Mobilizing Your Enterprise – Part I: Understanding the Need

Written by Jesse Beaumont

Everywhere you look on the internet there is talk of Enterprise Mobility. From BYOD specialists and MDM vendors to HTML5 proponents and native application developers. Everyone is banging the drum and heralding the dawn of a new technology era. It’s about “empowering your workforce” and “delivering customer value” and other such statements.

The thing is, these people are not wrong. I’ve been working with mobile technology for over a decade now so it is extremely satisfying to me to see that latent potential starting to be realised. At the same time, it is a little discouraging to see so much hype clouding and obfuscating the true value of mobile. People are excited, and they should be, but it seems they often don’t really know why.

I gave a talk a few weeks ago entitled “Enterprise Mobility: Are you ready?” and I thought I’d share some of the themes with you in the form of a short blog series on the subject. The talk was aimed at understanding some of why the mobile movement is different from traditional enterprise software and what one needs to understand, as an organisation, to take advantage of it.

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It All Boils Down To 1s and 0s

I spend a lot of time talking to customers or potential customers about the problems they are trying to solve in the arena of mobile technology. Invariably, the conversation quickly turns to questions like “Should I be using HTML5 or native technolgies?” or “What’s your take on BYOD?”. Those are very good questions indeed, and ones that need careful consideration. The problem is that often when I start investigating the topics and motivators which would drive the decisions on those questions, the person I’m speaking to hasn’t really thought about it in any great detail. They know they need to make decisions on these things to progress their mobile agenda, but they don’t really have a clear picture of what their mobile agenda is or why it’s good for them.

The downside of a technology wave such as this one, especially one that is moving so fast, is that people get overwhelmed with information, opinions, sales messages, marketing blasts, consumer trends, research reports and a plethora of other data. It’s the digital equivalent to walking through a busy bazaar and being shouted at by every vendor at the top of their voice.  Unless you have the knowledge and skills to navigate it, and a clear picture of what you’re looking for, it’s very difficult to make sense of it all.

So, let’s take a deep breath, step back and just spend a few moments attempting to identify what we want. I come from a software development background and every time a new technology lands and the hype machine gears up (which happens a lot!) and the mountain of learning required seems insurmountable, I like to remind myself that at the end of the day it’s all just 1s and 0s. There are some very basic, fundamental principles which underlie every single software technology out there.  No matter how clever or sophisticated the implementation is, when you get right down to it, it’s all just 1s and 0s.

The same is true in a business context.

Why Does Enterprise Care About Mobile?

So the first question is why do we care about mobile at all? Why should we even listen to the cacophony of shouting that is accompanying this wave of technology?

Well the 1s and 0s of a successful business basically boil down to “sell more and spend less”. Obviously that’s a crass over-simplification, but that’s sort of the point. At the real nuts and bolts level you want to drive up sales and drive down inefficiencies. Mobile has the potential to do both for you. It can help you run your business more efficiently, help your employees get more out of their day, help your marketing team reach new audiences and improve the way you see your business. It’s all there.

I could list out about a million use cases where mobile has the potential to change the way people do their jobs. Take, for example, a service engineer repairing oil pumps. Give them a mobile device and suddenly they have the ability to look up service records for any given pump, contact colleagues, plan routes, order parts, maybe even run diagnostics on the pump’s control units, all on the move. Or take doctors and nurses, by using tablets in place of paper medical records, staff can interface directly with the medical devices in a hospital, record, verify and audit prescriptions, dosages, treatments and more without the overhead of additional process. Ultimately it has the effect of increasing safety and fundamentally changing how the medical profession interacts with patients and each other.

How about in the retail space? As demonstrated by Apple themselves with the Apple Stores, mobile computing is transforming the way we shop. Rather than standing in line for a checkout, the checkout comes to you, or even better, you don’t need to check out at all, you just walk out with the item and your credit card is automatically charged. That means a very different (and hopefully better) customer experience.

I’d have to list out a huge number of these examples to make sure to cover something that touches your business, so instead I’d like to appeal to your imagination.  Consider for a moment that in the world of mobile, enterprise is lagging the consumer space and being driven by it. The enterprise market is about (at a guess) 5 years behind where we are in consumer terms. If you then consider all the ways mobile has impacted consumer life today, from the availability of the information services (news, weather, internet databases) and email in your pocket to mapping and location based services. Accessibility and connectedness of social media or availability of cameras at all times.

The way we live our lives has changed dramatically, driving an explosive growth in mobile device adoption in the last 5 years. And that’s before we even get into the Internet of Things which will add even more dimensions to the story. Here’s a telling chart borrowed from Benedict Evans’ excellent site:

Unit Sales

I think we can assume that this growth is backed by real innovation and demand and not just hype. Consider what the equivalent explosive development and innovation would look like for your business. The potential is staggering when we get 5 years into that growth.

