CEO View: Data Pockets and Enterprise Mobility, Part 1


What is “Enterprise Mobility?”

For CEOs and business executives, enterprise mobility (EM) is the added productivity, responsiveness, and convenience that come from being able to access key corporate data anywhere, anytime (bonus points if you can do it on a sleek and sexy device like an iPad).  But for CIOs and CTOs, EM is the gauntlet of technologies, vendors, legalities, policies, staffing, organizational, communication, and licensing issues that one must run to put a large company’s back-end data in the pockets of it’s people.

Data Pockets:  The CEO/COO view

This distinction is a serious disconnect for many companies. Business executives see the possibility of lightweight tablets replacing laptops, enabling easier, faster, and (let’s face it) “cooler” access to data.  ‘Instant on’ tablets with wi-fi and/or 3G connectivity are perfect tools for the boardroom, investor meetings, sales calls, and business travel.  So, many companies have leapt into the mobility race, sometimes purchasing hundreds, or in the case of one company we worked with, thousands of tablets, before defining an enterprise mobility strategy.  That’s a mistake.

Companies are leaping straight to the end-game, selecting mobile devices, platforms, and vendors before carefully considering the ripple effects on the organization.  They are letting the technology tail wag the corporate dog.

For example: The Blackberry Playbook and HP Slate, and Motorola Xoom, and dozens of other media tablets are all but dead on arrival.  Why?  Because users don’t just want tablets, they want iPads, according to the latest research.  This assertion is also borne out by our experience with Fortune 100 companies worldwide.

So what?

Most large organizations are Microsoft shops.  They use MS-Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) as their main file creation tools, and many of their back-end systems (SAP, Business Objects, Reporting Services) are designed to integrate with those tools.   Companies spend millions training their staff to become MS-Office power users, embedding “live update” Excel charts and graphs into a PowerPoint presentation or dropping OLE objects into a Word report.  But what happens when your executive assistant emails you one of those fancy Office files to your iPad for you critical Board presentation?  Disaster.  Oops.

Is your mobility solution software broken?  Perhaps it’s the email server?  It worked so well on your laptop!  No, it’s your tablet.  The iPad’s file native viewer doesn’t support all those complex embedded objects (neither do Android, Symbian, WebOS, or Blackberry).  So how do you get that great-looking presentation to the boss?

Warning:  Change Ahead

One answer is:  save it out as a PDF first, then email it.   This sounds simple (and it is), but it’s not easy. Old habits die hard.  Behavior you paid millions for, and spent years ingraining in your employees, now has to change.  And it has to change pretty darn quickly, by enterprise standards, if you’re going to take advantage of all this sleek new mobile technology.

A better answer is to create custom integration with your back-office data sources.  APIs from major vendors are proliferating, and Apple’s partnership with IBM may be a sea-change, but for most companies, this will still be an expensive proposition, as the majority of enterprise vendors continue to be Windows (perhaps Linux)-dominated shops.

Fruit loops

Apple is likely to replace has replaced the Blackberry as the most popular mobility platform in the enterprise.  Now, that doesn’t mean that I personally agree that the iPad is the best device for most companies.  For most of my enterprise clients, it’s not. But as my colleague Colin Osburn, founder of Etuvian Mobility, put it:  “Everyone’s trapped in an Apple commercial.”

So what does that mean for the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars and man-hours that you’ve spent building out your BES infrastructure?  What will it take to migrate users to a new platform?  Can you make the new device look and act just like the Blackberry, only, um… better?

Migrating from a RIM Blackberry environment to an Apple, Android, Windows Mobile, or multi-platform environment will be expensive and painful.  (Sorry.)  Just how painful is something you can mitigate with sound EM planning.

For example, the new non-RIM devices will not act exactly like the Blackberry, though in most cases, that’s probably a good thing. Blackberrys are fine devices, but RIM is a company in trouble dead, judging from both recent market share reports, and the inquiries we’ve received from dozens of major companies trying to jump onto the Apple/Android bandwagon.

What does that mean for you, as a COO, CIO, or CTO?  Read my next post to find out.

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