Mobile devices are currently transforming how we live our lives, again. Having taken for granted the ability to make calls when away from the home or office, mobile data access and always-on devices (such as iPhone, Android, etc) are ushering in a new age.
Lagging somewhat behind, enterprises delivering services to staff will also be hugely changed by these new devices. Based on previous technology adoption patterns, we believe there will be four stages of enterprise mobile adoption:
The starting step is the most basic one: make sure that staff can access enterprise services while using devices not physically located within the office environment. In many organisations, the natural starting points are field workers and mobile sales staff, who use laptops to access the intranet and business systems.
From there, enterprise-focused devices such as the Blackberry are an obvious next step. Mobile adoption only really starts to happen, however, when staff using a range of mobile devices such as iPhone and Android can access enterprise systems. First and foremost, this is a question of enterprise infrastructure and corporate security policies.
Once these devices can be used to access enterprise platforms, what will staff be provided with? Even on modern mobile phones, it quickly becomes apparent that simply providing the same intranet and business systems will not suffice. Only staff desperate for information will make use of the pinch-zoom method of navigating a site optimised for 1024×768 screens.
The easiest way to close this gap is to provide mobile-aware page designs and CSS. Stripping out headers, footers, graphics and intensive navigation, the intranet can easily be made more useful on mobile devices. Making the same changes, however, to enterprise systems such as ERP solutions, is much harder.
Even when the design of the intranet and business systems is tailored to match mobile devices, only half the job is done. When out in the field, staff don’t need to access all 50,000 pages of the intranet, or all 500 functions of the ERP system.
More mature mobile solutions therefore target the specific needs of mobile audiences. This might include:
- cut-down navigation options on the intranet
- key tasks surfaced to the top of sites
- true mobile versions of the staff directory
- tailored functionality within enterprise applications
These are the first truly “mobile” solutions, designed to be used from a variety of devices, quickly and easily.
Looking at the ever-changing array of “apps” available on mobile devices, it becomes clear that these are not just smaller versions of desktop tools. Phones now contain built-in GPSs, compasses, and accelerometers. Mobile apps routinely interact with the gestures of their users, and their location in the physical world.
These principles can be applied in many ways to enterprise applications:
- applications that are country and location aware, such as providing policies and tools tailored to the local working environment
- integration between enterprise systems and the mobile devices, such as staff directories that take advantage of the devices’ own built-in address books
- new ways of getting information into (and out of) enterprise systems, such as seamless integration between a phone’s camera and the safety incident reporting tool
- augmented reality tools that draw on corporate asset management databases
- true enterprise “apps” that provide rich interfaces that equal or surpass desktop equivalents
We are on a journey
The current proliferation of devices makes it hard for enterprises to quickly deliver solutions. Few organisations provide a standard phone to all staff, exposing enterprise projects to the full complexity of the mobile market. Legacy applications and security considerations also slow the delivery of mobile functionality.
Most of all, the ultra-rapid evolution of mobile devices and applications means the goalposts keep changing. What is experimental one day becomes standard practice the following day, with new territory constantly being explored.
Only the largest and most tech-savvy organisations will be able to afford to create their own mobile-focused solutions. This creates a marketplace opportunity, and our prediction is that the coming 1-2 years will see a proliferation of third-party and commercial solutions that will act as a middleman, or provide out-of-the-box functionality.
Regardless of the approach taken, this is an exciting time for enterprise tools, and one that may usher in as great a change as the move away from the typewriter.
What stage is your organisation at?