Adopting the Right Approach

So mobile is real, but how do you take advantage of it for your business and what are the routes to get onto that exponential growth curve? Across our customers we see 3 different broad strategies being employed. These are very general approaches to mobile adoption and we have given each a name to make it easier to talk about them. We call them:

  • Marketing Mobility
  • Legacy Mobility
  • Integrated Mobility

Let me explain a bit more about what these terms refer to.

Marketing Mobility

Marketing Mobility

Marketing mobility is a term that refers to a mobile strategy geared primarily at reaching the mobile market. That is, it is of relatively little benefit to your business from an operational point of view and is targeted instead only at making sure the customer base who use mobile devices are able to find and use your services.

Quite frequently I see the mindset or justification for adopting this strategy as being “everyone else has a mobile app so we need one too”. That might sound a little glib but actually that’s not an altogether unreasonable justification.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this strategy. It is low risk and tends to be relatively low cost. Equally, alas, the rewards are limited as well. It will not likely revolutionise your business, it will simply provide another route to market. That’s no bad thing, but it doesn’t really take advantage of the transformative power of mobile computing. It addresses the “sell more” but doesn’t do much for our “spend less” goal.

Legacy Mobility

Legacy Mobility

What we call legacy mobility is about taking existing services and systems and extending them for mobile use. The word “legacy” here is perhaps a bit unfortunate because it implies that it’s already dated technology – which is not the intent. The point is that it’s technology that already exists and is deployed in the business and is being adapted for mobile use.

Obvious examples are the use of email, spreadsheets or documents on a mobile device. They were already well established in the business, but now they can be used on the move. Similarly, taking an internal web application that is used in a line of business context, and modifying the user interface slightly to allow it to be used from a touch device is another example.

Clearly the potential of this strategy, from an operational point of view, is much greater than that of the pure marketing mobility. It starts to capitalise on some of the potential of mobile devices for bringing about efficiency gains and does so on the sound basis of an existing, tried and tested platform of processes and systems. This reduces the risk of adopting a mobile strategy by managing the risk of failure (always a consideration when implementing large scale change) and also helps reduce costs. The cost of reworking systems a bit tends to be lower than rebuilding from scratch. It does not, however, exploit the full potential of the mobile environment. Modified legacy systems do not easily take advantage of the full power of a mobile device and can often feel “clunky” and frequently bring with them operational inefficiencies. Processes designed for desktop use aren’t always the ones that make most sense in the context of a mobile device.

This strategy is a good middle ground between stepping forwards into the brave new world of mobile and managing the risks and costs of doing so.

Integrated Mobility

Integrated Mobility

When we talk about integrated mobility, we mean a mobile strategy that attempts to fully utilise the mobile platform to its fullest potential. It is usually accompanied by a redesigned set of business processes and workflows which allow for taking full advantage of the possible efficiency gains made available by adopting the use of mobile devices.

Mobile devices nowadays are portable computing powerhouses, with all sorts of useful gadgetry, from cameras to GPS chips, internet and bluetooth connectivity, motion sensors, biometric scanners and more. There are fantastic ways these things can be utilised to help a business optimise their workflows or allow users more powerful approaches to their work.

In order to allow those capabilities to be put to use, though, you need a significant investment in software systems which support such new workflows as well as a considerable effort in terms of business analysis to shape the way you and your team work around these new possibilities. That is no small challenge and usually doesn’t come cheap nor risk free.

You’ll have to think about the infrastructure requirements, software changes, training needs, additional support service availability, security considerations, legal implications and much more to really get your head around it. It’s a big puzzle with lots of pieces and it requires some significant investment in thought and time to figure it all out.

Which One To Go For?

The exact strategy to employ, clearly, will very much depend on your business, your appetite for risk and the potential benefits you see in mobility for your organisation. That said, I think it’s important to say that you don’t have to decide now and forever hold your silence going forwards. A hybrid approach is a very valid and often pragmatic approach.
For example, starting out with a marketing mobility approach to buy some time, then implementing some legacy stuff to test the waters and moving on to an integrated approach once some of the risks are a more known quantity is a very good approach. The only thing to bear in mind is that often switching between strategies is not cost free.

For example, when you switch from a marketing to a legacy or integrated approach you often want to throw away the solution you built initially in favour of a more powerful replacement which means that work will be discarded. Again, that’s a very valid thing to do, it’s just worth being aware of that cost before you start and if you’re sure you want to end up at the integrated mobility level, you may consider moving there directly as a more cost effective approach (albeit riskier).

So What Now?

Okay so, we’ve looked a little bit at some very high level ways of bringing mobility into your organisation and if you’d like more information on any of that, I’d encourage you to take a look at our white paper on the topic as well.

Now we’re getting to the juicy stuff though. In the next part of this series we’ll talk a little bit about what you need to know about the differences from mobile to traditional enterprise software, because it’s those differences that are key to tackling the problem successfully. Then I’m going to wrap up in part 3 with a thought or two on shaping your organisational thinking around making the most of mobile because it’s as much a question of mentality as it is of strategy and implementation.

Feel free to leave your thoughts or questions below, or if you’d like to discuss your own mobile strategy in more detail, please just drop us a line.