Mobile Productivity in the Enterprise
Date: Monday , August 02, 2010
Adoption of the personal computer by businesses has been credited with 30 to 60 percent growth in U.S. personal productivity in the 1990s. Microsoft’s Excel, Word, and PowerPoint have changed the way people work across the globe. Businesses quickly saw the value of these tools and integrated them into everyone’s desktop. The knowledge worker came to the forefront; intellectual property, not manufactured goods became the unit of output. Keeping the machine working required huge investments in IT – people, hardware, software, and later, services and connectivity. These investments and the resulting output fueled the growth of the U.S. economy.
Today, the PC is being augmented by more mobile form factors such as advanced application phones and slates. However, the capabilities of mobile devices are rapidly advancing and daily computing tasks will move off the PC and onto the mobile. Mobile usage in the enterprise will be broad based and no longer aligned with vertical roles like field service or salesmen. Docking stations will provide the big screen and keyboards required for document creation but mobile devices in their pure form will allow us to remain engaged throughout the day with 80 percent of the work. Our corporate IT practices will evolve to capture the mobile opportunity for their broad workforce. Issues such as device selection, application selection, and management are different versus the PC. How will people use these devices to improve productivity in the work place? What applications will people use to move their businesses forward? What resources will corporations deploy to gain the benefits of mobile computing? These are all questions a business must answer if it wants to remain competitive.
Before we can understand these questions, we need to define some basics. Mobile phones, in this context, don’t refer to a common wireless voice phone but rather the new generation of application phones. App phones are differentiated from ordinary mobile phones and smartphones because they are first and foremost mobile computers. Older generation smartphones provided wireless voice communication and fixed function mobile services like basic email and games. Apps were written and developed by programmers at the ‘factory’ and embedded into the phone. A class of downloadable applications could be written but often used esoteric APIs offered a cumbersome user interface and had significant performance or functional limitations. The modern app phones include CPUs, operating systems, user interfaces, and screens that are as rich, expressive, and detailed as any available on today’s personal computers. Today’s app phone developers more easily create complex applications using sophisticated tools, user interfaces, libraries, and APIs that are often more functional than their PC equivalents. Whereas inexpensive desktop computation was the ‘must have feature’ for the PC generation of computing, the app phone generation gains mobility, instant availability, and universal connectivity as its ‘killer features’. To deliver these benefits, the app phone has made a clean break with the PC architecture and value stream – meaning the pricing models, hardware, software, user interaction, and ways we worked with PCs need to be revisited with a mobile context in mind.
The desktop PC was inherently immobile and it made practical sense to have one at work and one at home. Procurement, security, and management processes evolved around the ‘work’ and ‘home’ instance of computing power. In the mobile world, multiple devices are no longer required nor are they practical, save for the most vertical of scenarios such as dedicated field service equipment. Data shows that people favor their personal device outside working hours, defeating the corporate goal to enable 24/7 connectedness. With one phone, users will value the privacy of ‘their stuff’ while corporations value control over their IP on the phone. Operating systems, applications, and administrators will have to enforce and respect these boundaries.
Device procurement, subscription services, hardware selection, and ownership are all inter-related issues. In the PC world, the corporation had its own vertical stack of PC software and services built around the corporate PC. An app phone is very personal, relatively inexpensive, and rapidly advancing such that device selection will be made by the consumer instead of the corporation. The associated data subscriptions and support contracts will also remain consumer driven. Naturally, corporations will automatically reimburse employees for the work usage of the device. The cost savings for the corporation will be substantial as base line device and subscription fees will be individually paid, basic support will come from consumer support channels, and employee availability on the single phone will be greater. This isn’t a new phenomenon as many corporations have already reduced their IT budgets by providing yearly IT stipends to employees to purchase and maintain their own laptops instead of issuing corporate laptops.
However, the most interesting space is the software and services that will be run on the application to drive the business forward. In the consumer space, app phones use their computing horsepower to deliver entertainment in bite sized chunks. The vast majority of the two hundred thousand iPhone applications and sixty thousand Google applications serve to keep us entertained and connected with friends and family. Games and social networking applications are easily launched, used, and put away in the thirty to sixty second breaks we get between activities in our daily lives. Similarly, for mobile enterprise applications, a ‘less is more’ experience will resonate with users. Keeping up-to-date with the team discussions and schedule, collaborating with coworkers, and accessing the team’s intelligence are key tasks people perform when moving the business forward. Access to multiple businesses’ IT systems needs to come together on the mobile device to deliver this experience. Today, these systems are likely optimized for desktop access whereas mobile devices need a filtered view of the data that prioritizes and contextualizes what is most relevant to the user across all these data sources. While there will likely be individual applications for each data source that is full featured and allows deep access, the aggregated, unified view will be the most challenging but also the most useful starting point to keep in touch with work.
Mobile in the enterprise will enable faster, more efficient, and timely engagement on business opportunities. App phones have advanced sufficiently in price, capability, and software quality that broad based use in the enterprise is now possible. App phones will allow corporations to integrate mobile into their IT offerings in a more cost-effective fashion than ever before and enable a new decade of productivity and efficiency gains.
The author is CEO, Moprise