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Author's profile photo Former Member

The shocking state of mobility in business

What mobile strategy?

I recently was at another mobility event, M6 Mobility Exchange.  To my shock and disappointment, there seem to be a lack of mobile strategy in most businesses.  The majority of companies represented had made some foray into mobility, but it seemed quite limited. Poll questions on BYOD saw a good number of hands raised and enthusiastic nods. But internal app stores?  I could count those that deployed something on two hands.

In each industry, there are a few leaders. For example, in retail, we see companies like Sephora equipping their staff with mobile devices to answer customer questions and ring sales. Yet most companies can’t get basic business intelligence out to the managers and field staff. In transportation, the Societe de Transport de Montreal (STM) has rolled out a mobile app for their riders. But not so many ambitious ideas in other industries.

Speaking with manufacturing, healthcare, higher education, and other industry participants, it looked like crawl-walk-run was their plan, but it was very fuzzy.

Many had already bought some kind of mobile device management (e.g. saw SAP Afaria, MobileIron, AirWatch, and Good Technology represented). Each vendor had its proponents and detractors – e.g. I felt bad for the CEO of Good, as she got beat up by her customers verbally when she was on stage, due to poor usability and longstanding product issues. On the SAP side, some commented they liked the telecom cost management element that has come to Afaria, but that there was little excitement there – it gets the job done.  Where were the apps that solved the business problems?  Whomever the provider, it appeared the vast majority (65% is my guess) of companies at the had some kind of device management plan.  But with MDM, there is the question of WHY – e.g. now that you have it, what is the driver for mobility in the first place ? 

Where are the applications?

The shocker for me was that the applications in use were: email, email, email, browser, and… wait for it… email.  Very few had stepped up to applications.  I did hear one interesting case study of a healthcare organization using BlackBerry technology to share and communicate between staff, nurses, doctors, etc., in a secure, reliable way.  Also saw some presentation and debates on mobile advertising, digital couponing, and using social media for feedback. Fair enough, but what about purpose-built applications?

In retail, some discussion of inventory apps, and mobile Point of Sale ensued. But no sign of employee self-service.

Manufacturers seemed to have their head around mobile ordering/catalog type apps, but limited deployment at this point in time. Companies doing some form of field service had already invested, but were looking for worker productivity apps, scheduling of facilities, tasks, and people.

MOBI – Mobile Business Intellegence?

One speaker asked “what ever happened to Crystal Reports ?”  Of course, that hit home – it surprised me again that people hadn’t broadly rolled out SAP Business Objects Mobile Business Intelligence. So, I showed a few people. The reaction to MOBI and handful of demos and real-world BI apps was overwhelmingly positive.  One guy realized he probably already owned the licenses – perhaps an upgrade is in order?

It seems to me this is an obvious place to go – whatever industry you are in. For retail (my home turf), sales analysis aka flash sales reporting should be a quick win. And some dashboards, perhaps leveraging the SAP Sales Analysis for Retail 2.0 solution.  In other industries, it seems like it would be a no-brainer.

Does mobility drive productivity?

When is it going to happen?   A recent (2012) McKinsey report highlighted workplace productivity and timesavings can be had from mobile applications. The secret here is multiples. e.g. save 55 minutes/day x 220 (or more workdays) x number of workers x wages = a whole lot of money. If you insist on ROI as a metric, the place to start is looking at these repetitive or time-intensive mobile tasks.

For a company with perhaps 1,000 field employees, if you can save them even 20 minutes a day, at $20/hour, its about $1.4million a year.  Are you going to drive some of this innovation?

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      Author's profile photo Tom Van Doorslaer
      Tom Van Doorslaer

      You're voicing more or less the same feelings as I get when looking around on our local market.

      Mobility seems to be a buzzword for a lot of companies, but almost none have any strategy or roadmap. They're all just running loose, jumping from one idea onto another, but nothing happens really.

      Is it because everyone is risk-averse due to the economic climate? Is it because the decision makers don't "get" the idea of mobility? Is it because enterprises shy away from any form of innovation? (being non-mature)

      I think that, part of the problem is, companies don't know where to start with mobility. To kick it off with one small app, you immediately need to open up part of your network, foresee a system to distribute certificates, put some kind of device management in place (even if it is a very rudimentary excel list) create an application, foresee backend services, foresee adequate security on that extranet gateway/proxy...

      That's a pretty big leap for one simple pilot. Most companies never ever thought that there would be a time to open up their network to the extranet one way or another. Most companies never thought that their employees would not be sitting at their desk, connected to the intranet, via their laptop or desktop.

      There is no Crawl, Walk, Run option. It's run, or stay put.

      But as one guy mentioned once in a presentation, everything is cyclic, so if you stay put, at some point, you'll be ahead of the game. (which was meant sarcastically, but a lot of people agreed...)

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      And on top of all of the very good points you make Tom, you also have to deal with the attitude within organisations of "I can get free to-do list, email & crm app's from the app store, why will it cost me £xxxxx to deliver the same in my business?"

      Its a hard sell convincing customers that the investment is mostly spent in infrastructure, processes, management & security when they just want a single sexy app for their workforce!

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Blog Post Author

      Gareth, interesting observation. Investment in infrastructure and related is essential, but often a "bare-bones" approach is needed to get the pilot first app up and running.

      It reminds me of the early days of selling LANs and WANs. People couldn't see the value in putting in all the infrastructure to connect offices, stores, branches, warehouses, plants, and distribution centres.  It was a hard sell.  But once the infrastructure was in place, the bandwidth was flooded with all kinds of clever uses that people had not envisioned before putting it in place.  Perhaps a bit of chicken-and-egg ?

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Blog Post Author

      Great comments, Tom. Agree with you that a lot of companies don't know where to start - I see that a lot.  Many got started because an exec wanted email on his/her iPad, and others got started with a single app - e.g. solving labour-intensive, error-prone, repetitive task like taking inventory, or vendor-management apps for managing contracts, compliance, etc. After email, this first app seems to trigger more small enhancements or a few other apps.

      You're absolutely right about the "big leap" - a lot of companies don't realize they need to upgrade the "plumbing and electrical" in order to do the first pilot app.  Often, the network security isn't in place, WiFi coverage is spotty, and user expectations haven't been set.  I'm a fan of "low fidelity" tests - e.g. don't try to solve the infrastructure 100% - get to good-enough quickly, so people can adopt the solution, and as the adoption happens, expand and upgrade.

      Author's profile photo Mohamed Amer
      Mohamed Amer

      Colin, sobering observations!  I find that the technology trajectory is moving at such a rapid pace that companies are struggling with not only keeping up but just figuring out how to internally absorb and adapt to all this new technology happening on the consumer front.  Certainly as you suggest they can start small, do the pilots, etc.  However, even these without a strategic (yet adaptable) investment plan, companies will not be able to prioritize and make sense of the possibilities nor how they can change internally to take advantage of these opportunities.