Mobile is hot, increasingly so within enterprises. This has been picked up by the major technology vendors, who are all scrambling to deliver mobile functionality, from mobile-friendly web interfaces to iPhone apps that connect to their systems.
Despite their enthusiasm, I say:
Don’t rely on vendors to meet your mobile enterprise needs.
Let’s go back in time to when the web became popular. Enterprise apps all started delivering web front ends for use by staff. What did we end up with? A separate ESS portal from the HR vendor, a web login to the ERP system, a separate interface for the online timesheet, and a standalone staff directory.
Multiple logins, completely different interfaces, a clutter of links to badly named systems on the intranet, and confusion for staff. We’ve since spent years trying to untangle all this, to create a simpler user experience and to achieve the holy grail of single sign-on.
Now we could rely again on the vendors to deliver required enterprise mobile functionality, but we’d end up with:
- Oracle app to connect to BI information.
- Salesforce mobile interface for CRM.
- SAP app for HR functionality.
- SharePoint mobile app for reading content and collaborating.
- Confluence app for wikis.
- Yammer app for social functionality.
- … and the list goes on.
Not exactly the nirvana we were hoping for! Instead, we’ll replicate the same desktop mess and confusion on mobile devices. Only this time the difference between enterprise functionality and consumer apps will be even starker, as they’ll sit side-by-side on the one device. Simple, effective and usable.
We know what we want: a simple mobile interface that connects staff to the six things they need, recognising that mobile devices are personal devices. This is our chance to cut through the complexity of the past, and to start from a clean sheet of paper.
For example: an Australian university has delivered a mobile front-end for students. One of the buttons is “exam results”. Not “Login to e-learning system” or “my exam results”, just “exam results”. Sitting alongside the buttons for the bus timetable and student news, this provides the mobile user with their current results, drawn from the LRM behind the scenes.
Do we need the vendors? Yes. We should expect them to provide good integration options, including web services and tailored interfaces. We should demand that they make it easy for us to draw out the information and functionality we need to deliver the mobile solution that staff require.
But let’s not kid ourselves: letting vendors drive our solutions is no more sensible this time around than the previous times…