A panel I sat on at the GigaOM Mobile Enterprise Summit a few weeks ago got me thinking a lot about how mobility is taking shape in the enterprise.
There’s little argument that Mobile is going to have a profound impact on how we work. Here’s my colleague Maribel Lopez, one of the sharpest minds on Enterprise Mobility, sizing up the opportunity:
Mobility represents one of the most fundamental changes in technology over the past two decades. Mobility will change business in three ways: 1) what we connect 2) How we connect and 3) how we interact with data and services. What we connect moves beyond smartphones to billions of devices including tablets, cars, equipment and sensors. How we connect discusses the changes in operating systems and the move to the web. How we transact business also changes as mobile allows us to move to anytime, anyplace operation. It requires a company to rethink its computing and business process strategy.
She’s right. But as many of us partake in the great mobile enterprise land grab, a noticeable rift is emerging between process and data, and people connectivity where round one of mobile enablement strikingly resembles yesterday’s disconnected workplace. Todays enterprise mobile enablement strategy has three exciting but parallel streams:
- Mobile versions of our social and collaborative programs for the office worker.
- Mobile interfaces to systems of record (BI, CRM, ERP, SCM ECM, etc.).
- Remote worker-to-machine mobile solutions for those not traditionally at a desk.
On the collaboration front, the first wave of leveraging Mobile for collaboration and enterprise social networking has focused on emulating desktop functionality on a mobile device. And for good reason. Organizations are yearning for a mobile-ready experience of their internal and external social and collaboration efforts to fire up employee, customer and partner connectivity. We see numerous instances of execution plans mandating something to the effect of “we need to mirror everything desktop web browser feature and capability on our mobile phones and tablets”.
Over on the data enablement end, two things are happening. First, real time access thanks to in-memory advancements (try this post for size), a new focus on attractive user interface design and cloud-enabled flexibility are leading to device agnostic ‘mobili-fication’ of ERP, CRM, CMS and BI, again to better arm desktop workers where ever they might be. Second, there’s (finally) been a recent surge in capabilities showing up for non desktop workforces today that leverage data and location in creative ways. For instance, Roto Rooter employees in the field use location aware apps on their phone that automatically time stamps the service and application POS capabilities to close out transactions. PRN Medical Services, uses bar code scanning apps on a mobile app to manage inventory management for home based health care equipment.
In totality, we’ve got some amazing capabilities that can significantly improve performance. Enterprise mobile social and collaboration gets us access to the best insight even when our rock stars are not tethered to their desks (dirty looks from our spouses, notwithstanding). On the other hand, as remote workers, as illustrated above get productivity bursts when location based data can now tango with back end systems, thereby removing time consuming and error prone manual input. Awesome.
But here’s the ‘but’. Once again remote workers who presumably know most about customer needs and our products are connected back to people and systems on a different radio frequency, leaving them out of our social and collaborative efforts for the most part. Why do we need them in the same connectivity loop? Some illustrations:
- The assembly line employee (or contractor) or component supplier knows more about the components that make up your product.
- The physician standing over you on an operating table wants to tap into private doctor networks about an ongoing procedure.
- Even customers who walk into your retail store armed with location-aware mobile apps can express preferences and trends by their gestures. Todays marketing campaigns only get them to the parking lot.
These are a but a few examples of where critical questions and answers lie a) at remote locations, b) between remote peers and c) experts back at HQ, partners or suppliers. Todays Enterprise Mobile business and technology strategy just doesn’t take this into consideration in any holistic way.
I asked noted ERP specialist Vijay Vijayasankar, an Associate Partner at IBM and good man all around on how these worlds might come together:
Remote workers are an often ignored part of enterprise collaboration story. Remote workers are usually the only face of the company that customers and partners see. They often have to be a sales person, marketing person, pricing expert etc., all turned into one. If these folks don’t get a chance to collaborate bi-directionally with rest of enterprise; more often than not – they will improvise in ways that don’t align with rest of the company. The cost to fix that might be higher than cost to prevent it.
If remote workers can collaborate freely, useful information on new trends in product demand, changes in customer buying behavior, etc can be identified a lot sooner, and acted up on.
The various technology options today shows tremendous promise to truly connect the enterprise, as presented by Maribel and Vijay. As you size up the prize and consider the plethora of mobile tools and applications that can help you get to the finish line, step back and think through the right combinations of process, people and data to leverage the collective brain in a way that can drive process / operating / financial performance. Make sure your strategy can leverage these trends in the right combinations, and that your application vendors have ready hooks and needed extensibility to help execute a more cohesive strategy. The good news is, relatively speaking, technology today is getting ever more cost effective and platforms offer simpler connectivity between each other. And Enterprise social and collaboration platforms are increasingly becoming layers that permeate systems of record that those very remote and desktop workers can use in context, if executed correctly.
The promise that is mobile is not just about mobile enabling existing unconnected parts of our organization or creating a tablet view of data and people. That’s how we did it decades ago (well before my time, I might add) when we went from paper to green screens. It’s about mobilizing the skills across your entire ecosystem of customers, partners and employees, in concert.
If you know of situations where this is starting to happen or have a view on what needs to be done to make it a reality, chime in.