As mobile has pushed deeper into enterprises, there is a growing recognition that it may be possible to run significant parts of businesses from relatively small devices.
To some industry leaders, such as Bryan Smith, CTO of software solutions provider Rocket Software, it appears enterprises are on the verge of the science-fiction dream where people run their whole business on-the-go from their phone or tablet. “Some companies are managed in large part from phones and tablets today,” said Smith, who also cautions that there remains work to be done: “We must improve the technology and our own best practices to turn science fiction into everyday reality.”
Still, there are business leaders who are already running operations via mobile, proving the concept is viable. “When I co-founded Capriza in 2011, I made the decision to run the company from my phone,” said Yuval Scarlat, CEO of Capriza, provider of an enterprise mobility platform. “Having a 1-minute experience through an app on my mobile device is much more productive than sifting through multiple different systems on a desktop. To this day, I oversee and run every aspect of Capriza from my mobile device.” When Scarlat opens his phone, he is able to see a snapshot of Capriza’s company forecast, sales leads, marketing dashboards, and approvals and associated costs, he said. “Running my business from my phone allows me to be exponentially more productive.”
The increase in cloud and cloud-based mobile services, combined with highly functional mobile apps, makes this a reality, said Tad Johnson, product manager at Jamf, a provider of enterprise management software for the Apple platform. For example, companies can handle point-of-sale requirements with Vend, employee scheduling with Deputy, accounting with FreshBooks, and then sign-and-receive documents with DocuSign. “The trick,” he said, “is not trying to recreate your traditional desktop workflows on a mobile device but rather to explore alternative mobile-first solutions.”
Not everyone is on board with this possibility yet. “It’s hard to imagine most traditional businesses could operate the entire business from a mobile phone,” said Burley Kawasaki, senior vice president of products with Kony, Inc., which offers cloud-based enterprise mobility solutions. He added, however, that many startups and tech-savvy companies are adopting the concept. “What is enabling this is the shift to the cloud,” he said. “As companies adopt software-as-a-service and cloud applications, all of their business apps are increasingly running on someone’s cloud and are likely exposed through a mobile user experience.”
Still, form-factor requirements may nonetheless require traditional PCs and terminals. “There will always be certain applications that lend themselves to large screens, dual monitors, and a mouse and keyboard,” said Adam Fingerman, chief experience officer and co-founder of ArcTouch, a mobile-app design and development company. The functionality of mobile apps themselves is not yet enterprise-ready, he said, adding, “There is still a lot of work to be done in the area of enterprise mobile apps.” Fingerman said that a recent ArcTouch study revealed that only 12% of employees are currently using company-provided apps for work. In addition, work-related apps tend to be weak in performance, especially in terms of UX attributes, such as usefulness, relevance, functionality, and speed.
While mobile devices may not be ready to run entire enterprises, in many cases, they certainly can run more limited functions. “Running a branch or division or store would be completely doable,” said Tyler Owen, senior director of global solutions strategy for store operations at JDA Software, a provider of supply chain planning and execution solutions. “For instance, we are seeing retailers today, particularly those that manufacture and sell soft goods such as apparel, accessories, and footwear, who are no longer putting PCs in stores—they’re relying 100% on tablets and mobile devices to perform all store functions.”
“This will be the year for enterprises to get serious about mobility,” predicted Walt Thinfen, president and CEO of Visioneer, a provider of scanner and document management solutions. “Whether that means arming workers with mobile technology they can take on the road with them or adjusting work-from-home policies, it’s time to realize that work is no longer conducted solely in the four corners of the office. No matter their location, employees need to be able to digitize, store, and share business-critical documents with team members.”
The rise of mobile IT capabilities is reshaping the way organizations manage and provide access to data. The mobile revolution is fueling the data revolution, and vice versa. “Today’s data environments are capable of taking advantage of mobile just as mobile is able to take advantage of data environments,” said Domingo Guerra, co-founder and president of Appthority, which delivers mobile security solutions.
