Guest Column | March 15, 2013

Enterprise Mobility: Reducing Or Eliminating IT's Mobile To Do List

How BYOD and department-level apps can help IT be more productive

By Peter Price, CEO of Webalo

From the very beginning of the smartphone revolution, IT has been concerned about security and support — even before employees started bringing their own devices into the workplace and wanting to use them to access the enterprise. From security and support (which were concerns when laptops were introduced, as well), problems spread to development — if IT were to build mobile apps for all of the different devices, the programming and maintenance burden would overwhelm budgets and staff time. The only easily recognized benefit of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) was in shifting the cost of mobile phones from the company to the employee.

Advances in technology within just a few short years, have provided IT with solutions to both security and development issues. Mobile device management (MDM) vendors have essentially solved the security issues and new development tools now provide solutions across all the major mobile platforms. The mobile enterprise market has grown in importance as more companies recognize the productivity benefits of enterprise mobility and as new tools have been introduced that reduce the time and cost required to build and deploy mobile apps in BYOD environments. Yet demand is growing, and it’s virtually impossible for IT to give employees every mobile capability they ask for.

Solving the Enterprise Mobile “App Gap”

As consumers, employees expect enterprise mobility to be as quick and easy as grabbing an app from a mobile platform’s app store. It’s not. However, there are two mobile app development advances that have solved the enterprise mobile “app gap” between employees’ increasing demands for more access to the enterprise and IT’s ability to deliver it.

The first advance is architectural — the separation of the app’s access to backend enterprise applications and data from the rendering of that information on smartphones and tablets. The app, which sits between the mobile user and the enterprise backend, accepts requests from the mobile user and accesses the appropriate backend resources to retrieve (or insert) information. Each mobile platform, of course, has its own mechanism for displaying functions and data. To accommodate them, some developers favor HTML5 while others favor native applications. HTML5 is a simpler approach to implement, but it doesn’t provide the rich on-device experience found in native apps. Native apps, however, require a bit more work, but they tend to result in more user acceptance. Whatever the approach, the separation of backend access configuration from the device side presentation means that the app itself need only be built once, not once for each mobile platform. It’s ideal for BYOD.

The second advance is in app development. There are tools today that enable business users, as well as IT, to build and deploy enterprise mobile apps that give employees interactive, bi-directional access to the databases, reports, real-time operational analytics, and websites they rely on to do their jobs. These tools require no coding, no SDK or IDE and, instead utilize a simple, step-by-step, wizard-like configuration process that asks users what they want to connect to, what data to retrieve, what to display on the device, what additional tasks might be relevant to the user, which users have permission to use the enterprise-to-mobile configuration (based on the same Active Directory and LDAP-based permission protocols used throughout the enterprise), etc. Business units/departments can now deploy their own apps while, with permission-based security and MDM, IT is ensured of secure access.

Changing Mobile Enterprises Plays Major Impact on IT

These advances in application architecture and development are having a significant impact on IT. And that impact is all positive. IT can enforce security with both directory dependent, permission-based access and MDM, and it can more easily focus on core IT tasks and whatever strategic custom applications might be needed by the company, while the multitude of tactical workflow, and transactional data access mobile apps can be left to business units to build themselves (and even personalize for each employee). IT doesn’t have time and resources to build all of those anyway.

To understand the difference between strategic and tactical enterprise mobility, think of a large field service company like FedEx or UPS. As part of their corporate-wide software system, they’ve invested considerable amounts of time and money to build the exact custom mobile app they need for their thousands of drivers and mobile managers. Drivers use mobile devices to track every shipment and delivery while managers might track fleet status and flight delays, all of which feeds into a vast ERP infrastructure to track the movement of packages and the availability of services.

On the tactical level, mobile employees’ apps might include approving purchase orders or time allocations, changing customer information or recording notes, looking up inventory and reordering products, or monitoring real-time operations and taking action — from their smartphone or tablet — when situations deviate from normal. These tactical apps can now be built by the departments themselves, offloading that burden from IT which, if it had to rely on the development tools used for strategic systems, would never find the manpower, money, or time to create these tactical, department-level, individualized apps.

Empowering departments to provide enterprise mobility for employees in a BYOD environment extends IT’s own productivity without overextending IT’s manpower and budgets. Users get the enterprise mobility they need, IT can remain focused on strategic concerns, the company benefits from the increased productivity of both IT and mobile employees, and the app gap doesn’t narrow — it goes away.

About The Author

Peter Price brings over 25 years of technology industry management and leadership experience to Webalo. He has successfully served as a founder and/or senior executive in the financing, building and sale of four early stage technology companies and his extensive business operations experience spans all of the major global software markets. In 1984 he co-founded Expertech, a European developer of expert system software and in 1990; he managed the acquisition of Expertech.