Mobilise Applications and Unlock the Value of Your Enterprise Portfolio
Many organisations have made significant investments in enterprise applications, but have failed to push business intelligence any closer to the point of customer contact. By implementing systems that often overlooked the requirements of an increasingly mobile workforce, companies left users disappointed and realized a less-than-stellar return on their investments. Sweeping changes in the mobile computing landscape have further muddied the issue. As professionals clamored for remote access to information, organisations capitulated by providing mobile access to e-mail and calendar data though handheld devices. Although access to personal information has been a boon to users, short-term victories have distracted organisations from concentrating on long-range plans that properly integrate the mobile channel into the broader context of enterprise IT strategy. Now, organisations find themselves with a tangle of applications, handheld mobile devices that don’t play well together, and no clear idea of how to introduce order to the chaos.
How Did We Get Here?
Broadly, three forces have contributed to the situation:
- Organisational politics
- Vendor hubris
- Rapid technological innovation
In the article Seven Key Reasons Why CRM Fails, Gartner advanced a number of ideas why deployments failed to live up to expectations. Of the reasons identified, not one had to do with technology. Rather, in one way or another, each pointed to shortcomings in the processes or people involved in the solution. Several of the explanations shared a common theme: Failures result when mobile professionals do not personally recognize the value of the initiative. Why would they? In spite of a migration to browser-based solutions, many packages are still based on the assumption that staff will be using standard PCs or laptops. That assumption is a reasonable one for call-center staff, but it ignores the unique requirements of a mobile workforce.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.” Under similar auspices of benevolence, many vendors have created proprietary file formats and interfaces for enterprise applications. While proprietary technology generally allows more rapid response to changing customer requirements, vendors have often exploited this to create and sell solutions that “lock in” customers. Worse, this lock-in is even more pernicious than it first appears. Bad practices beget more bad practices, so quirks that are accommodated when building custom enhancements for enterprise applications soon weave their way into all development projects within an organisation. Over time, a firm’s entire web infrastructure—ostensibly built on open standards—ends up being tightly coupled to a single vendor and incompatible with alternative solutions.
Since Marc Andreessen and Jim Clark founded Mosaic Communications in 1994, the pace of online innovation can only be described as frenetic. In spite of the disruption that followed the 2001 collapse of the technology sector, innovation continued, paving the way to what is commonly referred to as Web 2.0. The speed at which ideas are birthed, extended, destroyed, and evolved is absolutely remarkable.
A similarly torrid pace characterizes change in the hardware/consumer electronics space. With industry heavyweights such as RIM, Palm, Nokia, Motorola, Sony-Ericsson, and Apple all vying for market share, new devices are being launched weekly. Although many devices endeavor to embrace open standards, each does so according to its own particular interpretation of the standards, often, of course, because that is what’s “best for consumers.”
These changes lead many users to demand similar levels of innovation from their corporate IT departments. Consequently, companies are often goaded into providing basic mobility—e-mail and calendar access—in order to quell braying users. Unfortunately, hastily conceived solutions rarely support IT strategy or consider integration with existing systems. In the end, companies are left with an increasingly heterogeneous collection of marginally compatible technology.
Getting Back on Track
Two trends make it important to address these problems:
- Software as a Service (SaaS). As companies like Salesforce.com gain both mindshare and market share among the Fortune 500, they enhance their bottom line while adding legitimacy to a business model that many dismissed as being suitable only for smaller firms. As businesses increasingly look to SaaS as a way to reduce operating expenses, eliminate data center space, and simplify their IT infrastructure, they’ll find that many SasS vendors include flexible platforms that already support mobile devices…if customers are ready to adopt them.
- Talent Management. One of the most talked about trends accompanying baby boomer retirements is the looming talent crisis. According to research by Deloitte Consulting , McKinsey, and others, the retirement of boomers is coupled with the increasing specialisation and knowledge density of critical business activities. At the same time, a new generation of workers who grew up with SMS, instant messaging, and online collaboration has begun to enter the workforce with the expectation of having these same tools available. When your business competes for top talent with firms in exciting locales around the world, do you really want to tell top performers they have to sit at a desk to complete their weekly time and expense report?
So, how can organisations reduce the proliferation of complexity and prepare for the future by making mobility part of a coherent IT strategy? The next section answers that question with a four-step plan to take advantage of new developments and deliver relevant information to users at the right time.
