2010 was the year that information mobility came into its own. While mobile email and the RIM Blackberry have been staples of the mobile business person for years, the ability to deliver rich content in a convenient format was realized with mobile broadband, the Apple iPad and a massive uptake in data-enabled smart phones including iPhone, Android phones and the Blackberry.

Device Growth Drives App Growth

A comparison of the raw numbers of landline subscriptions vs. cell subscriptions between the years 2000 and 2010 shows the magnitude of this growth. Several historic IT trends have combined to create the perfect foundation for a fast launch of this mobility trend. These include:

  • Using the web as a platform for application and business process development
  • IT allowing more open access to business applications for employees and partners
  • Corporate intranets architected in DMZs allowing for mobile browser access
  • A huge increase in mobile web browsing

The migration of business information off the desktop and onto the mobile device has started in earnest.

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 It is important to note that mobile devices are still primarily consumption devices. With the general availability of greater bandwidth, more powerful devices and larger form factors, rich content --including image and video -- is now a primary content destination.

How Mobile Devices Change Apps

As the expectations for rich content, delivered anywhere, continue to increase from the consumer space, businesses will also see an increased pressure to both create richer content and to deliver it to their employees anywhere they happen to be. This gives rise to a "Users Everywhere, Information Anywhere" theme for business that will continue through the next several years.

User consumption is directed through two main channels:  Mobile apps and mobile web. Mobile web is the slimming down and/or reformatting of web sites for mobile consumption.

Design and development approaches that favor mobile device-friendly APIs over richer but locked-to-the-OS- or desktop-APIs will grow. Look for HTML5 to have more impact in this area. WCM (web content management) systems must provide mobile-ready offerings or strategies to be taken seriously from now on. Even in areas where mobility is not the primary purchasing driver, it will appear in nearly all conversations and be a key balance tipper.

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 Mobile applications are big business. The app market is projected for huge growth over the next several years -- from US$ 1.9 billion in 2009 to north of US$ 35 billion in 2014. Mobile apps are able to take advantage of the device as a platform rather than simply a browsing device. This enables richer experiences for end users, such as offline interaction and caching, which can boost performance and overall user experience.

Just-in-Time Comes to Mobile Apps

The three primary mobile platforms are Apple iOS, Google Android and RIM's Blackberry platform. These platforms all have (or will soon have) tablet devices, as well as cell/smart phones as their hardware platforms. However, as alluded to above, HTML5 makes a strong showing by placing the web as a common development platform for all mobile browser-equipped devices. Additionally, with its enhanced Offline Application Cache, creating an offline mode that more closely approximates native OS development may provide an attractive option for some developers.

Still, we expect that the native OS features will out-pace or out-elegance mobile web-application approximations. This, though, is another debate where the native OS development camps vs the Web as platform + HTML5 camps often square off.

For mobile devices, contribution is still limited by physical factors such as small and/or touch keyboards, as well as technical factors such as limited device-specific authoring tools. As such, content creation is still limited primarily to form-based contribution.

For businesses in 2011 and beyond, the surge of enterprise mobility holds great promise, as well as needs for investment. Organizations are just beginning to understand how to enable employees, partners and suppliers with mobile-based applications and information. In many ways, this is another extension of the JIT (just-in-time) trend that swept ERP, MRP, supply chain and inventory systems in the early parts of the last decade.

Then, large organizations such as Dell Computers were able to streamline operations and decrease cost by incorporating JIT inventory management and assembly into their business processes. This, in turn, gave birth to new services offered to consumers such as the ability have a tailor-made Dell computer shipped directly to you in the same time that a factory-standard one would be.

Mobile Apps Empowering Workers 

Now, with JIT principles applied to information rather than hardware components, the consumers of information in any organization can obtain the necessary content just when they need it. From mobile sales force enablement to shop-floor workers to auditors to field workers, the ability to retrieve and interact with information that was once restricted to a desktop in the home office or a laptop in the hotel is now replaced with the ability to get at it right then and there.

An interesting note with regard to the mobility trend is that businesses seem to be lifting some restrictions on letting employees use their personal devices to retrieve secure work information systems.This poses a benefit and a problem. On the one hand, business can be perceived as giving employees a benefit to make their lives easier, while keeping the cost of the device (if not the data service) with the employee. On the other hand, these practices open up a wide range of potential compliance and information security issues.

Nevertheless, with mobile email having already paved the way, the information security standards that today govern mobile access of corporate email are being taken as models for governing access to other mobile-enabled corporate information. This approach is likely to be the norm for each organization until a breach or abuse is detected.

Predictions for 2011

In 2011 we will see a wealth of "app-ified" back office information systems and functions. Many of these will be created simply to attach to the mobility bandwagon. They will be of limited value, though they may be initially rolled out with much hubbub. The most valuable mobile apps and mobile web experiences will be those that attach to specific business processes that require or allow workers to be out and about.

 

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Anything that currently requires a worker to take notes, then return to a computer at some later time and transcribe those notes into the system -- whatever that system may be -- are ripe candidates for the mobile transformation. This is because there are clear, measurable benefits in taking time and steps out of a manual process.

Look for health care apps for nurses and doctors. Look for sales enablement apps for field sales. Look for insurance apps for mobile claims adjudicators. Look for state and local government departments to equip mobile employees such as police, city maintenance, inspectors and auditors with mobile apps.

(This article is part of the Fishbowl Solutions Information Management Trends Report, downloadable from the site after registration.)