FAQ: Info-on-demand era calls for mobile strategy

With the rising demand for access to on-demand information, a strong mobile strategy is paramount.

Today's CIOs are being called upon to juggle more technologies than ever before. Knowing where and how to best focus their energies and resources is critical. With the rising demand from both internal and external consumers for access to information anytime, anywhere and on any device, mobility has edged its way to the top of many a CIO agenda. With this prominence comes a need for IT leaders to build a strong mobile strategy.

According to Niel Nickolaisen, CIO at Western Governors University in Salt Lake City, when IT executives are faced with changes in technology, business rules, market conditions and so forth, one of the best options is to be a leader: "In my experience, we make ourselves obsolete if we deny change. If we resist change, we get fired. If we embrace change, we keep our jobs. If we lead change, however, we prosper, IT prospers and the organization thinks we are geniuses!"

Leadership is especially important in the face of megatrends, Nickolaisen says, and CIOs are now in the early stages of a megatrend that creates an incredible opportunity: mobility. This megatrend includes advances in wireless technology, the consumerization of IT and end-point devices that are getting smarter and smaller.

Nickolaisen suggests the mobility megatrend will be as disruptive and all-encompassing as the Internet revolution was 15 years ago. However, he notes, mobility is different from the Internet revolution in one critical way: The Internet drove changes to the technology that connected IT leaders with customers and partners. The wireless-consumerization-smart-and-small-device mobility megatrend, in contrast, opens the door to a dramatic change for the workforce. Confronting these changes with a mobile strategy in place is paramount.

Table of contents:

How does application development fit into a mobile strategy?

With the use of mobile devices to access business applications exploding, companies are under pressure to craft a mobile application strategy for their workforce and their customers. The key tasks for CIOs, experts say, are to understand what their organization is trying to achieve with mobility and to decide what IT has to do with any of that. (Hint: You might be out in the cold already.)

Executing on an organization's goals for either its workforce or its customers won't necessarily be easy, according to SearchCIO.com interviews with experts and digital media experts across a spectrum of industries. First, there are the technical challenges related to adapting applications to the plethora of mobile computing devices in use (8,000, by some estimates). Second, there are the fundamental business questions raised by any application deployment. Organizations need to know who is accessing which business applications and for what purpose, experts stressed, before they start optimizing content and delivery for computing devices.

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What are some security best practices when it comes to mobile strategies?

Enterprises tend to invest more in securing the end device than the network when it comes to mobile device security. The tools exist for mobile device network security, but a lot of companies aren't investing in them -- yet. What's needed is a focus on securing both the end device and the network.

Before putting security policies in place, however, CIOs need to ask why their company is moving to mobile access in the first place. Jack Gold, president and principal analyst at IT strategy consulting firm J. Gold Associates LLC in Northborough, Mass., notes strategy should come first, and suggests mobile device security policies should follow.

"What I recommend most is to do a risk audit: What is your risk and what is your comfort level with those risks? Then move accordingly. And keep in mind that access won't be universal with all people in your company," Gold says.

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How important is a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy to an overall mobile strategy?

Developing a mobile strategy to optimize business processes is both in its infancy and beside the point at many companies, mobility experts say. As the deployment of mobile devices has become endemic in the enterprise, these devices' fine points -- manageability, cost and actual business benefits -- are trumped by one thing: employees pressuring to be allowed to work on consumer mobile devices. In this environment, analyzing a business process and figuring out where mobile computing provides a competitive edge seem moot to many technologists, as well as something of a luxury.

"Companies' investment priorities are not that refined yet," said Ted Schadler, analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. "They are really going after more-low-hanging fruit, like finding a way to get the consumer smartphones or tablets to do the basic stuff the company needs to get done."

Gartner Inc. predicts that 90% of companies will support corporate applications on personal mobile devices by 2014. By that date, 80% of companies will have a mobile workforce armed with tablets, with the iPad expected to dominate the market through 2015, according to the Stamford, Conn.-based consultancy.

CIOs simply can't afford to repeat the mistake they made with the iPhone -- namely, dismissing these tablets as toys for the elite, experts warn. These little business and personal computers are here to stay.

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Why should business intelligence (BI) be part of a mobile strategy?

Some see it as a matter of survival. In this user-centric, multi-device age of big data, business intelligence strategies are changing and adapting at warp speed. As Sonic Automotive Inc. CIO Heath R. Byrd put it, "If you're not using analytics to drive business processes and decisions, you will be left behind."

Although BI has been delivered to handheld devices for years now, mobile BI is coming into its own as smartphones get smarter and tablet adoption becomes ever more popular. Even companies that boast some pretty sophisticated BI solutions are part of the scramble to make BI part of their mobile strategy, said Boris Evelson, principal analyst at Forrester Research, Inc. In fact, Forrester Research proclaimed 2012 as the year BI catches up with mobility. Gartner Inc. predicts that by 2013, 33% of BI functionality will be consumed via handheld devices.

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What's next in mobile strategies?

As the dust settles on debates about which are the best mobile operating systems and which mobile devices should be standard, CIOs must, as ever, have an eye toward what's next in mobility strategies. Moving forward, experts suggest, the enterprise mobility discussion needs to shift to the topic of using mobile devices to improve business processes and create contextual services that harness big data.

Mobility expert Maribel Lopez, vice president and principal analyst at Cupertino, Calif.-based Constellation Research Inc., and founder of market research and strategy consulting firm Lopez Research LLC, suggests that IT leaders starting a discussion on mobility strategy look beyond what they want to mobilize and which devices to support. Rather, she says, the focus ought to be on the big picture: How do we use these new capabilities to improve business processes and do something better? In the end, it's about creating competitive advantage by using mobile technologies.

In fact, if your current mobile strategy only addresses dispensing smartphones and tablets, or hammering out a BYOD policy, or replicating the company's Web offerings on mobile devices, or focusing on developing native apps, you're a "first-generation" CIO when it comes to mobile innovation. Not that there's anything wrong with that, said Hung LeHong, research vice president on the Executive Leadership and Innovation research team at Gartner Inc.

"When we talk to first-gen CIOs, it's more tactical reaction than strategy: Users are clamoring to use iPhones, so they have to figure out BYOD, or marketing wants something fast," LeHong told CIOs at the consultancy's annual CIO Forum this spring. These CIOs are responding to urgent business needs.

What this first-gen mobile approach fails to account for, however, are advancements in technology -- from near field communications (NFC) and visual recognition technology to objects with IP addresses -- that can optimize business processes and could make some business models obsolete in just a few years.

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