Remember when the primary function of a phone was talking to a friend or colleague? That seems pretty quaint these days when phones have essentially morphed into mini computers most of us also use to check email, access the Internet and use some of the same applications found on our PCs at work.
Mobility seems ubiquitous, since it’s difficult to find a setting in which you are not surrounded by smartphone-wielding folks performing many of those tasks. Yet mobility – especially work-related mobility — is still in its early days. A recent McKinsey Quarterly article (free registration required) likens mobility to the Internet, with both beginning as consumer innovations that quickly entered the workplace and fundamentally changed how most of us do our jobs.
There’s another parallel to the Internet, one that is only hinted at in the article. Many CIOs and other business executives are uncertain and understandably anxious about how to respond to the growing demand for mobile applications from their employees.
Yet, as recent surveys indicate, there’s no holding back mobile. A survey from AppCentral, for example, found 68 percent of companies have at least one custom mobile app in use. Nearly half of companies surveyed have five custom mobile applications and 23 percent have more than six.
Big Boost from Business
The survey also offers pretty compelling proof that business units and not IT organizations are leading the mobile charge. (Again, like the Internet in its early days in the workplace.) Thirty-six percent of respondents said individual business units were the primary source of funding for mobile projects. Marketing departments and executive leaders funded mobile projects at 31 percent of companies, while IT departments provided funding for just 29 percent of companies.
A similar survey from MGI Research found 44 percent of mobile app projects received funding from business units while IT organizations funded 28 percent of projects. In addition, 11 percent of mobile app projects got funding directly from the executive suite.
This is both good news and bad news. It certainly never hurts to get backing from the C-suite. But mobility raises key infrastructure and security questions that only IT organizations are really equipped to answer. And internal development staffs may lack the manpower and/or expertise to meet the pent-up demand for enterprise mobile apps.
Here are six tips gleaned from the McKinsey article and other publications that should help companies enjoy the benefits associated with enterprise mobile apps while avoiding some of the possible pitfalls:
Include security in mobility discussions, early and often. The McKinsey article notes that companies with successful mobile initiatives typically involve security staff early and make security a key tenet of mobility, not an afterthought. They create policies that balance user desires with security requirements. An example: Employees might be able to access some enterprise apps from mobile devices but not install them locally on devices. Clearly communicate policies to employees, periodically review them, and query workers to make sure they understand them.
Let employees participate in mobile projects – but give IT final authority. When I interviewed an executive from Unisys, he suggested surveying employees about their mobile technology preferences, then using results to create a “white list” of company-approved mobile devices, applications and support options. Writing for Forbes, CITO Research CTO Dan Woods advised creating an internal customer advisory group to make sure employees’ needs are being addressed.
Get a good handle on governance. The McKinsey piece offers the example of a company that created a mobility “core” team with members representing four key constituencies: the business (perhaps a member of the aforementioned advisory group, I’d suggest), IT applications, IT infrastructure and IT policy. The team reports to the CIO every month and conducts semiannual strategy and policy refreshes.
Make user experience a priority. Companies won’t gain the maximum benefit from enterprise apps if employees don’t use them. That’s important for both desktop and mobile apps – but probably an even bigger factor for mobile apps due to all of the “gotchas” that can wreck user experience. A Gartner research director provided a great list of 10 such “gotchas” in a Cult of Mac article.
Focus on employees who will gain the most value from mobility. The McKinsey piece advises prioritizing investment and creating custom apps for business units with the strongest use cases for mobile apps, while providing more basic services like email and calendaring to other users.
Make enterprise experience a requirement for development partners. Given the limited resources and possible lack of mobile experience on internal development teams, many companies will probably outsource at least some mobile app development. Look for partners with plenty of experience related to security, domain-specific processes and integration – areas that are often not quite as crucial for consumer apps.
For some great advice on creating and executing an effective consumer-oriented mobile strategy, check out Strategy, Not Spending, Key to Mobile App Success.