Heading Down the Road
Although much remains unfinished, the good news is that existing investments in enterprise applications, master data management, and mobile device deployments will have a crucial role in an organisation’s mobile future. With some of the critical components already in place, extending the boundaries of enterprise applications will be refreshingly straightforward. Successful mobile strategies follow a four-step program:
- Decide that mobility will be part of the enterprise IT strategy.
- Survey the landscape.
- Design and implement a pilot program.
- Incorporate, adopt, extend, and assess.
Step 1: Commit to Mobility
Deciding to do something and making a public commitment to the idea is a crucial and significant step. Announcing that mobility will be part of an organisation’s enterprise IT strategy will catalyze new ideas and signal support for upcoming projects that incorporate mobile technology.
Advocates of simplification may balk at the idea of adding yet another platform to what is already certain to be a complex and heterogeneous IT environment. In practice, many organisations already support a number of mobile devices—even if only tacitly. Rather than increasing complexity, sanctioning mobility can actually produce the opposite effect. Committing to enterprise mobility legitimizes the idea and can introduce the same process rigor that accompanies selection of other foundational components such as enterprise database software. Consequently, mobile strategy will end up advancing IT cost reduction initiatives by providing clear boundaries for what the enterprise does and does not support.
Step 2: Survey the Landscape
Existing investments can’t—and shouldn’t—be ignored. Starting with what’s in place today will help move things ahead quickly and will assuage the fears of those who have come to expect that new technology deployments are accompanied by “rip and replace” recommendations. To successfully navigate the path ahead, however, it is important to understand where the journey begins. A three-part landscape survey will help.
During the audit phase, companies will create an inventory of the building blocks they own and identify the way current policies influence the purchase and customisation of packaged applications and the development of company-specific software. Being vigorous during the audit will help maximize value of existing investments by confirming that all assets benefit from the opportunity to be included in the plan for enterprise mobility.
Evaluate Risk & Opportunities
With an assessment in hand, consider how existing system boundaries can be extended to push information closer to the point of customer contact. Rewriting an organisation’s entire complement of applications to support access from mobile devices is not the right answer. In spite of the temptation to do so, it is important that smart phones not be viewed as merely a small PC. Instead, acknowledge that the usability model of a smart phone differs substantially from that of a traditional computer and focus system enhancements on addressing the unique requirements of the mobile platform.
Accounting for risks identified earlier, take advantage of opportunities by engaging mobile professionals to determine how existing assets are employed and which features limit their use in the field. The risk of this approach is that it may enable a vocal minority to drive application development priorities. Nonetheless, vocal users can be valuable allies, and risks associated with misguided development priorities can be mitigated using a Nomination-Costing-Spending strategy that allows users to “buy” features through peer-based negotiation of priorities.
Step 3: Select and mobilise a Pilot
The feature negotiation exercise will help identify candidates for the pilot. Since rewriting entire applications is not the intent of mobilisation, it should not be the goal of a pilot. Instead, companies will do better to focus on the features identified earlier and determine how to deliver them by enhancing enterprise applications.
As the deployment plans are being drawn up, application designers will have to select a suitable mobile architecture for the pilot. For example, the table below (cf. Choosing Between the Six Mobile Application Architecture Styles Gartner, 2006.) identifies four mobile architectures and describes their characteristics.
Each architecture has characteristics that make it more or less suitable to particular circumstances, so continued user involvement is essential if the mobilisation initiative is to satisfy all users’ requirements. Once a list of candidate applications and platform selection criteria is finalized, teams of users should be selected to move forward with their pilot.
Step 4: Incorporate, Adopt, Extend & Assess
At the conclusion of the pilot, all teams must come together to learn what worked well and what could have been done better. These lessons will be incorporated into future endeavors and will inform the development of the enterprise mobile strategy. This pattern of Incorporation, Adoption, Extension and Assessment will repeat itself in a virtuous circle, helping to extend the boundaries of enterprise systems and better meet the changing needs of an increasingly mobile workforce.
Lessons learned during each cycle must be incorporated into a coherent mobile strategy that supports the firm’s business strategy, incorporates mechanisms to protect and enhance intellectual property, provides a framework for guiding future initiatives, and enables benchmarking. The process of defining the enterprise mobile strategy must also incorporate the same rigor used to create other long-range plans. Without subjecting mobile strategy to the same scrutiny, mobilisation initiatives risk being dismissed as “just another project.”
