No longer tied to the office desk, new mobile hardware, infrastructure and the increasing use of enterprise mobile applications offer organizations a new way to compete and win in today's global economy.

The technology remains breathtaking. A cascading series of new mobile hardware introductions continue to capture the imagination of everyone from consumers to Wall Street making it easy to lose sight of what it all ultimately means: unshackled enterprise.

Mobile devices -- from smart phones to laptops -- have broken down and disposed of the traditional office cubicle. Yet many companies continue to organize themselves around the traditional corporate campus, unable, or unwilling to make full use of the productivity revolution these devices represent. Like a fault line waiting to let go, this yesteryear mindset is colliding with an engaged millennial workforce and their “always on” lifestyle. The new worker doesn’t operate in a fixed location from nine to five, but wherever he or she happens to be and whenever there’s an opportunity to connect.

Entrepreneurs of every size should take note. For the first time in history the major drivers to enable a new mobile work style on a massive scale are in place. Coming to market are new right-sized, light-weight, feature-rich and platform-rich media tablets now focusing on enterprise. These devices are supported by telecom networks like 4G that offer ubiquitous broadband. Together the tablet and 4G are enabling the development and adoption of new and powerful mobile enterprise applications (MEAs) which have the potential to eventually turn the old 20th-century corporate business model into a millennial’s dream work environment and a CEO’s competitive global player.

Consumers worldwide downloaded close to 5 billion apps in 2010 compared with 2.5 billion in 2009. Revenues exceeded $6.8 billion in 2010 even though 80 percent of consumer apps are downloaded for free. That will pale in comparison to revenues for enterprise applications. Mobile based enterprise solutions earned carrier-generated revenues of over $2.3 billion in 2008 and it is estimated this figure will reach $10.3 billion in 2013.

What might these apps do? There are those that can be used to share ideas, collaborate on documents, conduct online meetings, and direct workflow. There are rich IT dashboards, medical apps that securely connect to a hospital’s electronic health records or help with patient interaction and education. There are apps for conducting paperless auditing. There are others that enable media-rich, interactive sales presentations or map efficient pick-up and delivery of goods. You’ll find apps that provide sales and field forces access to a helpdesk of experts.

The apps that exist today and in the near future have the potential for incremental transformation of the organization. As more businesses take up these liberating applications, as technologies like the cloud mature to better manage applications and content, and as devices become even more lightweight and robust, we envision the promise of a transformational mobile world in which any and all office activities can be performed from anywhere at any time. We are creating an environment in which mobile enterprise applications are the impetus for changing business practices in a manner that reduces overhead and transaction costs wherever that employee pauses to use his portable device.

Ready for Take Off

As we begin 2011, we see a new phenomenon at its inception. Launched by Apple’s education of consumers with entertainment and even some productivity apps used on the iPhone, iTouch, and iPad, apps have taken off and millions of savvy workers are now familiar with how to use them. They’ve migrated to Androids and Blackberries. And, soon, they’ll be on a variety of other tablets that include the Samsung Galaxy, Dell’s Streak, HP’s Slate, Blackberry’s Playbook, and Cisco’s Cius.

According to Gartner, consumers worldwide downloaded close to 5 billion apps in 2010 compared with 2.5 billion in 2009. Revenues exceeded $6.8 billion in 2010 even though 80 percent of consumer apps are downloaded for free. That will pale in comparison to revenues for enterprise applications.

According to Frost & Sullivan, mobile based enterprise solutions (including handset-based mobile resource management, mobile sales force automation, mobile office email and PIM, and mobile field asset management) earned carrier-generated revenues of over $2.3 billion in 2008 and they estimate this figure will reach $10.3 billion in 2013. Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster’s estimates at the time indicate Apple’s application sales since launch have been $1.43 billion and gross profits have been $189 million compared with Apple’s overall gross profits of $33.7 billion during the same time period.

