White collar mobility
The current surge in enterprise mobility is entirely driven from the consumer devices. Managers and exempts wish to use their smartphone in the enterprise. The company welcomes this of course, because it’s a potentially large increase in performance. The problem is that the company needs to find a way to leverage this offer of mobile devices.
This isn’t really a new problem. Enterprises have been facing such issues in the past when they started equipping their fieldworkers with rugged devices. There is already a vast base of experiencing in leveraging the power of rugged mobile devices to the employees. It’s a bit of a matter between blue collar and white collar. So the big question is than: “Why is it so hard to leverage the power of consumer devices?”
Despite the presence of mobile devices in enterprises already, and the exercises done to integrate them with the backend in the past, there is very little to find on the subject of rugged devices in correlation with the SAP prefered mobile platform.
To understand the difficulties, we must first look at the differences.
Rugged devices are obvioulsy owned by the enterprise and are fully managed by IT. Consumer devices are owned by, indeed, the employee. As a consequence, the enterprise has no right to manage this device. Without the possibility for management however, the enterprise will be reluctant to allow company data, or business functionality on the device.
Suppose your device is broken, who is going to fix it? It used to be very easy. Company owned equipment, was maintained by the original vendor or by the manufacturer. Enterprise IT manages this with a maintenance contract. There was a limited number of vendors/manufaturers and maintenance was a rather painless process. That is very different from the maintenance of employee owned devices. We don’t really think in terms of maintenance there, because of the principle of nextOpia. If a device breaks, we simply buy a newer version. whenever you do that however, you need to reconfigure the device from scratch again. Not to mention the fact that company data may be accessible to some dodgy phone retailer.
I’m not talking about bluescreens here, but about the rapid development of consumer platforms. A typicall rugedized device runs on windows 6.5 and does so already for several years. Moreover, there is a rodmap amongst manufacturers of rugedized devices, that for the coming 5 years, products will still emerge running windows mobile 6.5, meaning that enterprises can count on a very stable roadmap. Consumer devices however have a much faster cycle of platform updates. This can cause problems with third party drivers. Although the only example I received was about barcode scanners. So although the speed of platform releases causes fear in enterprise IT departments, this panic is rather unfounded. Worth mentioning here is that many rugged manufaturers are offering Android based devices these days. So the driver issue will soon be a problem of the past.
Very closely related to the platform stability is the development of applications. Since all rugged devices featured a WinMob 6.5, developing for different device types was not a particular problem. you only needed one skillset. Consumer devices however, feature Android phones, iOS based devices, Windows Phone, Blackberry and Symbian devices. Although we will ignore that last group since Symbian is destined to disappear. So Theoretically speaking, you would need many different development skills to provide applications for all.
Back in the days, when you wanted to ingerate your rugged devices with your SAP backend, you needed a middleware platform. This was the SAP mobile infrastructure. It’s an outdated tool, with decreasing support which offered not even a fraction of what todays platforms offer. We can see this as an opportunity for improvement, but today’s platforms are not backwards compatible with the old middleware. So you would need to redevelop and redeploy the old programs towards your new middleware. On top of that, you now get to chose from multiple middlewares. MII, SUP, Antenna, Agentry,…
In my perfect world however, I see solutions for all of these “problems”. Being an SAP expert and having dedicated quite some time on the Sybase Unwired Platform, I shall focus my roadmap on these two components.
You already have rugged devices, running applications which are connected to a mobile infrastructure and an SAP business suite backend. Now, you also want to provision and manage the consumer devices. The solution here is easy, you expand your landscape with the sybase unwired platform (SUP). The consumer devices connect to the SUP and IT manages these devices through Afaria. (or another device management tool) This however does mean that you now have two middlewares. One for the blue collars and one for the white collars. No problem, because these rugged devices can be managed by Afaria and provisioned by SUP just as well. The only problem is that the applications built on Mobile Infrastructure are not compatible with SUP.
Not to panic, because now you can simply migrate/redevelop these applications one by one without any pressure. Before you know it, you’ll be managing and provisioning all your mobile devices from a single central platform.
From architectural perspective, I see the possibility of a merge between the rugged platform and the white collar platform. Good news is that also on the hardware perspective, there is some sort of merging movement. New tablets sometimes already feature gorilla glass for example. There are multiple casings for consumer devices to make them rugged.
On the other hand, the real rugged devices start looking more and more like the consumer oriented devices. Phones no longer way a ton, tablets can actually be held in one hand and capacitative screens start replacing the pressure sensitive ones for better interaction.
One day, we’ll have a nice coherent story.
*Sidenote: SUP still does not support native Android development, although this would come very soon. Food for a different blog.
Crosspost from my blog