A growing number of companies are moving beyond or even ignoring mobile e-mail in favor of mobilising line-of-business applications. In this article, we look at how wireless will change those enterprises.

"When you start rolling out these applications over a wider expanse, the questions become 'how can I lower costs of existing operations' or 'how can I provide new opportunities to grow revenue,'" says Bob Egan, chief analyst with TowerGroup, a Needham, Massachusetts, consulting company. "These questions force you into thinking in a strategic mode versus an ad hoc mode."

In a 2006 TechRepublic survey, 370 US IT and business professionals said they were aiming to mobilise the following applications (respondents could pick more than one answer):

  • intranet access (chosen by 23 percent),
  • field service/data entry/data collection (21 percent),
  • personal information management (19 percent),
  • customer relationship management or sales force automation (16 percent),
  • supply chain management (12 percent), and
  • ERP (nearly 10 percent).

The justification for making these applications mobile is increased worker productivity and efficiency, which was cited as "extremely significant" by 35 percent of the same respondents. The two other top justifications ("extremely significant") were reduced costs, cited by nearly 30 percent, and improved data collection and accuracy, cited by 28 percent. In all three cases, larger percentages cited these justifications as "significant."

Successfully exploiting such applications and achieving these goals requires changes in such diverse areas as employee and manager responsibilities and accountability, network access and authentication, mobile device management, end user and wireless networking tech support, and security and data-protection policies and enforcement.

"If you don't actively manage [mobile] workforce issues, including human resources and psychological issues as well as technology, you don't get the full value," says John Girard, vice president for Gartner. "In the end, the most important parts are the human parts: How do you monitor work, how do you assign responsibility, and do you understand what your team is doing?"

To make this possible, Gartner recommends consolidating an array of mobile provisioning, management and security functions (such as vulnerability assessment, security configuration, standard software image control, security and performance monitoring), shifting routine functions from the security group to the operations group, and forging joint policy development between those groups. One goal of this approach is to minimise the number of individual software products that target subsets of mobility issues but can't share information and aren't part of a strategic mobility plan.

"If you have different policies for different platforms [desktops, notebooks, smartphones], how do you maintain consistency?" Girard asks. "Most companies have a software distribution plan that works well for the desktop but less well for notebooks, and even less well for smartphones." Or a well-developed method for backing up desktop PCs may ignore mobile devices completely, despite the growing amount of corporate data on them and the greater likelihood of loss, theft or hacks.

"[Organisational changes] are all about controlling the flow of the company's intellectual property - how to provision and protect the data on the net and on the devices - and all the responsibilities that go along with that," says TowerGroup's Bob Egan.

Mobility becomes a system, or a system of systems that has to be viewed and treated as a whole. "With more and more users being mobile every day, we are paying a lot of attention not only to the uptime but also to the health of the system," says Daver Malik, telecom engineer at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. "Careful watch on the system usage, capacity and trends is kept so as to prevent any undue disruption to the users."

One related aspect in preventing undue user disruption is tech support and the enterprise help desk. "Very few companies do a good job in supporting mobile workers," says Jack Gold, principal of J. Gold Associates. "Their support infrastructure today is for desktop support: You can't send a technician into the field to fix a [mobile] problem." The tech support team needs new training, new tools, new policies and procedures to be able to effectively and quickly respond to mobility problems.

One emerging alternative is to outsource some or all of these tasks to a new breed of managed services supplier. One example is Movero Technology, an Austin company that handles all aspects of cellular-based device and application deployments for an enterprise.