Clearly, enterprises will pay for apps and providers will profit from them. This will drive developer rush to create enterprise apps.

As for tablets, Goldman Sachs predicts that shipments will grow by more than 500 percent and that these rapid tablet sales will overtake PC sales by 35 percent in just 2011. And these sales will include purchases made by business.

Already we have vibrant examples of these devices and apps being put to use in the enterprise:

  • Life Technologies Corp., a biotech tools maker with 400 salespeople and executives is using iPads and a mobile BI application called Roambi to display its sales data in interactive charts.
  • Telecom equipment maker Tellabs has custom built a warehouse shipping application for the iPad using the Sybase Unwired Platform that connects to its SAP-based data. They claim that it’s 63 percent faster than traditional laptop access.
  • Insurance company Aflac has built a dozen different mobile apps for its 70,000 sales employees.
  • Mercedes-Benz is using iPads in the showroom to present and execute various financing options for customers (They’re also giving them away to customers who buy a car).
  • Wells Fargo uses them to demonstrate financial products at investor conferences.
  • SAP already has an iPad app that its customers can use to access their reports and corporate data. And, its executives use it to access business apps, briefing documents, customer information, and other corporate data.

Of course, tablet devices for the enterprise aren’t new. Expensive precursors to mobile information management devices include dedicated devices used by utility and repair technicians to record their activities while on customer calls. But, what differentiates today’s tablet is that the new devices are less expensive, more versatile, have sophisticated platforms which support a diverse set of developer created apps, and middleware services which allow them to connect to existing apps in the corporate network.

The other differentiator is the emergence of 4G. Sure, you could have a tablet at your desk alongside your PC. But ubiquitous broadband via a light-weight, multi-functional tablet enables a worker’s availability to address issues on demand around the world. Members of your virtual team, who may be scattered in Chicago, London, and Bangalore, only have to ping their colleagues to learn who is available to have a quick discussion about a customer issue or collaborate at that moment to view and mark up a critical presentation or document.

And, this is all for the existing organization. Imagine having the ability to create an instant business using these apps and devices. A start up could launch with reduced IT infrastructure expenses or perhaps eliminate an in-house IT infrastructure altogether by using tablets and applications over the cloud.

The Critical Drivers for MEA Development

If you take a look at where mobile apps are now, you’re looking primarily at smart phones. This is where the consumer is right now with sales having grown 96 percent from the third quarter of last year. And these phones are filled with downloaded applications.

However, forecasters see that media tablets -- like the Apple iPad and others just hitting the market -- will reach 54.8 million units in 2011 and will cut into smart phone sales. And, what drives the usefulness of these media tablets? Mobile applications, of course. Mobile applications being used by mobile workers. And with mass adoption comes altered expectations for the young workforce in today’s enterprises.

As we enter 2011, the opportunity is emerging for companies to reduce the costs associated by porting applications across multiple platforms. Cloud computing, for instance, is emerging. Juniper Research sees more than 130 million enterprise customers using mobile, cloud-based applications by 2014.

Additionally, large product vendors like SAP are developing mobile enterprise application platforms (MEAP). These MEAP or packaged mobile application vendors are expected to be the primary mobile development platforms of choice through 2012, if you believe Gartner’s predictions.

As an MEA enterprise consumer, look for mobile application development among a diversity of players, from start-ups and consortiums of companies funded by investor funds to large and small existing product vendors and IT service companies. These apps will be available to enterprises through device app stores, stores operated by telcos, third-party app stores, and direct sales. They’ll be hosted by the enterprise on the premise, via cloud application stores, by telcos, third-party cloud providers, and product vendor clouds as software as a service (SaaS). And, who will maintain these apps? It could be a cloud-based service, a telco application management service, or traditional IT service vendors.

In other words, there’s the potential for a rich MEA environment that is within reach in the not-too-distant future because we’ll have all the ingredients -- the developers, the app stores, the cloud, 4G, and sophisticated tablets -- in play at one time.