Mobility in the enterprise, whether it be through, bring your own device (BYOD) strategy, mobile business intelligence (BI), internal application development, or pushing out applications to customers, has been this year’s hot topic for CIOs and senior IT managers.

However, despite the buzz around the topic, more often than not it is still approached with a cautionary – ‘Yes it’s on the agenda, but we are waiting to see how the market plays out before we roll-out anything ourselves’. In other words, many are waiting for peers to make mistakes around security and device management, before they themselves dip their toes into the water.

This might be changing. Forrester recently conducted some research which found that of all the software categories it surveyed, mobile apps saw the steepest rise in prioritisation. In 2011, 34% of European respondents claimed mobility was their top priority, in 2012 this jumped to 46%.

So, what is required to make mobility in the enterprise work? Obviously, powerful, attractive devices that line of business staff want to use is a prerequisite, as is an excellent mobile device management and security system.

But there is much more for the IT department to do than manage the devices and try and prevent data leakage. An increasing number of analysts and industry observers are pointing to consolidation of back-office applications and processes as a necessity.

If an enterprise wants its mobile applications to provide information in a format that isn’t siloed, fragmented and un-actionable, it needs to knit together its disparate legacy systems to provide a single view of the business.

This process of rationalisation is essential for an effective mobile strategy, or a system of engagement, argues Pascal Matzke, VP & research director at Forrester.

“What we are seeing is a lot of innovation and investment into what we refer to as systems of engagement - systems that touch people and partners and engage with their individual needs,” he says.

“Bridging the gap between the siloes [rationalising the backend functions] is one of the pre-requisites in order to move to these systems of engagement.

He adds: “Before you can effectively work on your mobile services strategy you need to come to a more coherent underlying infrastructure that allows you to capture data and drive consistency in the underlying process.”

An example of where legacy infrastructure and siloed applications is holding back the delivery of useful business information to users can be found at the Ministry of Defence (MoD). Jeff Pike, head of global markets development at IFS Defence, has extensive experience of working in the defence industry and explains how the MoD is still using systems that are decades old.

He says: “If you go back to the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, computing had just entered the defence industry. At this time the military had the lead in IT for supply chain, warehouse management, that sort of thing. The problem is that it is stuck there and hasn’t changed much.”

Pike argues that the MoD is very good at ‘point based information analytics’, where it has rather effective KPIs and dashboards for specific areas of the business, such as supply chain. However, it doesn’t have a single view that helps understand operational effectiveness.

He says: “If you go into a commercial enterprise, it isn’t actually that worried about how well the depot, for example, is doing. It’s how well the strategy across all functions is performing which is important.

“You need to be careful here though, because when you talk about this people often think you mean you want all the dashboards in one place. What the MoD needs to do is understand how all these pieces link into the strategy. All the KPIs may be green, or amber, but how do they affect the operational effectiveness? They aren’t very good at that.”

However, Pike also believes that if this information is going to be delivered to mobile applications it needs to be simplified and lightweight, not just a replication of the ERP application on mobile.

He says: “The obvious answer is to stick the core application on the mobile, but if you look at the military context, is that actually what you want to do? When you deliver a complex application lower down the management chain the less appropriate it is for the person using it.

“You don’t want front-line troops having to learn IFS applications. Apps are an opportunity to get around that, you can narrow down the functionality to very specific processes.”

Research director at Gartner, Joao Tapadinhas, highlights the same message around business intelligence.
“Mobile BI is about ease of use, not about mobility,” he suggests, adding that despite the hype, most companies are still experimenting with small deployments. For example, if there are 1,000 traditional BI users in an enterprise, it wouldn’t be unusual to find just ten of these using mobile BI – typically the senior board members.

Although, Gartner predicts that by 2016, on average, the mobile BI user base will increase to 35% of the installed BI base. So, what will drive this change? Tapadinhas believes that once the vendor tools mature, enterprises will feel more comfortable pushing out the applications.

“As tools get more mature, as BI teams understand how to deliver on mobile devices, and as more and more companies provide mobile devices as standard computing platforms within their companies, you will see an expansion,” says Tapadinhas.

“Typically you will find that BI platforms that have mobile components today simply make their HTML5 capabilities more mobile friendly. It started with HTML5 through web browsers because that was the easy option for vendors.”

He adds: “But now many are moving to native apps, which allows them to provide a richer experience to end users. The future will probably be a hybrid solution.”

Tapadinhas believes that going forward many enterprises will build native apps, but these applications will still surrender HTML5 content. This means that when a mobile BI user downloads an app, it will have, for example, sophisticated menu options that are native to the device, but will also render HTML5 content from the desktop to make the app look familiar.

Although Tapadinhas warns of difficulties, he argues that these aren’t specific to mobile BI, they are difficulties that come with any mobile deployment. “There are technical challenges in doing this, because you need to integrate with the existing BI platform. You need to make sure that the information is secure and you need to manage the local devices.”

He adds: “But, most of these challenges will be mobility challenges, so there will typically be a dedicated team in the company that will take care of it. It should be the same team taking care of mobile email solutions and mobile CRM applications.”

Tapadinhas’ colleague at Gartner, research VP John Radcliffe, notes that the other challenge comes when trying to develop a business case for a rationalisation of backend applications project – the ‘pre-requisite’ for delivering business insight and BI to mobile devices.

Radcliffe says: “Enterprises often find it hard to quantify. IT departments often call it an infrastructure project and argue that it makes sense architecturally – so they ask for the money on that basis. However, they then find it very difficult to tie it to business drivers and business metrics.”

Radcliffe says that for a large multi-national company a rationalisation project can cost ‘tens of millions’ of pounds, so it is important to make the business case work.

“You need to find the key processes [that you are pulling together] and the business metrics that will be positively affected by the project. Also find the business stakeholders and start working with them, don’t assume if you build it they will come,” he says.

“It is often a political challenge. If you have got all these different siloes, they are all little kingdoms within the organisation. You can buy the most fantastic technology and still fail miserably. Data governance is absolutely key and so is the business buy in, the business leaders need to be told what’s in it for them.”

Radcliffe, however, says that creating this single view of the business has been gone beyond a ‘nice to have’ – it is fundamental to the success of many large organisations’ operations. A disconnect between backend systems will ultimately lead to businesses losing out to enterprises that are leaner and have a full understanding of how internal operations work together, which will ultimately help serve the customer better.

For example, Deutsche Bank’s CIO recently announced that it would be scrapping its some 250 banking applications and moving to a single platform based on SAP – a complete backend rationalisation. However, as significant, the bank said it would be investing the savings it made from the project into a new ‘customer touch strategy’. Essentially it is using the rationalisation strategy as the necessary underpinning to drive new services to customers via mobile channels.

This highlights the importance of getting your back-office organised. Not only will it allow you to deliver on an internal mobile strategy, where employees across the organisation will be able to receive insightful information that is actionable, but it will also allow you to push this outside the four walls of the organisation to better interact with your customers.

Gartner’s Radcliffe sums it up rather succinctly by saying: “If you are a CEO going around claiming that you are customer centric, when behind the scenes you have hundreds of siloes that don’t talk to each other, you will very quickly realise that it is impossible to deliver on your business vision.”