Gartner: When architecting a mobility solution, expect tradeoffs

All hands on deck! At this week's Catalyst event, Gartner laid out the magnitude and interdependencies of building an enterprise mobility solution.

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Why is architecting a mobility solution so hard? For Robert Borochoff, it's working with vendors that aren't interested in product roadmaps or developing those products to industry standards.

Mobility is a lot larger and more complex a problem than people have understood.

Software architect at large engineering firm

"They make throwaway products for consumers. They don't worry about what happens when you use the next version. It can be completely different, and they don't care!" said Borochoff, a computer scientist in the office of the CTO at the Administrative Office of the United States Courts. "How does IT do planning in that environment?"

When he posed that question at a session on mobility and consumerization at the Gartner Inc. Catalyst conference in San Diego, the advice from the podium was to forget about talking to the vendors -- they're not interested in spending time with IT -- and to closely follow consumer trends. That was probably his best predictor for planning purposes.

If there was a central theme to the mobility sessions that kicked off this week's Catalyst conference, it was that building an enterprise mobility solution is all about tradeoffs. There are tradeoffs between user experience and security risks of the devices; between data ubiquity and data loss prevention; between business expectations and the technical ability to fulfill those expectations; between a bring your own device (BYOD) policy and the capacity of the wireless network. Indeed, there have to be tradeoffs, or mobile computing won't happen, Gartner warned. That's because, as the analysts and some terrific case studies made clear, building mobile solutions for the enterprise really is hard.

'Mobility is cross-cutting issue'

Architecting an end-to-end business process that works anywhere, anytime on any device requires a full court press and not just from people across the IT organization. Application developers, information architects, security folks and network engineers make up part of the team, but equally important is representation from legal, HR, marketing and the business customers who are actually going to use the solutions. That's Strike 1 for many organizations.

"Most organizations are organized in functional silos, but mobility is a cross-cutting issue," said Paul DeBeasi, a research vice president on the Gartner for Technical Professionals (GTP) team.

Challenge No. 2? Once all the right people are at the table, many of them will have competing demands. Mobility solutions stir up conflict, DeBeasi said. The most common one is the stereotyped-but-still true friction between the mobile user who just needs what he needs to do his job, and the IT professional who could lose his job if corporate data is breached.

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But there are other conflicts in IT that CIOs will have to mediate, including app dev's first big decision: what kind of app to build. Should it be a native app (specific to the smart device) or a Web-based app (now that HTML5 is closing the usability gap)? Or maybe a hybrid app that uses HTML5 coding for presentation but is wrapped with native software to allow access to native features like the camera or GPS radio? Every technology decision made by one IT group will have implications for another group in IT, Gartner stressed, as well as for the user, HR, legal and so on. Mobility is not synonymous with BYOD, nor just about cool apps.

The message resonated -- and in some cases, weighed heavily -- on a number of people interviewed at the conference. A software architect at a large engineering firm put it this way: "Mobility is a lot larger and more complex a problem than people have understood. At the end of yesterday, I began to grasp the magnitude of what we are talking about here -- a re-architecting of enterprise systems." His question: "Where do I start?"

'Analysis paralysis' en route to the mobile enterprise

IT professionals are realizing that architecting a mobility solution is so difficult to think through -- the landscape is so complex -- that they are afflicted with "analysis paralysis," according to Gartner, but that is the kiss of death.

"You can't analyze your way to mobility," DeBeasi told a packed room of technical professionals, nodding in recognition. "You have to experience mobility."

To help clients out, Gartner tapped analysts from across its technology and leadership teams to devise a mobility reference architecture. The methodology breaks down the steps IT organizations and their enterprises need to take to build mobility solutions that emulate, improve upon and reinvent existing business processes. SearchCIO.com will be delving into the architecture (there are six steps) in the coming weeks, vetting the process with other experts and CIOs. In the meantime, here are three other Catalyst high-level pointers when plotting a mobility solution:

  1. Mobility is driven by the business: Start with use cases and understand them thoroughly by talking to users. This is not a job to outsource to "Skippy, the intern," as one analyst put it.
  2. Take the iterative way: Don't expect any magic bullets for mobility solutions. IT and the business have to iterate their way through the decisions, modifying both business expectations and technology as what's possible and best for the enterprise comes into clearer focus.
  3. Start with the data: Mobility solutions are not about devices, but about data mobility: where it needs to flow in and flow out to meet the business objective. Mobility decisions should be data-centered.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, News Director.

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