“Since everyone who has a smartphone can access information without being tied to a desk, they have access to data from almost anywhere and thereby take faster action and get more accomplished,” said Ketan Thanki, board member of the OAUG (Oracle Applications Users Group) and coordinator of the OAUG Mobile Apps for EBS SIG. “The strength and diversity of the mobile operating systems such as iOS, Android, and Windows has made it simpler to handle large sets of data as well as the speed with which they are accessible.”
The rise of mobile also means more access to analytics, and this is driving the market, said Smith of Rocket Software. “With mobile, the past 2 years has seen significant advances in making data accessible to application developers, software engineers, machine-learning researchers, data scientists, business users, and customers,” he said.
Mobile technologies “have increased the amounts of data being created, as well as increased the frequency and quantity of accesses being made to retrieve the data,” agreed Chris Buckel, technology evangelist at data storage vendor Kaminario. Buckel sees the rise of mobile paralleling the growth of SaaS and e-retailing. “Ten years ago, most office workers had a trusty desktop computer on which they performed all of their daily activities,” he related. “Today, we see workers updating their CRM systems from their tablets, purchasing goods from mobile applications, or uploading meal receipts to their SaaS expense management platform while they are still in the restaurant.”
This accessibility has its price, however, said Fingerman. “The increasing number of devices on which people can do business and the amount of raw data that’s available has made mobile management more complex.”
With enterprise mobile “comes the rise of full-stack data management solutions, and the ability to easily manage data throughout the stack has become crucial,” said Wayne Carter, chief architect of mobile at Couchbase, a NoSQL database technology provider. “This includes data storage, access, synchronization, and security in the cloud, on phones and tablets, over the web, in your cars, on your TV—everywhere. Enterprises and developers need infrastructure that makes it easy for them to do this. They don’t want to have to build it or piece it together.”
At this point, most data and systems of record are still not optimized for mobile and more work is required, Kawasaki pointed out. “We’re seeing leading companies deploying both mobile backend as a service and API management technologies to expose existing data and systems into newer, more mobile-optimized APIs. You also have to decompose your monolithic data and services down into microservices that can be used in more fine-grained and task-oriented ways from a mobile device.”
There needs to be more attention to how back-end mobile data is managed, Smith added. “Availability is critical, yet I still see organizations coding mobile applications to use a data warehouse or data lake,” he said. “No one on a mobile device is happy seeing yesterday’s data. Current technologies such as data virtualization must be employed to bridge this gap.”
Ultimately, mobile technologies may be able to cut across the silos of data that have long flummoxed enterprise integration efforts. “Most organizations today rely on numerous different legacy on premise or cloud systems, but accessing that information easily and on a regular basis is a common hurdle for most employees,” said Scarlat. “By creating mobile apps based on these legacy systems, users can perform quick, simple transactions or operations, and have easy access to any type of data.”
There is also a greater ability to deliver real-time capabilities as well. Instead of waiting to see reports or data “after the fact” in the office, the pervasive accessibility to real-time data from your mobile device allows for real-time response to alerts, shortages, and errors, observed Kawasaki.
The Great Blending
Ultimately, the rise of mobile devices is creating an environment in which enterprise infrastructures have to be truly client-agnostic—a vision that has been discussed and anticipated for decades but has never really come to fruition. In many respects, mobile access has now become equal—or indistinguishable—from more traditional systems such as PCs and laptops. “Traditional PCs, and laptops use is flat while mobile access is on a steep rise,” said Guerra. “Mobile access is more convenient and meets the needs of today’s user-centric business leaders. There are now more mobile devices than people on earth.”
While mobile internet usage is exceeding use of the desktop, enterprises still rely on desktops to get the bulk of their work done. “In the work environment, mobile is still behind when it comes to applications,” said Fingerman. “In our recent research, only 12% of office workers are using mobile apps provided by their employers.”
