A CIO’s Top Five Mobility Questions

Illustration with connected people ,futuristic technology concept

My name is Michael King, and I’m a mobile analyst…. Well, a recovering analyst.

As some of you may have heard, after 11 years of covering the mobile data space, and specifically mobile application platforms and development for Gartner, I transitioned from Gartner to Appcelerator at the end of the year.  As with any life change, you tend to get a little philosophical about what you learned and what you take away from the experience. Other than more friends and more good times than I can count, it’s the 1000s and 1000s of conversations with senior level IT people about mobility, which stick in my head.

Out of all of those conversations in the past 18 months, some common trends have emerged; so with that lens here are the top five strategic mobility questions that I see occurring over and over again during my conversations with enterprise IT leadership

  1. How do I enable bring your own device and help employees actually use them? While BYOD was big news last year, most of the time is was more a question of “should I?” and not “how do I do it better?” Well the genie is out of the lamp and whether you’ve agreed to it or not your users are bringing their own tablets, smartphones, and in some cases PCs. I see users connecting their devices to corporate WLAN networks and in most cases accessing enterprise information resources, sometimes securely, most of the time less securely. All of the data ownership issues, diversity of OSs, complexity of device capabilities (security, management, application functions) and lack of support has yet to deter this trend. Our job as IT people is no longer to prevent this from occurring, have you ever attempted to hold back a wave? Our job now is to use the right combination of technologies, process, and polices to enable these users to have compelling, secure, and prolific application access so they can actually use these devices to get work done. BYOD, if supported with platform based approaches and web technologies, has the power to transform IT, from a gatekeeper to an enabler of productivity
  2. How do I handle this massive device proliferation with a constant stream of new tablets, ultrabooks, other non-PC devices? What a difference a year makes. Last year there were a ton of tablet questions about which tablet was the iPad killer (none of them were), what was the right size (there’s no right size) and if an ice cream sandwich was tastier then an apple… This year the answer to all of those questions is; it doesn’t matter. The tablet is here to stay in 10inch, 7inch, 9inch, and whatever other sizes come out. The operation systems too will come in a staggering variety. As we see ultra books (which is really just a netbook by any other name?) start to show up in end users hands, these too will lack any sort of consistency when it comes to OS, display, or even input capabilities. Lastly increasing numbers of non-traditional devices, telematics, TVs, printers, appliances, and even alarm clocks will provide users web access, cloud services and information inputs. While none of these devices are going to replace to the PC, we need to understand how they fit into a workstream and what are the best ways to provide rich, optimized experiences for both our employees and our customers, in a cost effective, manageable way
  3. What sort of context should I integrate into my mobile applications, and how do I do it? This question will probably be on a list like this for the next ten years. We’ve only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to how context enabled services enable more compelling interactions on the devices. What most of us are missing are how these apps, and the context they provide, can enable us to provide better experiences for our end users, even when they aren’t actively using the application. If you know where I am and what I’ve talked about on my social networks, then you know the right time to offer me something you know I already want. As the technology marches forward the apps and devices themselves begin to interact and provide context to each other, enabling information to find you, before you even know you need it… A little scary, sure, but the first time my Petco app reminds me to pick up dog food on the way home before I have to face two hungry Vizslas, it’ll all be worth it. The obvious low hanging, contextual, fruit are location and search, but enterprises should experiment with other cloud based, context services like social network interfaces, shopping lists, and discussion topics. Using cloud based services with open interfaces will enable you to rapidly integrate these elements into your mobile applications
  4. I’ve got a B2C strategy, what’s next?. The past few years, the IT departments I’ve been speaking with have been working with their customer facing business units to mobilize customer interactions both transactional and informational (in industries like insurance, mobile banking, retail). In the process they are transforming the relationships they have with those customers. Increasingly, those same leading organizations are looking at mobilizing information for their employees as well. This is, as you would expect with trends 1 and 2, not the old days of one application to a single device, rather it’s a constantly evolving landscape of apps, services, devices and device classes. Layered on top of this are the apps your employees already use and integrating information sources both enterprise owned and publicly available. The old platform approaches cannot handle this complexity, so the enterprises I’ve been talking to are looking at more open, mobile platforms, plus cloud-based approaches.
  5. Who builds these mobile apps for me and how should they do it? With a predicted 70% of customer and employee interactions occurring on a mobile device by 2015, most of the IT organizations asking the above questions have the long term desire to bring the development of mobile applications in-house. That said, at this point, very few of them have the skills or people required to do it. Ideally the organization wants a third party to build the application, and then takes the reins once the required skillsets and training have been achieved. The issue encountered by many of the larger organizations, particularly those with a significant number of mobile applications projects, is that these third parties all use differing methods of development. These oftentimes-proprietary methods/platforms leave the enterprise with a morass of incompatible code and applications. Additionally the third parties, in many cases also follow their own design paradigms, making it impossible to provide a branded look and feel. This issue can be mitigated somewhat with an enforced enterprise standard for development platforms. This standard should be included in the sourcing documents and enforced during the development process

As we get farther into the year we will dive deeper into each of these issues, but we encourage your thoughts, comments and questions… Are these the right issues? Did I miss any big ones?