Mobile Technology Transforms Business

By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted 2012-11-14

By Samuel Greengard

Over the last few years, mobility has morphed from a broad concept into a mainstream enterprise tool that drives bottom-line results. Today, it's difficult to spot a business that hasn't been affected by the growing wave of devices and apps that customers, partners and employees demand. "

The adoption rate for mobility is occurring at warp speed," observes Jim Guinn, a managing director at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

The evidence is everywhere. Businesses increasingly connect to customers and partners through mobile devices. The technology is transforming the way organizations handle marketing, sales and support; social media and geolocation data are emerging as critical elements in big data and analytics initiatives; and employees rely on smartphones and tablets to take a dizzying array of functions into the field.

A September 2012 PwC report, "Seizing the Mobility Moment," notes that consumerization and the rapid proliferation of mobile technologies have blurred the edge of the enterprise. Corporate mobility is no longer an option. It's an absolute necessity, and an organization must have a well-defined strategy in place, PwC warns.

According to Tata Consultancy Services, U.S. companies spend, on average, $1.43 million annually responding to the digital mobile consumer. This number is expected to increase to $1.98 million by 2015.

Coping with the mainstream adoption and widespread use of mobile technology is unavoidable. How can an organization build an effective strategy? How can the business and IT sides of a company work together to create systems and applications that function in the real world? And what does it take to keep up with a rapidly changing mobile landscape?

"Mobility is now at the core of the enterprise," says PwC's Guinn. "It is impacting virtually every aspect of the business."

A Mobile Playbook Emerges

Although enterprise mobility has existed for more than a quarter of a century, the emergence of smartphones and tablets over the last few years has altered the equation in profound ways. Consumer devices such as Apple's iPhone and iPad have changed the public perception about how companies interact with customers. Moreover, users now expect--perhaps demand is a more accurate word--a consumer-like experience when tapping into enterprise sites and applications.

Make no mistake, consumerization and bring your own device  (BYOD) thinking are at the center of today's business environment. The power of the technology, Guinn says, is that it "enables people to make decisions quicker and do things more rapidly. It creates the potential for a more efficient business model."

Adds Andrew Borg, senior analyst for wireless and mobility at Aberdeen Group: "User experience has emerged as the core of any successful mobility strategy. It's no longer possible to adopt the mentality of 'Let's throw it at them and see what sticks.'"

One organization that recognizes this new normal is the NFL's Cleveland Browns. Rapidly changing business expectations, as well as a need to operate faster and better, meant that the organization couldn't punt on mobility.

As a result, the team's sales staff has turned to a secure mobile file management (MFM) system from GroupLogic, mobilEcho, to take advertising and ticket sales into the field. It's possible to view availability for radio and TV advertising spots, as well as tickets, in real time using an iPad or other device connected via a secure VPN.

Brandon Covert, director of information technology for the Browns, says that the use of iPads and real-time mobility has been a game changer. "Sales staff no longer carry around papers and scramble to keep up with changes," he says. "There's no latency to the business. They have all the information in front of them at all times, and they can interact with clients without any delay."

What's more, the system provides instant reporting capabilities for management. "We can run a statistics report every morning and see what tickets and ads were sold the previous day," he adds. The next step is a live dashboard displaying sales data in near-real time.

Covert says that the organization originally eyed file exchange services such as Dropbox or SugarSync, but it veered away from them because the Brown's needed something more automated, collaborative and secure. The mobilEcho system allows staff to sync their iPads to a SharePoint server within seconds using SSL over WiFi or a cellular connection.The system also provides offline capabilities with automated syncing once a network is available.

The organization is now looking at putting its playbooks on iPads and creating apps and services for other groups. "Mobile technology allows us to be more productive and cultivate a more innovative image for fans and clients," Covert explains.


Staying Connected

Another organization that has turned to mobility in a major way is The Boy Scouts of America Northern Star Council. It spans 25 counties across Minnesota and Wisconsin and has 72,000 youth members and 22,000 volunteers. Keeping everyone connected and sharing data has emerged as a huge challenge--particularly as the use of mobile devices has proliferated.

"People need to access contacts, appointments, calendar information and an array of other documents and files, including membership data," says Clint Andera, information systems director .

Northern Star Council uses technology from iSimplyConnect to provide instant VPN access to data for about 120 employees using iPads and other devices. Staff members, using an iOS app, grab files from a server and have the documents they need at any given moment.

"The ability to synchronize data across a large and diverse group of users has revolutionized the way people interact and work," Andera notes. What's more, the system allows quick provisioning and deactivation, with minimal IT involvement and support. "If someone loses a device we can disable the account immediately. The system has brought work and mobile collaboration into the 21st century."

The organization selected the mobile system after evaluating a number of products and approaches. Over a period of about four months, business and IT leaders examined the organization's needs, how people work, and what features and capabilities they required. The council is now looking to adopt cloud storage to further unlock the potential of mobility.

"With people spread across offices and a wide swath of rural geography, we are able to operate with sophisticated capabilities," Andera explains.

Moving Beyond the Device

Building mobile systems that work in the real world requires more than technology and a technically savvy IT department. PwC's Guinn says that adoption at the macro level is all about behaviors and understanding the line of business.

"In business, you cannot support everything, so you need to support the most important things," he points out. As a result, it's important for executives to sit down and discuss which internal processes are most important, which technologies are essential, and what tools and systems can ultimately drive the greatest performance gains.

The key to success, Guinn points out, is identifying long-term and short-term organizational goals, and establishing a business vision that encompasses new ways to work and interact. This process must remain above the constant crush of new devices, applications and mobile systems that constantly appear.

"It is impossible to build a mobile strategy around the technology," Guinn says. "It must focus on business objectives." This, in turn, drives the need for a robust governance model. It essentially becomes the glue that holds the business and technical IT tracks together. "It helps organizations move away from a Wild West shoot-from-the-hip approach to mobility," he adds.

Transforming Workflow

At Liquid Analytics, a firm that specializes in mobile interface design related to analytics tools, the use of mobility for internal processes and workflows has transformed a number of functions, says company president Vish Canaran. For example, it uses the SAP Store and an SAP Travel Receipt Capture mobile app to enable collaboration between IT and business groups. This allows business travelers to use their iPhone, iPad or Android device to record, organize, submit and track expenses during a trip directly from the mobile device.

The firm is looking at adding mobile apps for sales enablement, business intelligence and a number of other functions. By building an internal app store, Liquid Analytics is able to build the necessary level of governance and security into the mobile environment, Canaran says.

He and a handful of business and IT staff meet quarterly to discuss overall strategy, new opportunities with mobile apps, and figure out which devices to support. Governance is at the core of the firm's mobile strategy and affects all business and IT decisions, he adds.

PwC notes that software is increasingly a key differentiator by turning mobile devices into almost anything: telephone, wallet, camera, book or magazine, machine, game or productivity app. It's up to an organization to assemble the pieces in the right combination.

What's more, it's critical to take a pervasive approach to mobile computing and adopt growing numbers of apps that together can unleash the level of productivity required for today's business environment. The end goal is to build a collaborative ecosystem that works on an anywhere, anytime basis and provides real-time functionality across the enterprise and beyond.

Business and IT functions must operate in lock step in this brave new world of mobility. Communication between these two groups must take place on a level that many executives haven't been accustomed to in the past.

Concludes PwC's Guinn: "When there's an understanding of what the business is and what it does, it's possible to identify the mobile technology, tools and apps that drive superior results."