices that may or may not be company-owned.
Maribel Lopez is the founder of Lopez Research and vice president of Constellation Research Group. She can be reached at [email protected] or 415-894-5781.