Focus on Near-Term Horizon

By John Jainschigg  |  Posted 2008-08-22 Print this article Print

Mobility now plays a key role in the enterprise—both as a commonplace technology that enables business to function on a day-to-day basis and as an emerging technology that produces new information and insight. So the IT organization’s involvement in wireless technologies and mobile applications is essential.

Focus on Near-Term Horizon

At such a pivotal moment in mobile evolution, it makes sense to focus on the near-term strategic horizon. That’s what Jacquelyn Barretta, vice president and CIO of global supply chain, transport and logistics giant Con-way, espouses as a general mobile strategy—in strong contrast to the far more meticulous, carefully optimized planning she and her colleagues undertake with respect to core aspects of their business.

“We have an extremely disciplined, long-term approach to planning the basics of our business,” Barretta says. “We take a long time and gather a great deal of business intelligence, for example, in deciding where to locate central hubs, since the viability of these facilities is linked to dynamic characteristics of the regions they serve: the availability of labor and services, and the nature of highway traffic between commercial centers.

“But with mobility, we’ve learned to take a shorter view. We focus on rolling out a capability or group of capabilities, assuming that it’s the capability that’s important, though the infrastructure used to mediate the capability may change.”

What’s the takeaway? That despite some concerns, the situation with enterprise mobility is not in crisis, nor is IT’s best course to overcontrol and impose strict policies on the people who use this technology. Rather, as Forrester analyst Benjamin Gray suggests, it may be better to take a more flexible approach. That involves the following:

  • Address the most pressing issues of device management. Implement parallel or multiplatform management systems that maintain standard device images, where possible; clean application preloads; handle backup and OTA (over the air) configuration; and initiate remote lockdown and wipe drives in the event of device loss or theft.
  • Accumulate an up-to-date inventory of enterprise-owned mobile assets. Asset management is a critical aspect of mobile device management solutions. The best asset management systems manage software license administration on smart devices and offer administrative alerts that liberate personnel from watching a top-level console. They generate one-click mobility assessments and keep logs that help with future capacity planning.
  • Think about “tech populism.” While most firms still seek to “own” mobility by controlling end-point device and service choices, the trend is toward allowing freer choice: opening up the network to a wider range of compatible devices, partnering with employees to support their notions of how to work better, and exploiting consumer technology in business contexts.

“This issue sparks an interesting dialogue between what constitutes the personal and business spheres, and suggests that IT should be looking toward the ‘reperimeterization’ of the enterprise network,” says Hoff of Unisys. “In the near future, it will be possible to conceive of an abstract network perimeter within a mobile device. For example, access to certain parts of the file system or to certain peripherals, like a camera and mass storage, can be prevented or limited by policy, digital rights management and other technologies—as long as that device is attached to an organization’s network, or contains files belonging to the business, regardless of who owns it.”

For cost savings and increased efficiency, look at fixed-mobile convergence—the ability of mobile devices to connect to unmetered Wi-Fi and similar local network bandwidth—enabling productive new ways to use mobile devices off the grid. For example, James Thompson, director of information systems for the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, Fla., supports BlackBerry Curve devices that connect to T-Mobile in the field but use the center’s extensive Wi-Fi network on-premise. The simplest benefit, Thompson says, is “no dropouts. T-Mobile can’t reach deep into our premises, but the Wi-Fi goes everywhere.”

Rod Sagarsee, CIO of Chicago intellectual-property law firm Brinks, Hofer, Gilson, Lione, has implemented a complete convergence between BlackBerry mobiles and his Avaya PBX, using Avaya’s EC500 Extension to Cellular product. “Our attorneys can begin a call on the BlackBerry during the morning commute, walk into the office handing off to Wi-Fi, then sit down at their desks and pick up the call on their Avaya desk-set, without any interruption,” he says.

Forrester’s Gray and other analysts have raised the question of whether now is the time to begin staffing mobility as a specialized skill—creating the position of a “mobility ombudsman” in the IT hierarchy. This person would be responsible for managing mobile infrastructure and assets, and rationalizing mobile strategy across all lines of business and application silos.

Clearly, there are strong temptations to do this, but we heard no strong support for this approach from the CIOs and experts we interviewed. That may be because it’s hard to separate the notion of a convenient single point of contact from the notion of centralized authority.


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