Only last year, the industry was abuzz with news about "Bring Your Own (BYO)" programs ... Since then organizations have discovered three things: 1. Supporting an open list of employee-owned equipment is not practical. 2. Deploying a manageable and scalable mobile security infrastructure is "easier said than done." Plus, it’s taking longer than anticipated to get all the pieces in place. 3. So far, the only business applications workers have been able to use are email, contact management and calendar.
These complications have limited the payback that organizations have been able to reap from their BYO programs. Organizations are dealing with the first two items by limiting their approved list of supported devices, and by (finally) deploying mobile device management (MDM) or similar security solutions.
However, the lack of real business apps remains a problem.
The dearth of enterprise-grade apps has driven workers to use consumer apps to get work done. Nowhere has this been truer than for sharing documents and other files with colleagues. Mobile file sharers have been going "rogue" in droves, turning to unsanctioned consumer tools like Dropbox, which at least partially explains how Dropbox reached 275 million users.
Workers are so desperate to share documents they knowingly take considerable risks doing so, even when consequences can be catastrophic. A recent uSamp survey found that over a quarter of rogue workers who shared documents using unsanctioned cloud services experienced a direct negative consequence of such use, ranging from leaked confidential information, to lost business, to costly litigation.
The market has been quick to respond to this need to share documents, which explains the explosion of "enterprise file sync and share" (EFSS) products now available. According to a Forrrester Research report, there were approximately 30-40 EFSS solutions on the market in July 2013. That number is certainly larger by now.
The popularity of enterprise file sharing is a next natural step in the evolution of the mobile enterprise. By the end of this year, most organizations will have either selected an EFSS solution or will have reached an acceptable usage policy with consumer file sync and storage products within their organizations.
But sharing files is just one step in becoming a mobile enterprise.
The Evolution of Mobile Collaboration
Once secure file sharing becomes commonplace, four independent developments will feature prominently in the next evolutionary stage of the mobile enterprise. They are:
- Widespread access to enterprise services via apps -- the number of mobile enterprise apps will explode as enterprise services become increasingly-available on mobile devices. Case in point; SAP today offers over 60 apps (!) on the Apple App Store, while Oracle offers 38 and Microsoft offers 18. Each app typically allows a user to complete a single task. For example, one SAP app allows business workers to complete purchase requests or approvals. Single-task apps are popular because they incorporate a simplicity that users crave.
- Proliferation of cloud services -- the ability to exploit a wide variety of enterprise services anywhere, anytime will make it easy to select the most appropriate service to complete increasingly-specialized business tasks. For example, organizations today can seamlessly mix live chat, analytics and e-commerce services from multiple vendors on the same customer-facing web site.
- An enhanced social experience -- an improved user experience for enterprise social networking will enable mobile workers to communicate seamlessly across multiple collaboration tools including microblogging, ideation, instant messaging, video chat, etc.
- Perfection of conferencing tools -- convenient services for pow-wowing with groups "on the go" will become widely available and increasingly popular.
Information Overload (Again)
Apps, cloud services, social tools and conferencing facilities will hasten the use of tablets and phones for work by increasing productivity and shortening work cycles. Ironically, the more popular mobile devices become at work, the less useful they will be.
And the reason is simple: the deluge of updates and notifications originating from a growing list of disconnected applications and services will make seeing the underlying business picture more difficult than ever before. Why? To see the entire picture, users will need to toggle between multiple apps, which is difficult on mobile devices. Plus, each service employs its own message structure and its own proprietary format for name and activity details, making it hard for users to piece the data together into a coherent narrative. This complexity will drive users to abandon some of the apps in order to lighten their load.
Bringing It All Together
At this stage, at least two strategies for dealing with information overload will emerge. The first dictates remaining within a single vendor’s ecosystem of services and apps. In this scenario, one vendor supplies both the enterprise applications and web services, as well as the corresponding apps that expose the enterprise data to mobile users.
Microsoft, IBM, Salesforce and now Box and Dropbox are advocating this approach. While this approach reduces complexity, selecting a single vendor prevents an organization from taking advantage of valuable services provided by other providers, leads to vendor lock-in and potentially exposes organizations to data privacy risks. (See “The Holes in the Enterprise Cloud’s Silver Lining” for more details.)
A second approach advocates federating web services and applications through a collection of abstraction conventions and standards. This approach enables independent software vendors to create "meta-apps" that aggregate enterprise data originating in disparate applications and cloud services, and generate a coherent view of business processes, regardless of where the underlying data reside. However, this approach assumes that abstraction conventions become defined and adopted, and this may take time.
Both approaches will eliminate the need to toggle between multiple apps, and can provide a single screen view of important updates and notifications, thereby simplifying the mobile user experience. But we aren’t out of the woods yet ….
Can’t See the Forest for the Trees
Regardless of the federation strategy selected, the aggregated information stream will still contain an assortment of disconnected updates and notifications. For example, a stream may include a CRM status update about a sales prospect, a calendar event about an upcoming meeting, a new shared document regarding a pilot project and a microblog post recommending a new industry article. It will become extremely difficult to piece these messages together into a coherent picture that describes a business process. A filtering technique will be needed to weed out the data chaff, so users can focus on the business wheat.
Context to the Rescue
Filtering information can be accomplished using a variety of techniques, one of which is "context." Context is particularly appropriate for mobile users because mobile devices inherently incorporate contextual awareness such as location and time. For example, information related to a specific customer can be automatically displayed on a mobile device when a worker is at the customer’s office. Or, information related to an upcoming meeting can be automatically displayed prior to the commencement of the meeting.
Other forms of useful context include social connections, history, topics of interest and motion. Some of these can be provided by a mobile device or by an app, while others may require manual intervention by the mobile worker. Context provides much promise for the mobile enterprise, but it is a topic for another article.
The Complete Mobile Enterprise
The bottom line is that while important strides are being made, we are still years away from realizing the full potential of the mobile enterprise. An enterprise will truly be mobile when workers effortlessly access "the most appropriate information, on the most appropriate device, at the most appropriate time, regardless of where they are."
Sounds like a dream? Rome wasn't built in a day either. But it was ultimately worth it.