"All and now".Those words sum up two of the biggest demands from today’s employees. Increasingly mobile users want the world and they want it now. In response, IT must provide high-performance architecture that meets those hefty demands—and, of course, provides value to the business as well.
“We are beyond the age of just information and now into a world of enterprise transformation,” says Vijay Thirumalai, managing partner at Streebo Inc., a provider of master data management and business intelligence consulting and implementation services. “Mobile is no longer an option; it has now become a business necessity.”
In his view, every function in an enterprise stands to benefit from a mobile platform’s ubiquity. Salespeople can access information on the go, create new accounts in the field, fulfill orders faster and affect revenue, profitability and sales cycles. He describes advantages for marketing professionals as well: “Customer acquisition, promotions, personalization and customer experience are some of the immediate benefits for marketing in leveraging mobile.”
Likewise, finance and accounting departments are beginning to leverage mobile technologies in their payment platforms. “It’s time to rethink payments, collection departments and associated costs in enterprises,” he says, adding that “every department now stands to gain from a well-thought-out mobile strategy.”
The key to achieving integration, mobility and high performance: Understanding your user requirements and building a flexible, scalable architecture to meet them, says Adam Bari, managing director of IPM, an IT consulting firm. “If you don’t provide that architecture in your enterprise, users will take out their credit cards and buy it from someone else, regardless of security mandates,” he warns.
In some senses, integration is best thought of as a form of convergence, where there’s an effort to provide a unified IT platform as viewed from the perspective of the mobile end users, Bari says. “You don’t want to think in terms of a network group or storage or virtual desktop infrastructure group,” he says. Providing that connectivity is a matter of selecting the best fit from a range of options, such as Web-based services or so-called “native” connectivity, built around the specific device characteristics and capabilities.
While Web-based HTML5-based apps and environments can deliver some functionality, they won't work over the long term because they aren’t robust enough for data collection offline, says Mary Brittain-White, CEO and founder of Retriever Communications, which focuses on mobile customer solutions for field work. By contrast, she argues, native apps can work across all operating systems, meaning companies spend less on operating expenditures while still getting the high-performance architectures needed to do more with less.
Meanwhile, she says, in the age of mobility, IT must stop thinking of mobile as the edge of the enterprise, recognizing that some—or perhaps most—of the critical work of the business occurs through mobility and mobile workers.
The key to developing and delivering a successful high-performance implementation is working closely with employees, says Larry Van Deusen, national practice manager for network integration at Dimension Data, an IT services and solution provider. “To really understand how to utilize enterprise mobility you have to adopt a methodology that brings together key stakeholders and includes workshops to look at your operational objectives,” he says.
Factors to consider are performance, device management issues and strategic business goals such as operational agility, Van Deusen says. “When we work with our clients, a process like that helps provide a clear snapshot of what matters and how to get there.”
Darrin Witte, a partner and manager for the mobile development practice at Clarity Consulting, cites other issues involved in crafting an architecture that supports mobility. For one thing, he says, operating systems such as Android weren’t designed for the enterprise; for that reason, an initiative like Windows 8, which has more of an enterprise orientation, may have value. In addition, he says, everything you do needs to be “consumable,” whether it is just an application programming interface (API) or something more.
“In the past, that would have been done with service-oriented architecture (SOA), but now, more simple REST-based services are being consumed by disconnected, or occasionally connected, devices,” he says, referring to representational state transfer services. “Traditionally, enterprises don’t have this infrastructure in place, so creating that is the first step, followed by the decision of whether to go native or orient toward a mobile Web approach,” he says. In Witte’s view, HTML5 can provide some cross-platform capabilities—but native has advantages, too. “There are pros and cons to both; it depends on the needs of the organization,” he says.
Regardless of the choice, though, it’s time to get started. “You can always alter course. You don’t have to wait for a perfect approach,” he says.
As the number of smart mobile devices overtakes the number of computers, the demand for enterprise information from those devices becomes more crucial, Thirumalai says. And demographic factors play into the picture as well: “In a few years, more than 50% of the world population will be under the age of 25, and this demography is biased towards mobile use,” he says. “We are at the cusp of a perfect storm for enterprise transformation.”