Top 5 challenges facing enterprise mobility

Over the past weeks I have covered various elements of the mobile market which I feel are bound to have a major impact on all our lives both from a personal and business perspective.

I have now reached part four of this series, which I will be breaking down into two sub parts, in part A (which I know is quite a long read, but it should be worth it), I will summarise why enterprise are now investigating mobile strategies and the challenges faced for achieving enterprise mobility. This then leaves how these challenges can be overcome to achieve enterprise mobility in its most productive form, which will be covered in part B.

Why enterprise mobility?

In part three of the series I highlighted the fact that the Smartphone market is estimated to grow by 60 per cent in 2011, this is due to a number of factors but one of the main drivers is the shift to higher internet usage from mobile devices over desktop pc. Due to the increased adoption of Smartphone’s businesses all around the globe are starting to investigate mobile strategies and the benefits for day to day businesses.

The type of industry your business is in can determine how mobile is used, and various mobile strategies may need to be developed to meet the needs of multiple stakeholder groups including employees, customers, partner and suppliers. Common reasons for developing a mobile strategy include greater productivity, reducing costs and thus increasing profitability and gaining a competitive advantage.

What’s unique about the new apps/mobile combination?

Given that mobile phones have been around for decades and have been able to run applications for the past five to seven years, why the sudden burst of activity and innovation? Well a number of factors have combined to capture the developers’ attention and drive consumers to open up their wallets: these include sensors in new mobile devices such as GPS, compass, camera and voice capabilities that offer additional value such as location services.

The rise of mobile has led to people wanting to work from anywhere and be as prodcutive out of the office as they would be in the office (As I mentioned in my interview with MicroScope “With my iPhone, I feel like the world is in my palm”), this has resulted in businesses requiring realiable access to real-time data from any device, anywhere. Improvements in network coverage with 3G and 4G technology over the past few years has allowed for access to be available from almost anywere.

As David Goldschlag, VP Mobile Technology McAfee so eloquently put it: “The iPhone changed the whole world, because all of a sudden the people within the enterprise were demanding that the iPhone be used. And then it became the CFO’s or CIO’s job to say yes, rather than to say no”.

Challenges for the enterprise

1. Multiple platforms and devices

The mobile market is and will remain heavily fragmented, this does not just refer to the multiple versions of each operating system, but also the fact that people still own feature phones as they only require SMS features and therefore do not see the need to adopt Smartphone’s to use advanced features such as apps. Add to this the multiple OS’s, multiple screen sizes and a higher number of devices and you can see the potential headache IT departments are faced with when tackling mobility.

The mobile market is still in its infancy meaning constant innovations are leading to new mobile devices and operating systems to emerge on a regular basis. It is not uncommon for the four giants in this market (RIM, Google, Apple and Microsoft )to release updates of their platform up to three or four times a year, this is a vast contrast to traditional IT where new releases tend to be every two to three years. The rate of speed in which mobile is innovating is bound to stretch IT processes such as project management, release management and will add further complexities for IT departments to resolve with an ever shrinking budget.

2. Native Apps vs. Browser

Many developers are faced with the decision of whether to run natively on the device or via the browser, for me this is not a question of one or the other but both. The reason I say this is that frequent and intense users of services like banking and brokerage will want an experience in the form of a native app, while the browser will remain the fallback for users with more occasional needs.

Mobile developers frustrated with the costs of building native mobile apps for multiple platforms rely more on the browser, with ever improving mobile browser experiences this may not seem a bad thing, but this decision will disregard SuperConnecteds (heavy users) and Entertainers (those who listen to music, watch video and play games) who require native apps (the terms SuperConnecteds and Entertainers I came across when reading 2011 Mobile Trends by Forrester).

3. Security and User Interface

As with Cloud computing, one of the main concerns surrounding mobile adoption is security. Addressing security issues adds another complexity to developing mobile applications and can incur high costs, Forrester mention in their report Mobile App Internet Recasts The Software And Services Landscape that they spoke with a mobile banking developer who said that security-related issues drove development costs up three or four times when compared with a simpler basic marketing application .

As a direct and opposite reaction to the complexity of desktop and client server applications, mobile apps are much narrower in scope and therefore easier to use. To be successful and address the lack of screen size, the apps have to be highly relevant and very straightforward – users have no patience to figure them out and there is no mechanism for cumbersome manuals.

The diversity of the platforms and the need to develop for the native device coupled with the purpose-built design of the apps will be very different from the browser-based development. This means a much greater focus on the overall user experience, not just the layout on the screen and the interactions but how you actually choose and design the narrow functions of the app. Many of the app vendors are hiring developers from the gaming world since the combination of native development and great UI most closely match the mobile app requirement.

4. Connectivity to enterprise applications CRM, ERP etc

One of the main opportunities for mobile usage in the enterprise is the ability to integrate a mobile app into the execution of day-to-day business processes. As it stands mobile applications lack the functionality to communicate with enterprise applications at the core of a business, this further extends the development process and requires prior knowledge of the core applications that the mobile application is required to connect to.

The points made above regarding use of multiple platforms/devices, connectivity to enterprise applications and the importance of user interface have also been highlighted in an article I recently read on IT Business Edge called Access to Enterprise Software from Mobile Devices Lagging. Even though this survey carried out by IFS is focused on the manufacturing industry the same challenges occur across many industry verticals.

5. Lack of developer skills

Another challenge that I thought worth mentioning is the lack of developer availability due to the fact that the mobile market and the main platforms used are at a fairly early stage, this is having an effect on enterprise IT as developers with the required skill set are in high demand and that comes with a high price tag. Because of this many businesses are choosing to outsource the development of mobile applications instead of building a dedicated in-house team to meet the enterprise needs. I think this point is well covered in Your next job: Mobile app developer? How comfortable would you feel with this scenario?

Coming soon, Part 4B (which I promise to be shorter), here I will address how the enterprise can overcome these challenges and achieve true enterprise mobility in its most productive form.

David Akka is Managing Director at Magic Software Enterprises UK. David is a successful executive manager with a proven track record as a general manager with a strong background in sales, marketing, business development and operations. Past experience in technology and service delivery include both UK and European responsibilities.