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The Way Business Is Moving

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Issue Date: April 2006

It is not so mobile response to mobility

April 2006

A Datamonitor survey of senior IT managers from 200 European companies, conducted in 2005, found that the majority of organisations spent between 1% and 5% of their overall IT budget on mobile devices and basic mobile applications. Most of this spend was in PIM (personal information management) and e-mail applications.

A Datamonitor survey of senior IT managers from 200 European companies, conducted in 2005, found that the majority of organisations spent between 1% and 5% of their overall IT budget on mobile devices and basic mobile applications. Most of this spend was in PIM (personal information management) and e-mail applications.
There are many other possible mobile applications available to organisations: Field service applications allow field staff to receive and react to important customer, dispatch and inventory information while on the go, and to conduct on-the-spot billing and inventory look-ups; There are salesforce automation applications, allowing access to customer and partner information, as well as entering orders while still at the customer site, and for receiving opportunity alerts immediately, rather than waiting to call or dial-in to the office; There is the field data collection opportunity provided by mobile devices allowing electronic forms data collection in the field, with integration to back-end data stores; There are network and systems management applications which allow support staff to remotely manage servers and applications, and to centrally monitor network and mobile infrastructures; There are business intelligence opportunities allowing executives wireless access to enterprise performance dashboards and reports, extending the reach of business decision support tools for the mobile executive.
The Datamonitor survey reports that what is holding organisations back from using these other mobility applications are concerns about integration to the back-end applications, security, and compliance issues, with integration being the largest hurdle to surmount.
Largely the only applications on which IT departments are actually spending money are PIM and e-mail. And according to a Butler Group report in March this year, most of this spend is about responding to user demand as they acquire the latest gadget and require access to the company's e-mail and PIM systems. Many users in fact by-pass the IT department completely when it comes to choosing their technology and then bring IT in only when there are support and maintenance issues. Which of course leads to under-serviced mobile applications for which the business blames the IT department. The report goes on to say that the reaction of IT to mobility applications seems to be patchy, reactive rather than proactive, and not linked to business strategy in any significant way.
So the Butler Group goes on to exhort CIOs to respond to these mobility pressures by developing a strategic IT response to business and IT needs in the mobility arena. This strategic response should examine the three major hurdles to mass uptake (integration, security, compliance) and should develop coherent responses to each hurdle. The CIO should further develop an enterprise-wide mobility architecture, policies and guidelines and investment sourcing strategies. This would allow them to staff up to meet mobility generated demand, to manage service level expectations and to put in place the necessary user training programmes. Only then, says Butler Group, will organisations start to see the appropriate benefits from these exciting technologies. And only then, they say, will we be able to "maximise the true potential of a mobile-enabled workforce".
Let us look at this from a South African IT perspective: I was a CIO for a long time, and when I read these reports, I always had an image in my mind of a water-skier who might be having a wonderful time skimming across the surface, while the denizens of the deep watched their ski pass overhead hoping for them to just come down here for a while and see what it is really like. In the real pool of IT we do not have people to do all this strategy and analysis work; we are battling uphill against business perception that the job of IT is just to keep the business engine going, and never mind about developing strategies for emerging technologies; we face budget cuts, and scepticism about the value that IT really adds to the business.
Over and above these general barriers to IT working in the perfect world of the analysts, are more specific barriers to developing coherent mobility strategies: Firstly, the technology is still developing, and has not matured in any way that allows IT to develop five-year strategies. Mobility standards are still in a state of flux, even with a current emerging standard (RIM Technologies) being threatened until last month with a patent lawsuit, which could have resulted in the collapse of that standard. So dependent were some organisations on RIM technologies that both the USA and Canadian governments stepped in to urge an out-of-court settlement. This is what can happen if organisations move too fast into an emerging technology, but users do not see these issues.
Then there are technology specific barriers: mobility technology has its drawbacks all on its own, some of which are serious. So, while being pressured by business (and they in turn are being strongly pressured by the technology vendors), IT people need to think about inherent mobility technology limitations. These include: small screen size and keypads; limited computational power; memory and disk capacity; shorter battery life; complicated text input mechanisms; higher risk of data storage and transaction errors; lower display resolution; unfriendly and cumbersome user interfaces; and graphical limitations to mention the obvious drawbacks. To overcome these limitations mobility technology is still going to need a significant amount of development and innovation, so the technology can hardly be regarded as stable or standardised.
So faced with internal and external pressures and with budget and people shortages, then perhaps the only realistic response that CIOs can make at the moment is the piecemeal response to demand from the business while waiting for the technology and standards to mature. Which is pretty much exactly the opposite of what the analysts recommend.
This might seem a defeatist and hopeless approach from CIOs to developing technologies. But until the attitudes and roles inside IT departments and business change that may be the only response available. Look at it this way: in research I did two years ago I found that IT departments spend about 75% of their time running the IT operation, and 23% of their time responding to business demands. This does not leave a lot of time to do proactive, business related and strategic stuff. So the upshot is that IT do not have time to be strategic. By the way, most organisations have downsized to the extent that the business is in a similar position - everyone is busy keeping things running and no one has enough time to spend in strategic thinking.
The only way to get out of this operational treadmill is for in-house IT departments to significantly change their own role in their business: firstly, they must delegate the running of their IT operation to their outsource partner (or if they have not outsourced then they should in-source). Ask any outsource company - their primary complaint is that IT departments continue to micro-manage them after outsourcing. The in-house role of IT is to manage the outsourcer not the service.
The next role that IT has to adopt is a business involvement role. And this business involvement involves not only receiving inputs from the business, but also providing IT related info to the business. (Show me one IT department that has a serious communications function and I will show you an IT department that is appreciated by their business).
Finally, in-house IT has to provide appropriate leadership: interpreting business and IT trends, filtering these and devising how these will affect the company, and communicating these to the business.
I am well aware that I have just done what the analysts do: I have given a general plan of what IT 'should' do to fix their problems. These changes are not trivial and involve a major shift in IT's thinking, and in their place inside organisations, but they are possible.
It was Albert Einstein who defined insanity as: "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." And until IT starts to do something different, they are going to be in constant reactive mode, unable to keep up with the constant change in technologies.
Terry White
Terry White
Terry White is a business and technical advisor for MarketWorks, sole distributor of Datamonitor, Butler Group and Computerwire research in southern Africa. He is also the author of three books on IT Management. Contact him at terryw@marketworks.co.za


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