Large UK businesses often have a mobile blind spot and are struggling to roll out mobile projects thanks to a combination of lack of skills and experience, as well as ROI worries.

So found new research from mobile systems integrator Cognito, which found that while 86 percent of IT departments have been charged with implementing a mobile strategy, nearly a half say their team lacks the skills needed to integrate business-critical applications with mobile devices.

The survey of over 200 IT directors at UK companies with over 1,000 employees was carried out in May and June this year. It found that 1 in 4 respondents blamed the potential failure of mobile projects on the mobile industry's lack of experience in supporting business customers.

It also found that only half of UK enterprises today have a mobile strategy that goes beyond basic email, despite the benefits that other applications can bring.

"The skills shortage is often just an experience shortage in a way," said David Perry, head of marketing at Cognito. "IT departments are capable, but it is more a question of lack of miles that people have with this type of solution."

"Mobile users are an extension of the business, with factors such as turning data into a workflow on PDA and then integrating this into the back-end systems," he told Techworld. "Also businesses have to support mobile applications, which is also very hard to do."

Unfortunately for businesses that do plan to go beyond pushing out basic email to their mobile workforce, the survey uncovered a major concern.

A third of IT directors said they were worried that their company's lack of experience in mobile IT strategies would significantly impact the ROI from these projects in the near term and reduce long-term investment in this area.

With the majority of IT budgets spent on supporting existing systems, Perry feels that it can be hard nowadays for IT managers to justify spends on new mobile systems and it is very often a complex undertaking that also has to be fully supported.

Perry also points out that it easier to measure ROI for typical blue collar applications (engineers on site visits etc), than to measure the returns for white collar workers (the ability of an executive to access his email or other information whilst out on the road.)

"Companies often try and hire in the expertise, as there quite a few people out there who have experience of failed mobility projects," he said. The high failure rate Perry thinks is down to companies not knowing and being realistic about the boundaries and limitations of existing mobile technologies.

"Companies must put boundaries around what they can do," he said. "They are trying to do mobile projects within budgets, with available people and resources, but the biggest reoccurring issue is the lack of clear boundaries of what project is going to be. This is known as ‘mission creep', with people asking ‘can we do this and this?' However, that is a problem that IT people tend to understand."

"We approach the market in a lockdown way, kind of like an inflexible way that we set our stall out," he said. "But we can add flexibility into the system later in."

So what are the concerns of IT managers going forward with mobile projects? "Well certainly security is a major factor, and the support issue is not just about technology, but about policies and knowledgeable people as well. Say you roll out three hundred devices, but what happens if someone other than the engineer gets his hands on it?"

Perry thinks that mobile applications are much more than just satisfying basic email needs whilst out of the road. "Some mobile projects aim to replace the laptop," he said. "It is also about making someone more efficient by pushing data at them, so they are as informed as possible. A critical issue in this regard is the ability to gather information from several different enterprise applications onto to the client device. So for example it can tell a salesman on the road who is his nearest customer, who hasn't brought a certain type of equipment that is in his car, so he can go and see them."