Envisioning Mobility

Many businesses and organizations across a broad variety of industries have discovered that work place mobility is both a planned and unplanned reality.

In recent years, the proliferation of web-enabled smartphones and low-cost business applications accessible through apps stores has lowered the decision threshold for bringing new mobile applications into an organization. The result is workgroups as well as individuals are now in a position to make impulse-level decisions about business mobility. This new reality will not only impact corporate IT management, it will also very likely have unintended consequences on the security of business data. Yet this consumerish demand for greater business mobility grows stronger because employees understand the clear advantages of having mission critical information available to them whenever and wherever they need it.

Unfortunately, for some companies, good business mobility ideas turn into a management quagmire as corporate IT struggles to manage multiple mobile applications running on a variety of different mobile device types, each with its own set of management, OS, and configuration tools. As if this wasn’t enough, many of these mobilized solutions are also unable to share data. The result is an environment ruled by cognitive dissonance, where mobile solutions produce more isolated and siloed workflows, operating without any context or referential integrity. An unintended consequence? Executive management has greater difficulty seeing inside these silos of mobilized business process.

These are the consequences of an enterprise lumbering into mobility ad hoc. However, with a well thought-through strategy, it is possible to effectively avoid all of these problems. This blog entry will run in four parts, and detail a common sense approach anyone considering a mobile business solution should take. These steps are intended to help you think through your next generation mobility solution in the context of both strategic and tactical business objectives, as well as to contextualize how the solution will fit into a future that has been transformed by a more mobilized business model.

Step 1: Envision Mobility in Your Business

Whether you are trying to decide how to enhance a business process with mobility, or evaluating an internal proposal to deploy a mobile business application, the first step is to envision how this solution improves your operations. The initial blog posting I did on this (last week’s post) started with two basic questions; first, what does your company do for a living and how can mobility improve your offering, and second, what do your employees do, and how can mobility make them more efficient? Having (presumably) thought about that, let’s move into slightly more focused questions.

• What business processes benefit from a proposed mobility solution? In many cases, ideas for business mobility are put forward by work groups trying to solve very specific issues. It might be an investment manager who needs more immediate access to financial data. It might be a group of health service providers who need more timely or convenient access to patient records. It could be a group of field sales people asking for a mobile customer relationship management (CRM) module that allows them to see customer information like locations and contacts, order history, contract status, and other types of customer information, while at the point of customer contact. In evaluating these proposals, one of the very first things an organization needs to do is to look at the operational value a mobile solution will provide.

In nearly all cases, mobile solutions offer better communications, faster and more accurate decision making, and better customer service—all of which can provide a competitive advantage in the way your business operates. However, it is also possible for mobile solutions to offer benefits that extend beyond the immediate process issue they’re proposed to solve. For instance, a mobile CRM solution can provide a way for field sales people to enter data in real time, rather than at the end of the day or week when many sales people traditionally do their activity reporting. That means others in the organization can have a more immediate, real-time view of sales activity. This may not be a benefit the sales team who proposed a mobile CRM solution even thought about—they’re more interested in having the information they need to close sales. But sales management and business planners may be very interested in this added benefit of a mobile CRM solution.

• Who needs access to a mobile solution to address business processes? This is a critical question because it determines how many mobile devices you’ll need to manage, where they are likely to be located, what parameters define what they can access, what are the associated governance policies, etc. In the case of, for example, a mobile CRM solution, it would seem at the very least that all the field sales people could easily justify having it. However, it’s also likely that their sales managers and support staff will need it as well. Once you factor in the device component of a mobilized workflow, the ability to access data expands very quickly, and this trend is likely to accelerate as tablets begin entering the mobile enterprise.

• Who else in the organization needs access to a mobile solution? If a mobile solution has benefits that extend beyond those people directly involved in the business process, who might those people be, and what kind of access do they need? For instance, in the case of a mobile CRM solution, looking beyond sales people and their managers, it is quite possible higher level executives would benefit from being able to see real time sales data. However, these people may not be interested in all the features available in a sales force oriented mobile CRM application. They may be most interested in reporting features that enable them to see what is happening in the field.

Also, as part of the “who else will need access” question, don’t forget that somebody in the organization will be managing the devices, policies around device usage, and security related to the work being done on those devices. This question becomes important because it suggests that different perspectives (or dashboards) of the application’s status and performance may be needed for different people in the organization.

• Who will need it in the future? Begin by assuming change is a constant. It is important to look ahead to where business mobility could enhance business processes in the future. You may not be building these scenarios into your mobile solution today, but to avoid obsolescence, you will want a solution that leaves the door open to future development and/or enhancements. For instance, one day you may want a more direct link between manufacturing and real time sales reporting. Or if you are in a consumer products business, you may one day have mobile direct marketing initiatives, like phone-based coupons or promotions, that use customer response data (from the consumers’ own phones) to drive sales and other business planning activities.

• How does the solution integrate with existing processes and systems? In other words, would the mobile solution augment an existing system, or would it create a new, redundant system? If you are able to adopt a mobile solution that takes advantage of existing back-end data, you can lower the operational overhead associated with the solution, and you will have a solution that will be more adaptable to your immediate business needs over the long term.

This was essentially a very high-level walk through on some preliminary considerations. In the next post, I’ll go into detail on how specifically to get started, and what dependencies you need to be factoring into your mobilization initiatives.

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