Mobile Working

How IT Missteps Become a Conga Line

Enterprise mobility ranks among the top three items on every corporation’s must have list and yet, the market has no evident market leaders nor do most corporations have a clear mobile strategy outside of their B2C space. The promise of enterprise mobility remains unclaimed in more than 80% of US companies. What has happened? The correlation to the development of word processing in the past decades might help explain how some markets deviate in the wrong direction.

In the late 1980s, word processing giants were companies that are today forgotten, such as Wang and Digital Equipment, with products based on a centralized model of a server and an unintelligent screen for document entry. This type of solution was meant to replace the dominant solution of the 70s created by IBM of individualized word processing units used in typing pools everywhere however, by the end of the decade, even IBM had moved to a centralized, unintelligent screen architecture. In the early 90’s Microsoft launched their latest version of Word and combined with the power of PCs caused a tipping point, the whole market dumped the centralized solutions and ran into Bill’s arms.

Why did these IT vendors move to a centralized solution? Answer: they were actually abiding by a standard IT pattern. IT always prefers centralized solutions as they are easier to manage and architecturally the same as other business applications, which allow the same skillsets to be exploited. What is not considered as a primary selection criteria is the end user experience and local control is seen as a negative. However the user will always chose ease of use, speed and local autonomy….and that is what happened.

In enterprise mobility, lots of early innovative companies developed solutions for the clunky devices that today are still seen in the hands of most couriers. These apps work offline, have local data to reference and were fast. Five years ago, the IT industry and its analysts said the future was HTML5, a centralized server and dumb screen approach to mobile interfaces. The end user experience is poor, apps are slow and essentially need to be in coverage to work but they exploit the skills learnt in web based application development over the last decade. Worst of all in an HTML5 App there is no workflow. To explain: a field tech will have one app to enter his work done at a job and another app to say what parts he used, HTML5 cannot say “well you started this 3 hours ago and entered the actions taken on the equipment but you forgot to say what parts were used and you need to before we are done”. More simply said, there is no compliance enforcement. This is the world of mini-apps, and Gartner tells us each company will have more than a thousand of them. The idea is that users string the apps together like beads on a necklace, actively selecting which ones needed to get work done. This may be OK if the task is unimportant, like submitting expenses; but it will adversely affect productivity and quality of data collected for more fundamental activities such as inspections, asset maintenance, transport or any sort of social care.

The enterprise mobility market is waiting for a solution that can reflect workflow and help the end user, not hinder them. The added complexity of the enterprise mobile market is that the product also needs to do so many other things: apps must be able to work across any of the mainstream mobile operating systems which are constantly changing, ensure no data loss for transactions that are fundamental to your companies business delivery to the market, present only what needs to be done and in an order required to the end user to achieve productivity.

There are solutions today that can achieve all this, but IT is stubbornly looking in the HTML5 direction, pretending that there is ubiquitous wireless coverage and preaching that HTML5 will improve. However, the facts are that HTML5’s DNA does not suit a sometimes disconnected environment and that app responsiveness is fundamental for end user acceptance.

The world of mini apps and Web development for enterprise mobility is a false step, with the IT industry forming a conga line and dancing to its tune. However, the tune does not appeal to end-users and they are simply waiting to hear something they like.


Mary Brittain-White is CEO at Retriever Communications


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