Mobile applications are fundamentally altering the way businesses interact with employees, partners and customers. Building an effective strategy is paramount.
By Samuel Greengard
It's not exactly breaking news that the post-PC era has presented CIOs and other business leaders with enormous challenges. The growing use of mobile devices—laptops, tablets, smartphones and more—has fundamentally changed the way customers, employees and business partners interact. "We are witnessing huge changes in business and IT," says Nisha Sharma, managing director for Accenture Mobility. "We are seeing a lot of different components come together."
Gartner research vice president Van L. Baker says mobility is now driving strategies and purchases for mainstream IT. It's increasingly at the center of enterprise architectures, which must support multiple mobile platforms, devices and operating systems. By now, it's clear that BYOD and consumerization are here to stay. What's more, organizations are finding it increasingly necessary to build app stores and have dedicated teams working on mobile technologies and solutions. However, "most IT shops are ill prepared to address the demands that mobile applications place on them," Baker points out.
How can CIOs approach the mobile app space? What's required to guide an enterprise to success? It's critical to take a 30,000-foot view and think broadly about mobility, says Sharma. She points out that mobile technology is deeply tied to other enterprise IT initiatives, including cloud computing, big data and social business tools. "Building an integrated framework and connecting systems with the right APIs is fundamental to success," Sharma notes. "It's crucial to move up to more transactional and strategic activities rather than simply connecting people via e-mail, instant messaging and basic calendaring."
Along the way, it's critical to connect channels and build out an experience that spans devices and apps. "It's absolutely essential to understand how people use their devices and what information they're looking to consume," says Jason McNicol, a senior analyst at ABI Research. McNicol says organizations must focus on consolidating key activities within a single app rather than different departments and stakeholders introducing multiple apps. Too often, where there are silos, there are huge gaps and inconsistencies for end users. This makes it necessary for CIOs to spend time—and collaborate with—other senior executives, particularly CMOs.
Rethinking Workflows and Processes
Radically revamping workflows and processes is essential, particularly if an enterprise wishes to drive strategic transformations through a real-time enterprise. "You have to have a vision and do some heavy lifting. You have to develop an overarching app strategy and build a roadmap—and infrastructure—to support the initiative," Sharma explains. She also points out that ideas for apps and features can't just come from the top. "It's critical to plug in information and knowledge from across the organization or a customer base so that it is possible to develop a deep understanding about features, functionality and value."
That means focusing on communication, collaboration, training and support. It may require the use of crowdsourcing and social media to connect to workers or customers who understand how things work on the front lines of business. What's more, projects must have executive support and rely on advocates and evangelists to spread the word and encourage input and participation. Likewise, a steering committee or cross-functional team must keep an eye on everything from usability to design—across the different devices and channels. The team must understand how to translate the strategy into practical design, monitor performance and understand which apps and features are being used, how they're being used, and when and why they're crashing.
Finally, there's a strong need to focus on security and privacy and embed it into the mobile app environment. Sharma points out that mobile app security extends beyond specific apps or even an app store, which provides basic controls over which apps employees use. It's also more than the sum of MDM and mobile security tools. "Security requires a look at the entire IT infrastructure and how apps, services and data flow through various systems," she says. "It requires a holistic view of business and IT operations."
About the Author
Samuel Greengard is a contributing writer for CIO Insight. To read his previous CIO Insight article, "BoA Embraces Software-Defined Data Centers," click here.