New ideas, technologies, and processes should be adopted as they support the mobile strategy and the requirements of the business. The amalgam of people, processes, and technology created by mixing ideas from inside and outside the organisation can help produce solutions that capitalize on existing assets, enhance the mobile ecosystem, and deliver value to users.
Ongoing success with mobilisation depends on an organisation’s ability to continually extend earlier work. As solutions grow to offer benefits to different mobile populations, network effects make them increasingly valuable tools for information sharing, collaboration, and reporting. Along with custom development, organisations should work to adapt vendor solutions to their own requirements. Extending existing enterprise applications helps increase their value and avoids the trap where ambitious custom development projects that will not create a competitive advantage distract IT organisations from other initiatives.
As each mobilisation project concludes, assessments will help improve subsequent initiatives. Examining recent work will also uncover recurring themes that can be used to evolve internal policies, procedures, and standards for system development and vendor selection.
Critical Success Factors
Mobilisation is not a unique challenge and shares many risks with other IT projects that impact many areas of the enterprise. While expansive projects are often fraught with peril, five activities characterize successful mobilisation initiatives.
- Start Now with Organisational Change Begin with organisational change. It is difficult, time-consuming, and the greatest contributor to the overall success of the project. As technology standards change, some users may lose access to technology they enjoy today. Other users will need training to understand and benefit from the new tools. To avoid being derailed by either of these issues. (1) Identify the likely opposition—they’re apt to be early adopters of technology—and earn their support by explaining the business reasons for the change. Then, use their penchant for technology to bring them into the fold. Give them new devices, seek feedback, and get them to help create the future. Allowing them to feel they had a hand in the solution will eliminate any objections. (2) Begin work on Quick Reference guides, create outlines for training courses, and work to identify which users might benefit from extra attention. Executive assistants are often overlooked here, but are excellent candidates because of the crucial role they play in supporting others.
- Generate Support & Visibility Enable support and visibility among business and IT users by pursuing shared wins and through cogent and candid communication. You don’t need to barrage users with e-mail to make your point, but periodic notes will be welcome and will help users understand the “why.” For those more interested in the day-to-day progress, consider keeping an internal blog. This reduces communication flowing to users, but makes new developments available to those who are excited about the changes.
- Derive Value from Tools Third-party vendors provide tools that help simplify the transformation of existing web-based applications for consumption by mobile devices. Using these tools can help speed mobilisation and deployment of complex applications.
- Evolve Enterprise Standards Enterprise standards related to software development and system selection must be updated. Even if applications are never adapted to support mobility, modifying development techniques to simplify the process is a low-impact change and moves companies into greater compliance with industry standards—helping to remedy some of the lock-in noted earlier. Similarly, when evaluating new products for the enterprise, adherence to standards should rank high on the scoring matrix.
- Be Relentless About Pilot Success Engage staff who are both forthright about current shortcomings and avid users of mobile technology. Working with this group will be challenging, but patience and tenacity will be rewarded by a pilot that can convert strident users into vocal supporters. Because of the power of this user base, it’s essential to go beyond the call of duty to confirm that the pilot implementation is successful, that negotiated features are implemented, and that problems are resolved before mass deployment.
As carriers focus on upgrading their networks and device makers incorporate an increasingly rich complement of applications into portable devices, the price of adopting mobile technology continues to fall. The decline in price encourages consumers to enter the space to take advantage of the many useful mobile services. Consumer adoption also compels many organisations to introduce similar devices into the enterprise. Unfortunately, without a coherent mobile strategy, introducing the technology merely expands the existing technology landscape and adds little to enterprise applications.
To avoid the risk of proliferation and help push business intelligence closer to the point of customer contact, companies must move to include mobility as part of their IT strategy. By investing resources to selectively add mobility to enterprise applications, companies will provide tangible value to mobile professionals, enable greater agility in many business processes, and provide greater flexibility to their employees. Arming staff with on-demand access to enterprise applications and data can help convert even the staunchest critics of earlier enterprise application deployments into raving fans.
The key to freeing users and unlocking value from your enterprise applications lies in the palm of your hand.
This article encouraged readers to consider the mobile platform when acquiring or designing new software. Once firms have made the decision that mobile users warrant that consideration and wish to forge ahead, a recent article by Smashing Magazine offers useful things to consider when creating the mobile experience.