Sunday, January 13, 2013

6 top tips for building your mobile strategy

By David Akka

Every day we speak to people, from CIOs to CTOs and CMOs, who are just starting out on the route to enterprise mobility many come to us, whether we are at a road show or they are a partner or customer, as they just don’t know where to begin. So I have decided to jot down my 6 top tips for those tasked with building a mobile strategy. They are, I have to say, just the tip of the iceberg but they are also somewhere to begin and if adhered to can give you a strong mobile strategy that can give you considerable competitive advantage.

It is not either or

This is the first and most important thing you will read when it comes to developing an enterprise mobility strategy. At first glance it may seem that you have to choose one mobile platform (Apple, Android, Blackberry etc) to work with, one device type and one type of application but this simply is not true. You can have your cake and eat it too, you do not have to choose.  A lot of people think they would like to bring tablets into the business and they believe they should choose one brand over another.
The criteria they look at when choosing can vary from total cost of ownership to perception of using that sort of device more public facing roles may require devices that are perceived to be more expensive or more cutting edge. What we keep telling companies is that you shouldn’t see it as one over another, you don’t need to choose one brand and forget the rest.  The best mobile strategies choose the best of breed for the job at hand. With the right technology (like a MEAP) to back you up you can easily achieve this. Your sales person can use an iPad, while your technician can use BB Playbook and your internal employees can use Android you can choose the right device for the right job.

Don’t ignore BYOD

I have written a lot about the Consumerisation of IT and Bring Your Own Device but here again I just want to stress that this is not a trend that should be ignored, just because it isn’t affecting you right now doesn’t mean it won’t be soon.  BYOD shouldn’t be seen as giving in to employees, or letting them affect your IT strategy, it should be seen as a potential cost saving and productivity increasing strategy which is worth consideration.
Recent research suggests BYOD could decrease costs and increase productivity by 10-25 percent, that really could provide significant business benefits as so in its own right cannot be ignored. Any mobile strategy must include an option to embrace BYOD if it does provide this business benefit and therefore must be able to cope with providing support and applications across any platform and operating system your employees bring. A truly multi channel strategy is the only viable option.

Differentiate between mobile phones and tablets

This again is a subject I have written about in the past but I think it is something that comes up on almost as daily basis in our customers, people ask should we go with tablets or mobiles.  As with my first tip my reply is always, why choose? By this I mean there is no need to be forced into a decision between tablets and mobiles but rather companies should choose a device which is right for the job at hand.
However it is also imperative that when the right device type is chosen, the applications that are created are built with the context of how they will be used in mind. For instance I might book a meeting via my Smartphone, I would then create the PowerPoint for that meeting on my laptop and then I would use my tablet to present it. Ultimately Tablets are great for meetings for sharing information for showing things that three years ago we would have printed out or shown in a catalog  while Smartphones are more based around a more personal experience of query response.
This is partly to do with the attention span each device demands but also to do with how they are physically held, Smartphones are used with one hand whereas tablets everyone uses with two hands. This in turn affects the way any application can be used and should be designed so developers need to design the functionality of the application around that, with a tablet the user is two handed whereas with the phone everything needs to be done with one hand and even one finger this is a huge and fundamental difference.
Realistically for success and user acceptance applications on a mobile device need to include no more than one function with just one or two screens, whilst application for tablets can contain more options for data entry, more information and a maybe 4 to 5 screens but I will discuss this in more detail in my next point.

Don’t think monolithic

When developing applications for desktops we have traditionally tried to get as many features as possible into any application this needs to change when we develop for mobiles and tablets. We would always recommend that what we want to do is very small applications built with a specific process in mind so in turn you build lots of small applications for each business process that will be mobilized   We would suggest that each application should contain no more than  2 to 5 screens, this is the point at which we have found users acceptance of new applications remain high as there is no possibility of confusion. For example if you have a CRM model you would like to mobilize you should break it down to 10 or 15 small applications grouped under one header.

HTML 5 or MEAP

HTML5 is a very hot topic right now and much has been written around its pros and cons but ultimately the conclusion for me has to be that whilst HTML5 is great for content consumption (accessing a portal, download documents etc) for anything which is transactional based, right now, a MEAP is the best way forward. I say this because with it a MEAP brings additional services like built in security, database services and roll backs and also allows the developer to deploy as a HTML5 application but with these added benefits.
However, there is another element which we must consider especially if we agree with Mary Meekars assertion that by 2020 the number of mobile devices accessing the internet will exceed PCs by a factor of  1 to 10. This will mean that we in IT may need  to support  10 times the number of PCs we support now. What we need to think about is what sort of back end will be required to support all those devices and what will that back end cost. Using a MEAP pushes a lot of the computing requirement into the client as well, allowing automatic partitioning between the client and the server and this reduces the computing requirement on the back end.
If you choose a server only technology like HTML5  you would need to design a monster back end system to support devices however if you use client server  technology, like most of the MEAPs today, you can actually reduce the load on the server and maximise the computing power of the clients which you are already paying for. Some people may think right now this is a negligible issue but to me this is myopia, what you need to do is future proof and think in 4 to 5 years a server only environment could become a huge cost burden to the enterprise.

Don’t forget device management

This is my sixth tip but its also the one that sometimes gets forgotten quite often. Any successful mobile strategy must take into account the management layer of the  physical devices, what will happen  if a device gets lost or is stolen there must be a way to manage the data and the access to each device.  There are innumerable services out there that help with this from full blown MDM’s like RIMs Fusion to services like Find my iPhone we always recommend to choose the service which suits your business best but ultimately your strategy must be built with this in mind.
Those are my main tips to get you started on building your mobile strategy, they are by no means a comprehensive step by step guide but rather a skeleton the begin to flesh out a strategy. More to follow I am sure….



David Akka is the Managing Director of Magic Software (UK) Ltd and have worked with Magic Software for over 14 years.
Visit his blog at: http://www.davidakka.com/