Mobility: A Tough Nut to Crack

By Tony Kontzer

At last week’s AppsWorld North America conference in San Francisco, it was clear that the pace of the mobile revolution is presenting challenges for every type of enterprise.

“Mobile computing has outstripped everything that came before in computing,” Brian McLaughlin, a technical fellow and IT architect at Boeing said. “Enterprises are trying to respond as best they can to the oncoming crush.”

The way McLaughlin sees it, many companies overthink their mobile business apps, injecting them with too much technical wizardry and not enough practical usefulness. Hence, two of his most persistent messages were to focus on a company’s biggest pain points and never lose sight of the people who will be using the apps.

Along those lines, General Electric Aviation has established a clear-cut set of evaluation criteria that ensures mobile apps meet basic requirements in areas such as simplicity, user control and insightfulness. The goal, said Eduardo Cocozza, executive director of mobility at General Electric Aviation, is to inject the enterprise with the same ease of use offered by consumer apps.

“What we’re really looking to do is let people do work where the work is,” Cocozza said.

That’s precisely what CIO Dominic Nessi is trying to accomplish at Los Angeles World Airports, which operates Los Angeles International and two other L.A.-area airports. Nessi is overseeing an ambitious four-stage rollout of mobile infrastructure that will eventually enable airport employees, service providers and contractors to use their mobile devices for tasks such as submitting work orders, tracking power outages and shutdowns, and accessing security video feeds.

That Nessi is rolling the effort out in multiple stages speaks to his recognition of the effort’s complexity.

“I’m very, very risk averse. I’m taking this very slowly, I admit that,” Nessi said. “But three or four years from now, we will have every enterprise app extended via a mobile app.”

It’s not just mobile enterprise apps that pose significant challenges. Companies as tech-savvy as the National Football League and The Onion have also found the mobile landscape confounding.

In the NFL’s case, the league finds itself torn between its desire to give fans all-consuming apps and its financial obligations to the television broadcasters who pay dearly for rights to games. That conflict is proving to be a significant obstacle to the league’s efforts to provide fans with a compelling second-screen experience.

“When you’re making billions of dollars from the television business, you don’t want to do anything to jeopardize that,” said Manish Jha, the NFL’s mobile chief.

Meanwhile, The Onion‘s challenge is a bit clearer. Michael Wnuk, director of technology, said the site’s mobile app isn’t getting enough traction to attract advertisers. “We really don’t know what to do,” Wnuk admitted.

These companies’ travails were summed up quite succinctly by Prashant Sridharan, a developer advocate at Facebook who talked about how mobile apps can take advantage of the social media giant’s platform. “Building an app,” said Sridharan, “is insanely hard.”

About the Author

Tony Kontzer has been writing about technology and business for nearly 20 years and currently freelances from his home in the San Francisco Bay Area. Having spent the dot-com boom and bust years in Silicon Valley, he’s had a front-row seat during the evolution of the technologies of today’s IT-powered business. He has been a regular contributor to CIO Insight and Baseline since 2007.

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