Mobility Isn’t Just a Technology, It’s a Mindset

Ready or not, here it comes.

That’s essentially the position businesses find themselves with regard to mobile technology and its influence on not just IT but all aspects of their organizations. The confluence of smartphones, tablets and cloud-based computing services, along with a growing percentage of millennial and Gen Y employees, is leading to a fundamental shift in how businesses are contemplating all things mobile.

There’s a growing sense of inevitability about this mobility trend. Everyone knows it’s going to happen. However, on the map to a mobile-optimized organization, not only is the route unclear, it’s also not at all obvious what the final destination is. This makes navigating the path from the present to an ill-defined future a particularly challenging task.

Thankfully, there are some relatively obvious—though still challenging—goals along the way. Workplace and work device flexibility, for example, are waypoints along the road to a mobile-savvy enterprise toward which many organizations are now striving. Employees, particularly younger ones, are looking for the freedom to be able to do their work on any device, in any location. As simple as that sounds, however, implementing the infrastructure to enable this kind of device and location independence can be difficult, expensive, and often requires some fundamental changes to core IT policies, structure, capabilities, and more.

As a result, many IT organizations take more of a Henry Ford approach to device independence: employees can use whatever device they want, as long as it’s a company-purchased Windows PC that’s actively managed by IT and uses company-purchased or approved connectivity options. Okay, well, maybe not that bad, but it’s probably a lot closer to reality than many IT leaders are willing to admit.

Even if companies are actively embracing BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and/or other device choice policies, that doesn’t mean they’ve really embraced mobility. In fact, device choice is just the first step.

The real impact of mobility only begins to take hold when companies start rethinking processes, procedures, services, activities, expectations, measurement methods, and many other functions at the very core of how businesses operate. To do that, IT needs to start reworking existing applications or, even better, building new custom mobile applications which take into account a broader mobility mentality.

Despite a few high-profile efforts to do just that (think Apple/IBM), the reality is only a small percentage of companies have done anything more than a few experiments in the area of custom mobile applications. Plus, many of those efforts are actually only being done on behalf of senior management. According to a survey of IT professionals conducted by TECHnalysis Research, while most custom PC applications are deployed to all employees (over 70%), custom tablet or smartphone applications are designed more for senior executives (50%) with only 40% of these mobile apps being deployed to the full range of employees.

However, even the availability of mobile devices and mobile applications does not mean a company has completely embraced mobility. At its core, the move to mobility requires a change in the way companies think about data and how they access, use, and secure it. Mobile devices are forcing companies to deal with these key issues.

Some companies have run into issues with mobility because they haven’t thought through these implications. Instead, they’ve discovered only dipping their toes into the tepid waters of the mobile pool can actually cause more harm than good. Security breaches, lost data, frustrated workers, IT ill-will, and lots of other bad results can befall organizations that don’t fully embrace the mobile mindset and all it entails.[pullquote]Mobility changes everything in business, but it doesn’t replace everything.”[/pullquote]

At the same time, it’s easy to fall into the opposite trap of thinking mobility supplants everything. Despite its importance, mobility doesn’t and shouldn’t come at the expense of other non-mobile devices and application. In other words, while mobility changes everything, it doesn’t replace everything. Traditional PCs and custom enterprise apps aren’t going away just because you add mobility. Instead, organizations need to think about their mobile devices and mobile applications as “companions” to their existing devices, by using the devices and applications best suited to each task and figuring out ways to make them work together.

It’s not an easy process, to be sure. But, if companies really want to innovate, they also need to think creatively about how they integrate mobility into their business mindset.

(If you’d like to learn more, you can also check out the webinar I did on the same topic: Harvard Business Review Webinar: Mobility In the Enterprise, Proactive or Reactive?)

Published by

Bob O'Donnell

Bob O’Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting and market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.

5 thoughts on “Mobility Isn’t Just a Technology, It’s a Mindset”

  1. I’m still unsure about what “mobility” actually means. I think it’s mostly a misnomer, same as “smartphone”, which is mostly a connected pocket computer, not a phone. “Mobility” got confused with “Modern IT” (MS captured that nicely when naming their Metro UI “Modern”):
    – granted, the devices are smaller, connected 24×7 and run on battery, hence mobile. That is indeed a big change, but not the only one
    – the whole ecosystem (device, OS, apps, peripherals) is designed to be used by non-professionals. I had classes on Framework, dBase and SPSS during my MBA, because that’s what a job was supposed to require. Even before that, I taught myself OSes and basic then assembly, and actually used that my first few years as a sales manager (making macros to spew out proposals quickly…). Now that IT reaches 80% of the (rich world) population and workforce, you can’t expect any skills, things have to be not only intuitive, but unFUBARable (no need for admin skills, no vulnerabilities for malware…), and work IT is back to client-server mode much more than during the brief PC era. “Mobile” ecosystems do that (with the occasional security hiccup) but that’s independent of being mobile.
    -Price are going through the floor. Not on Apple stuff of course, but the rest of the world can get a serviceable connected pocket computer for $150… an OK tablet and a 2GB RAM+Atom PC cost the same too. Again, mostly mobile, but not intrinsically Mobile.

    Indeed, going client-server, whether fat client (app) or thin client (in-browser), seems the way forward. I’m not sure custom app spend is the key metrics though: I’m seeing a lot of mobile apps in the field, but mostly non-custom stuff because the use cases are fairly standard. Maybe the hoi-polloi get apps-in-a-can while the execs gets custom-baked stuff ?

  2. Speaking of mobility, a question: is there data on how the non-phone (tablets+laptops) mobile market breaks down by volume and value ? Where do tablets sales stand compared to the other major laptop categories (convertible, netbook, chromebook, regular, ultrabook, and other ie gaming+workstation+premium+??).

    I find that segment the most interesting these days. Both on the devices
    and business side, nothing much is happening in PCs nor phones phones
    apart from the utterly predictable…

    I’m curious as to where we stand right now, and how the market is evolving, especially the tablet vs convertible situation. I’m having issue defining “convertible” though: does it mean with an OEM keyboard (even though there are plenty of excellent 3rd-party keyboards) ? Windows (even though Asus has been selling convertible Android Transformers for years, and most Chinese tablets are dual-boot these days) ?

  3. The term “mobility” has the same lethal ambiguity as “productivity”. This is the typical argument against the iPad, running a “mobile OS”, versus Windows 10 which is a “true desktop OS”, not a “desktop-class OS” as Apple touts for the iPad.

    For some productivity is email, Word docs, spreadsheets and tele-conference calls, all of which can be accomplished with a mobile OS and mobile device. The fact is that very few worker bees — managers, sales reps, assistants, etc — require full desktop operating systems yet the true nerds of the world continue to boast Windows’ flexibility as the be-all, end-all of true productivity. Meanwhile the majority use of a desktop OS is required for the many archaic workflows that businesses — especially large ones with 10,000 or more employees — still rely on today.

    A large portion of many business processes are still paper-based workflows and until large businesses adopt the true paperless office those legacy applications and workflows will remain a constant barrier between embracing mobile versus shipping out pre-owned Windows laptops just because that’s the way it’s always been.

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