It’s notable, he continued, that there is great potential for mobile computing to advance enterprise computing. “Our study revealed that current enterprise mobile apps improve employee productivity and efficiency, with 85% of users stating that their most-used app saves them time, and 83% saying that their most-used app makes them more productive,” he related. “However, 70% of respondents wouldn’t describe their most-used app as intuitive and only 13% would describe it as elegant. This suggests there is still a long way to go when it comes to mobile user experience.”
With a wide proliferation and variety of mobile devices and platforms, security becomes more of a complex undertaking. “As new endpoints proliferate and the lines between desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones, and wearables start to blur, businesses need a solution to keep their sensitive corporate data safe across different operating systems, form factors, ownership models, and security postures,” said Jeff Holleran, vice president of corporate strategy at BlackBerry, the mobile software, services, and device vendor. “This network of intelligent connections and endpoints needs securing from data theft and from hacker disruption.” He urges organizations to adopt a comprehensive unified endpoint management approach solution to “help them to manage and secure their entire connected device fleet, as well as securing communications to and from these devices for all messages and file types.”
In a way, mobile may be an answer to vexing security concerns as well. “The mobile device has become the bridge to convenient biometrics for the enterprise,” said Jack Callahan, chief technology officer of biometrics authentication company Veridium. “Innate in mobile hardware are all the components needed for biometrics: cameras, fingerprint sensors, microphones, accelerometers, and other internal sensors. Convenient biometric authentication allows a business to support a greater level of features for its mobile workforce and can even be integrated into mobile solutions.”
Thanki urges manufacturers and software developers to work closely to plug the loopholes and gaps presented by mobile devices. “The security of data on a mobile device is as strong as the weakest user of it. All it takes is one of the users to install a rogue application on it, without realizing what link or application they are downloading. There will always be a certain type of data that would not be safe on a mobile device, and businesses need to decide which type of data they do not want to be accessible from mobile devices.”
What kinds of business opportunities have mobile technologies created? Employees today can do almost anything—and are expected to—on their mobile devices, whether it’s field maintenance for machines, providing up-to-date insurance quotes for customers, accessing real-time health data, or tracking and managing real-time inventory status, said Carter.
Mobile is driving new opportunities for increasing employee productivity, as well as engaging more effectively with partners and customers. But the benefits don’t stop there. Mobile is also enabling enterprises to “streamline existing business processes and create strategic pathways to new and significant revenue generation,” said Holleran. “An example is the ability to remotely manage and securely extract information from any connected device or endpoint. Businesses are moving into a full ‘Enterprise of Things,’ taking advantage of the explosion in volume of enterprise connected devices to transform how they do business and create new market opportunities.”
Startups and tech-savvy companies may be ahead of the game with mobile, but a transformation of mainstream organizations is also well underway. “It’s interesting to see how mobile has changed the legacy enterprise,” said Fingerman. “Mobile experiences have become such an important—and normal—part of our daily routine, and when we get to work, that doesn’t stop. We expect to be able to access the same data and perform similar tasks on our phones and tablets as we do at our desks. Mobile gives businesses an opportunity to help their employees change how they do their jobs—for the better.”
Thanki sees unlimited potential for business opportunities within mobile technology that extends across the globe. “Today, you can think of a need and you will find a mobile app for it. Mobile technology has created a new breed of developers all the way from gaming to financial transactions, including banking and everything in between. There are also other businesses that use the mobile technology to their benefit. For example, the success of Uber is largely due to the availability of smartphones and their connectivity. Most money transfers in a majority of African countries are through a mobile phone—a majority of which are not smartphones, by the way.”
This is spurring many organizations to shift from a prevailing “mobile-first” to a “mobile-only” mindset. The success achieved with many mobile efforts, coupled with the significant difference in costs for supporting a laptop-and-mobile employee versus a mobile-only employee, will get more organizations planning with a mobile-only approach for field and remote employees, Scarlat said. “Organizations will start to provide employees with only a tablet or a smartphone, instead of a laptop. We’ve witnessed this evolution before: Web-accessible applications evolved to web-only applications, and cloud alternatives became cloud-only in many cases. We’ll see the same thing happen with mobility in 2017.”