Should the Enterprise go mobile ?
No need to deny it. We have all gone mobile. We are addicted to our small devices and we are constantly carrying them with us and checking them permanently. Smartphones, notebooks, netbooks, mobiles. We have quite few usages for them, going from the standard e-mail to m-commerce.
With the advent of mobile Internet and the maturity of devices to provide an enhanced user experience onto the mobile web, the adoption rate of smartphones, amongst other mobile devices has highly increased.
Gartner released the figures of smartphones market shares on Q1 2009 and it says it all:
Through this growth, a very important market is emerging for mobile applications. The growth of the App Store (nearly 100,000 applications and over 2 Billion downloads) and the Android Store (approx. 10,000 apps) are good sign for it. So why wouldn’t business applications benefit from this trend ?
Although, most would think mobile applications are more valuable in a B2C business model, M-Apps might bring a great value to the enterprise through several channels:
- Increase productivity : users would be able to interact with the systems at any time. They might leverage lose time to do expanses or validate workflow items.
- Gain real-time access to enterprise information : In a customer facing situation, your representative is able to access the CRM application and get an up-to-date profile of the customer his is visiting.
- Workforce automation : If your company has a mobile workforce (sales, agents), mobile applications allow them a better autonomy and proactivity by providing them real-time access to the applications. Sales representatives in malls are able to report their sales in real-time, which would allow marketing to take real time decisions and apply a special sale for a specific product to attract more customers.
Making a business application available to mobile users isn’t likely to approach playing with a magic wand. It should go through a set of considerations before starting the project.
Selecting the appropriate candidate
Not every application is a good candidate to go mobile. This should go through a thoughtful selection process. At first, you should define all the criterias that make an application eligible to this port, for example regular access by mobile population, online and offline access, ability to simplify screens and processes and adapt them to the mobile usage, real-time access to information, ease of porting, customer accessible application, criticity, value to the enterprise etc…
As part of your mobile strategy, you should think of first going live with a pilot before diving into a larger roll-out. For example, you’d first make it available to a small set of population (sales or IT) before giving access to the rest of users.
Mobile devices, whether they are smartphones or netbooks have low and different resolution screens. They also have a variety of access methods: either through a pointer, a touch screen or some kind of pad. Your application should be adaptable and able to run of these various platforms, in a easy flowing way. A high focus should be put in the usability and ensure that users are able to interact easily with the application without having to forever scroll or suffer from cropped texts. You’d also think about light screens where you’d privilege a low number of inputs and buttons to avoid confusion.
On the other side, you should ensure that the used technologies are widespread enough to run on most platforms unless you build different applications for the main platforms. If the mobile version of your application is not web based, you might want to consider to provide offline access. For example, a user might want to record his time entries while in a train (with no Internet access). The next morning, while at the office, he would be able to sync/push the recorded information to your HR application.
You should define the security policies pertaining to your mobile application. If the devices are not members of the enterprise network and not using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) connection, this means they should be accessible through the Internet, hence the systems are potentially exposed to external threats. You should also deal with losableness and theft cases. In this case, strangers might get an access to the enterprise data through the lost device. Your policies should include processes to quickly react and disallow the access for this particular device/user until the account has been secured.
Mobile applications will play a good part in the future of the extended enterprise. As people tend to gain in mobility and technologies gain maturity in being reliable platforms, a real value should be leveraged by taking advantage of transporting the enterprise in one’s briefcase.