Analysis: Getting businesses out of the mobility stone age

Analysis: Getting businesses out of the mobility stone age

What you need to do to change

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

Consumers relish in their cool gadgets at home and there are new apps to try on a daily basis. Then there's work. Same black laptop. Same BlackBerry. Same applications. It's been a long time since there's been anything radically new to get excited about at the office.

So what do people do? They bring their personal devices to work. Most IT shops today have accepted the inevitable: They must support a range of company and personal devices accessing both enterprise and consumer applications. For many the question is this: Is the network ready to accommodate both additional mobile users and the multitude of devices they bring with them?

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Charting a path for mobility development that aligns user needs with strategic business priorities, all without disrupting production or innovation, can be daunting. Companies struggle mightily to close the gap between what users expect from the mobile experience and what businesses can realistically deliver while still ensuring scalability, reliability and security.

How does the enterprise execute the most effective mobile strategy that will meet user expectations and minimize risk? There are three fundamental challenges:

1) Adapting applications for a cross-platform environment.

2) Device and data management, including security.

3) Expense management.

Let's address these challenges one at a time and shed light on how they might be solved.

Adapting applications for a cross-platform environment

Now that the enterprise is embracing the full spectrum of mobile platforms -- including BlackBerry, Android, iPhone, Phone 7 and WebOS devices -- adapting enterprise applications for these platforms is a major challenge. IT has to decide which platforms mobile applications will be deployed on, or whether a mobile application needs to deployed at all.

Keeping up with multiple software development kits (SDKs) and integrated development environments (IDEs) for each platform (iOS, Android, Windows Mobile, Symbian, BlackBerry) is a must. Moreover, building or finding partners with deep knowledge across a range of development languages/IDEs is becoming essential.

One solution that is gaining popularity is to develop common code and deploy it on multiple platforms so the apps are device agnostic. This "Develop Once and Deploy Anywhere" paradigm reduces development time since application testing cycles reuse code and it also significantly reduces maintenance costs.

We suggest centralizing mobile device specifics and development semantics into a sophisticated development and deployment platform. Complexities of coding, application representations, form factor handling and other device idiosyncrasies all get handled at the platform level, while providing the developer a unified, intuitive and consistent experience. Adopting this platform approach insulates development teams from changes and updates happening in the device OS and also provides easy scalability to the ever changing device landscape.

Device and data management, including security

CIOs must mandate and enforce a mobility policy that ensures all devices connected to the network are centrally managed. This helps prevent rogue devices from accessing the network (or applications), which can have devastating consequences if corporate information is compromised.

The other major issue that must be resolved is whether IT will buy (and maintain) mobile devices or whether employees will be responsible for that. The answer to this question depends on the organization's size, the particular business it is in and a host of other factors. The biggest challenge for the enterprise is security -- in particular the security of mobile applications and data.

Applications that reside on mobile devices primarily provide a mobile-based consumption mechanism for the information available in enterprise workflow solutions, e.g. HR/Sales systems, Procurement/Service Desk functions, etc. Since these devices can be used outside of the enterprise network organizations must secure information, tie available information to user privileges and also filter out information.

However, the complexities of data hiding, workflow aggregation and data exchange between multiple corporate systems, and workflow simplification for the mobile user, needs to be controlled by the server back end. This provides the enterprise control over corporate data, the ability to enforce security policies and easily adapt to changes in the workflows, privileges and devices.

Replicating the interactions of a PC-based corporate application on a mobile device is counterproductive and at times makes the application unusable. Mobile apps need to aggregate workflows in multiple corporate systems and provide easy and simplified interactive screens to the user.

Information can be restricted based on the user workflow, and the device that is trying to access the information can dynamically decide what data to pass and what data not to pass. However there will be customer requirements to plan for local data storage onto the mobile device because 24/7 access of the application is not desirable. Finally, local data storage should encompass standard encryption mechanisms that platforms come with as well as any specific encryption requirement that the product may have.

Expense management

There is no doubt that a smartly executed enterprise mobility strategy is a direct contributor to the organisation's bottom line. Mobility plays a central role in closing deals faster, gluing sales and customer service executives to customers, and cementing relationships with partners and suppliers.

However, mobility is not cheap. In fact, for most companies, fixed and mobile communications services are among the top five business expenses, but often companies do a poor job of managing processes related to communications spending.

IT at companies of all sizes can benefit from using telecom expense management and device procurement managed services -- leveraging outside mobility managed services experts to efficiently and cost effectively manage device procurement, security, service agreements and contracts, device provisioning and support, etc. By doing so, these organizations can focus IT resources on strategic business initiatives.

Centralized procurement and management of wired and mobile services is the easiest and most comprehensive way of ensuring predictability to telecom costs and the visibility necessary to ensure costs are reduced wherever possible.

Enterprise mobility has changed the game, for sure, but with attention paid to these three areas there's no reason why any CIO cannot create and execute a strategic mobility plan that helps his or her function soar, and the company's bottom line improve as a result.

Symphony Services is a software innovation company that helps clients ideate, develop, deploy and manage innovative software and software-enabled products. Its solutions address traditional and new software product engineering challenges created by faster release cadences, the need for mobile cross-platform user experiences and the shift to a cloud delivery model.

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