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Making Sense of Mobile Within the Enterprise

by James Robertson
on March 14, 2012

Mobile is huge in the consumer space, and it’s starting to have a big impact within organizations. Very rapidly, senior management are demanding iPhones and iPads, and trends such as BYOD (‘bring your own device’) are raising questions about the line between corporate and home tools.

While there has been quite a lot said about mobile enterprises, and how to deliver them, this has often fallen into the trap of ‘hand waving’ discussions that cover the topic at a very high level.

The reality is that there are many different aspects to enterprise mobility, which need to be delivered and supported in distinct ways. To aid with planning and delivery, it’s helpful to distinguish four types of enterprise mobility:

  1. mobile connectivity
  2. mobile productivity
  3. fieldforce automation
  4. desktop replacement

Each of these requires different technology solutions, design approaches, and management models.

1. Mobile Connectivity

This is the most basic aspect of enterprise mobility, allowing staff to access key services such as:

  • email
  • calendar
  • instant messaging
  • presence awareness

These capabilities have been available for some time on Blackberry devices (which is their main selling point), and should be extended to other devices.

This is fundamentally an IT infrastructure task, taking steps to open up access to mobile devices in a secure way. All device manufacturers are rushing to make this easier from their end, hoping to capture a slice of the lucrative enterprise market.

2. Mobile Productivity

This is the primary focus of discussions about enterprise mobility, exploring how knowledge workers can be given better work tools on mobile devices.

This can mean many things:

  • mobile intranet functionality
  • remote access to collaboration and document management tools
  • mobile views of enterprise applications
  • corporate news and updates delivered to mobile devices

The best starting point is often to identify a few key tasks that can be delivered in a simple way on mobiles, and then expand from there.

3. Fieldforce Automation

It has often been overlooked that mobile functionality has been alive and well in field environments for over a decade. Often delivered to tough tablets or ‘ruggedized’ mobiles, this provides frontline and field workers with key tools to support their day-to-day work.

These solutions are very different from the mobile productivity tools currently being explored for knowledge workers. They are often single purpose applications that provide forms and applications with off-line synchronization that eliminates the need for always-on mobile connectivity.

4. Desktop Replacement

The final category includes tablets such as the iPad, where staff (often executives) use these lightweight devices as replacements for desktops or laptops.

In contrast to the other categories, these devices provide simplified versions of desktop tools, alongside larger-screen versions of mobile functionality. These are also used in sales environments, and as point-of-sales tools.

Pulling Together a Plan

Differentiating between types of enterprise mobility forms the foundation for a concrete plan of attack. It helps with answering fundamental questions such as:

  • What mobile functionality and information?
  • To what staff?
  • Delivered to what devices?

These are just a few of the questions that must be answered, to ensure success. Here’s quite a few more to kick-start internal thinking and discussions:

Who and what:

  • What are the common tasks that will be done on mobile devices?
  • What is the key information needed by staff when mobile?
  • Which enterprise systems need to be mobile-enabled?
  • What overall user experience will be provided for staff on mobile devices?

How:

  • What devices will be supported?
  • Will the same functionality be provided across all supported devices?
  • Will there be support for BYOD?
  • Web-based delivery or native apps?
  • Developed in-house or via third-party service, product or developer?
  • What steps will be taken to address security issues and concerns?
  • How will data protection laws be addressed?

When:

  • What mobile capabilities will initially be delivered?
  • What is the longer-term vision for the mobile enterprise?
  • How will this be delivered in a phased approach?

Why:

  • What business benefits will be delivered?
  • How will these benefits be measured?
  • How will mobile enterprise functionality support core business?
  • How does the mobile enterprise support long-term strategic plans?

This may be a daunting list of questions for organizations to address. Many issues may be hard to resolve in the early days of enterprise mobile adoption.

The good news is that early steps can be taken to deliver simple functionality that still provides clear business benefits. Further capabilities can then be added over time, as experience and expertise grows.

In other words: start simple, but have a plan for strategic growth!

About the Author

As the Managing Director of Step Two Designs in Sydney, James helps enterprise companies create awesome intranets. In fact, he even runs a global competition on the topic—the Intranet Innovation Awards—which showcases the leading intranet thinking worldwide.