In all the excitement surrounding the launch of SharePoint 2010 in May 2010 another very significant development was overlooked, and that was the purchase of Sybase by SAP. This acquisition brought together business intelligence (in its widest definition) and mobile network management expertise.

In June, Apple launched the iPhone 4 and in September along came the Microsoft Windows 7 Phone with good integration with SharePoint. For these, and a number of other reasons, the stage was set for a quite dramatic level of interest in the use of smartphones to access enterprise information applications, a market space I define as Enterprise Information Mobility.  

These developments did not come as a surprise to the relatively small number of companies who reported in the Global Intranet Trends Report 2011 that they had a strategy for mobile phone access to intranet content. As a result it was also not a surprise that six of the ten organizations featured in the Nielsen Norman Intranet Design Annual 2011 had taken quite significant steps to provide employees with access to some sections of their intranets, notably staff directories.

Both the Nielsen Norman and Net/JMC reports capture the situation as it was in probably mid-2010. Since then, a number of surveys, notably from MicroStrategy and Sybase, indicate that 2011 is going to be the year when mobile access to enterprise information becomes a main-stream priority.

Mobile Access to Business Intelligence

A primary driver for this is being able to provide employees with access to business intelligence information. According to a recent Aberdeen Group study, best-in-class companies are achieving a speed-of decision that is 70% faster than industry averages and five times faster than companies who are not offering mobile access. That business advantage is a very impressive ROI justification.

The degree of consensus between Gartner, IDCForrester, Aberdeen Group and many other market watcher consultancies is remarkably high, and it is not surprising that -- for example -- IBM, Unisys, SAP, Cisco, Symantec and all the mobile handset companies (including Apple) are pushing enterprise information mobility very hard indeed. Notably, in January 2011 PwC devoted its entire 60 page Q1 Technology Forecast to this new market and technology opportunity.

Any organization that does not have a strategy for delivering mobile access has only a few months to ensure that its competitive position is not significantly eroded. Mobile delivery brings a lot of technical and organizational challenges -- which I have summarized in a report I have just written on Enterprise Information Mobility.

The security issues are not as challenging as many IT information security managers would have their organizations believe, and this is mainly because IT departments have had virtually no involvement in smartphone applications other than email delivery.

Far more challenging is working out how to deliver information to small-screen smartphones that may only have a virtual keyboard, especially when that screen can be viewed in both portrait and landscape mode. The mouse is replaced by a finger. Mobile search is a particular problem and Isys-Search, with its Anywhere application, seems to have worked out some solutions.

Intranet managers have some serious thinking to do. For the last couple of years they have been doing their best to support collaboration and social media, both applications that sit inside the office walls, and now they are going to have to support mobile-empowered employees anywhere in the world who want information to support devolved decision making.

This information will not just come from enterprise applications but from business information services from companies such as Factiva and Lexis-Nexis. I’m currently working on a research project for the Intranet Benchmarking Forum to develop a staged approach to enterprise information mobility deployment that will be available in April.

What's Your Mobile Strategy? 

For intranet managers in organizations where employees need to make business-critical decisions away from their desks and even their laptops my advice is:

  1. Appoint a senior member of the intranet team as a project lead, and make sure they get the training and support the need.
  2. Put some serious effort into understanding the technology of smartphones to ensure you understand the opportunities and limitations.
  3. Review the intranet to decide what information would be of value to mobile employees, especially the staff directory and anything that would complement business intelligence applications.
  4. When reviewing the intranet, think information not content, and apps not pages.
  5. Assess what the implications of mobile delivery are for the current intranet CMS and search applications.
  6. Make sure that the departments which will make decisions on the provision of smartphones, evaluate mobile apps and manage mobile security, and in particular the project lead for business intelligence, are all aware of what the intranet can offer.
  7. Rewrite your 2011 intranet strategy to take account of this rapidly-evolving opportunity.

Editor's Note: Additional articles on the mobile enterprise: