Mobile Computing and Your Environment

By Roger Lawrence, CTO Stategic Enterprise Services - HP South Pacific

 

Ubiquitous Computing.jpgLast week we introduced the topic of Agility for the enterprise by discussing 3 main areas we can approach to remove/reduce latency, then we focused on Real Time Intelligence.

Today we will explore the topic of Mobile Computing in a little more detail.

 

Mobility: The Latest Fad or Imperative Opportunity?

There is no question that mobility is one of the big tech trends sweeping the world today. I joke with my dad that as a parent he never had to have a communications budget, IT refresh cycle, or helpdesk. I do.

 

Even at home I’ve noticed a shift from my eldest two spending hours in their room on their desktops, to the younger two on their laptops in the lounge room. And now everyone is on a phone or a tablet.

 

Of course this doesn’t only occur at home, but pretty much anywhere.

 

The same is true at work. In the past, only the senior execs that used to bother with email on their phone. Well them and the email administrators. Today, more people get their work email on their phone than don’t.

 

More than Email

But mobility is a lot more than email. As I mentioned last week, mobile computing allows us to remove the latency between where work is completed, and the IT systems that need updating. I believe that as CIO/CTO’s we need to consider 4 areas carefully:

 

  1. Architecting—The entire system. Architect not only the front end systems for any device access, but also the back end systems for anywhere delivery.
  2. Managing—Mobile Devices, whether looking to BYOD or not, any device that enables a corporate process needs SLA’s. If for no other reason than being able to prioritise core processes.
  3. Matching—Devices effectively. Mobility is more than smartphones and tablets. Whilst multi-use devices, enabled with software make sense in an increasing number of contexts, single use devices still make sense in others.
  4. Securing—Against all risks to the enterprise. As with management, every access of corporate data presents a tangible risk to the organisation. This risk needs to be managed.

1. Architecture

When looking at providing mobile access to applications via smartphones and tablets, the question is often asked: “Native App or Mobile Web Site?”

 

Of course, there is no straight answer. I know of a large web travel firm that decided their B2C mobile strategy would be to create a mobile website rather than an app. At the outset, this seemed to make sense. They didn’t believe they needed access to the phone hardware (GPS, Camera etc.) and they wanted to provide access to a large number of devices with version 1.

 

The issue arose during testing. Suddenly they found that testing required 12 devices (just iPhones) because they were getting different errors depending on:

  • The phone model (3Gs, 4) Note: This was over a year ago, today there would be more models.
  • The phone OS (iOS n & n-1)
  • The cellular network used to connect to the Internet (Telstra, Optus, VHA, AT&T, Verizon)

Things would have been different if they had decided on a native app. Many of these issues that arose are catered for in the OS API model.

 

The issue with native apps is the skill sets you need to develop for multiple mobile OS’s, and on some platforms, like Android for multiple device chasses (screen sizes, hardware inclusions etc.)

 

Finally with mobile apps, it’s not true that a .NET, Linux or Objective-C developer can just develop a mobile phone application. There are a number of constraints, such as memory management, screen size, I/O peripherals, loose connectivity, power management etc. that simply don’t translate from the desktop world.

 

As to your back-end systems, many of these are architected for a Client/Server, or n-tier delivery model. They were developed for powerful machines on fast networks. So when considering mobile device access, you have the opportunity to shift to an SOA approach.

 

This is definitely a compelling time to move systems to the cloud (whether private, or public)

Consider your email. If more users are accessing their email on a mobile device from airports, coffee-shops, or home, i.e. outside the corporate firewall, than on the network; why should you have the messaging servers on corporate premises? Moving them to the cloud reduces your vulnerability footprint (it changes the security model), increases access while removing CapEx and future system upgrade expenses.

 

The same can be said for all applications.

 

2. Device Management

Again there is no rule on whether the organisation should provide hardware, and lock down the management, or whether you should allow or even force people to bring their own device.

 

Either way there are a number of considerations:

  • Installing, upgrading and supporting applications. Each device management model has its advantages. But at the end of the day, you’re going to need to enable users to access the systems they need to perform their job. Increasingly we see apps being deployed to App stores, and user self-service to distribute software. While this won’t work in every organisation; over time as the changing workforce is replaced by people who’ve been doing this since their teens, this will become the norm.
  • Device support. Users are used to bringing their broken laptop for repair and getting a replacement within hours. Waiting for a consumer “next day replace” warranty may adversely affect their productivity. Not to mention satisfaction. Equally users may be constrained by having to use a corporate standard device—one that has to go through rigorous testing—so is slower than the device they picked up at the local electronics superstore.
  • Lost devices. These cause a business risk, and it is imperative, no matter your approach to be able to retrieve or wipe lost mobile devices.

3. Device Matching

Yes, I have the Kindle app on my laptops, iPad and iPhone. But there is nothing that beats the reading experience on my Kindle. Weeks long battery, nice size screen, no problem outside in bright light, and no interruptions from email or social media.

 

The same is true in the warehouse. While you can scan barcodes with an Android, Windows, or Apple phone, why do that if all you need to do is scan barcodes?

 

So think of creative ways you can introduce rugged, inexpensive, durable single-use devices to reduce latency. GPS trackers for logistics, barcode and RFID scanners, IP connected cameras, counters, the list goes on.

 

4. Security

The mainframe, mini, PC, and client/server paradigms were all about securing the IT systems. IDS/IPS systems, identity and access management systems and firewalls are the “tools du jour”.

 

Mobility (and cloud) shift the paradigm to thinking about the data. How can you secure the data in transit and at rest, no matter where the data ends up, or on what device?

 

Some of the considerations need to include a combination of role, device, and location. For example, a solution that lets your Production Manager access their email on an iPad at home, but not the assembly line control system. For that kind of access, they’d need to be on an approved device in the factory.

 

We’ve already mentioned lost devices. But what about devices that are just “borrowed?”  Consider how to secure the data, rather than simply the network. Then you can still provide agility for the organisation, while managing the risks.

 

Conclusion

I’ve been helping organisations mobilise various IT systems for over a decade now. Even I find current technology unprecedented, and this will only accelerate. Think about the difference you could make to your organisation, not by reducing operational costs by 10 percent, but by giving sales staff 25 percent more time in the field, or reducing your Day Sales Outstanding by 1 day.

 

With mobility, IT has the opportunity to impact the business in a profound manner. Mobility provides the opportunity to create an agile organisation that can respond to business imperatives far quicker than today.

 

However, because of the consumerisation of IT, there is a very real risk for the business to bypass IT. They can afford personal devices, and procure public cloud applications like never before. As technology professionals we can take the lead, and direct our organisations to a secure, efficient, and most importantly, effective IT landscape.

 

Next week we will discuss the elasticity of public cloud and its potential for your enterprise.

Comments
Nadhan | ‎08-15-2012 12:35 PM

Great post, Roger.  The aspects you call out in this post highlight the fact that Mobility is really the third platform -- where I contrast the three salient characteristics of Generation, Consumption and Presence.

 

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About the Author
Roger has been trying to get out of Information Technology since programming COBOL on mainframes in the late '80's. But no matter in which c...
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