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Moving Business Applications Anywhere

By Eugene Signorini

Dealing with an increasingly mobile workforce has been a significant challenge for businesses seeking to provide information to their workers when and where they need it. In fact, on average, 40 percent of a large enterprise's employees can be considered mobile, meaning they spend at least 20 percent of their time away from their primary workspace. But the pace of implementing mobile and wireless solutions for employees has been relatively slow. This begs the question: "How strategic is mobility to today's I.T. organization?"

In order to understand mobility's strategic importance, it is necessary to look at mobility initiatives within the context of other I.T. initiatives. Mobility is not happening in isolation. It is part of a larger set of enterprise investments in business applications. Yankee Group's 2007 Mobile and Business Applications Survey set out to understand what enterprises are focusing on in the realm of business applications overall and discern where mobility fits in. The survey interviewed more than 1,000 business decision makers in the United States, Canada and Western Europe.

So is mobility increasing in strategic importance? The survey results indicate an emphatic "Yes!" Among U.S. businesses with more than 500 employees, 45 percent of firms say enabling mobile access to corporate applications is most critical to their I.T. strategies (see Exhibit 1, this page). Among large European enterprises, mobile access was the number one priority, with almost 50 percent of firms indicating it as the most important I.T. strategy.

The Next Wave of Mobile Applications
Clearly, enterprises appear ready to take on the challenge of mobilizing their critical business applications. But doing so will take time and prioritization. I.T. will be hard-pressed to provide wireless access to everything workers require, given the vast array of existing business applications and information critical to employees. Email has usually been the first step when enterprises go mobile, mainly because it is the most pervasive application among knowledge workers. Another reason is that vendors such as Research In Motion and Microsoft have helped solve the complexities of delivering email to mobile devices.

Although email has been the first mover among mobile applications, it is not viewed as the most strategic application for mobility. Survey respondents indicate that CRM and service-and-support applications, as well as mobile access to productivity suites, are seen as more strategically important to their businesses. Perhaps more notable, however, is that a multitude of applications were cited as most strategic for mobilization, indicating that there is no "killer app" when it comes to wireless access (see Exhibit 2, this page). Instead, each individual organization will prioritize investments based on what is most critical for its business and target those applications for mobilization.

How to Take the Next Step
Enterprises face a host of challenges as they move to a broader mobilization of business applications, including device and platform selection, security, and management and administration. But before they can even begin to grapple with these issues, I.T. decision makers must prioritize the applications that are most critical in the near term. Among the guidelines for evaluating a roadmap for mobile applications:

  • Consider the needs of your constituents. Obviously,line-of-business decision makers such as a VP of Sales or Service can provide critical input on which applications will drive increased productivity for their workforce. But also consider the needs of the mobile workers themselves. In many cases, mobile workers are already clamoring for wireless access to specific applications and information and can point decision makers in the right direction.
  • Focus on information rather than applications. In many cases, mobile workers don't need access to an entire application such as CRM or ERP. Instead, they need nuggets of information that, in some cases, may originate from multiple backend systems and databases. As a result, the mobile application itself may be quite different from the traditional business application that exists today.
  • Evaluate mobile platforms along with the applications that need mobilization. The next mobile application won't be the last. Examining mobile middleware platforms that can provide integration and access to multiple backend systems - while simultaneously providing an environment for application development - is critical to a long-term mobile application strategy.

It is significant that I.T. decision makers recognize the growing importance of mobile information access for their employees. The first step, and one that appears to be occurring, is I.T. placing mobility near the top of their strategic initiatives. Long-term success in mobility, however, will involve prioritization for the first wave of mobile business applications and planning for what lies ahead. //

Eugene Signorini is VP of Enterprise Research at The Yankee Group and a member of the Mobile Enterprise Editorial Advisory Board.