A dynamic shift has occurred in the technology landscape in recent years - a shift so significant that CIOs and IT managers face a nightmare that they've spent years trying overcome by telling users what technology to use, as well as when and how to use it.
That nightmare is complete chaos and utter loss of control.
People power and the consumerization of ICT is the number one challenge facing companies around the world today.
Once upon a time executives would find their office environment gleaming with the latest technology while most homes were still struggling to get internet connections. Look around today and it has completely switched around where office technology is now antiquated and vastly inferior to what we can experience and are accustomed to at home.
And nowhere is this change and frustration being felt as much as in the mobile space.
IDC predicts that 2011 will see a "Mobilution" - a "perfect storm" created by the evolution of different areas of technology combining to create a revolution in mobility. Its 2011 Technology Predictions report notes that tablets like iPads and large-screen smartphones can now run almost fully functional versions of all enterprise software and services.
"With the move toward cloud computing, we are now seeing many of these IT systems being delivered in virtualized environments minimizing the importance of device-based computing power," said Avneesh Saxena, a VP at IDC Asia Pacific. "It truly is 'Everything' going mobile, and IDC believes 2011 will be the catalyst year for this."
At the device level you have executives walking in with their new toys be it a iPad or iPhone or the latest Android phone, which then becomes a software challenge as companies need to decide whether to support these devices or not.
Many companies have only recently established mobility plans that often involve settling on supporting company applications, typically email, for one mobile platform. RIM's BlackBerry has been the most popular choice for its enterprise-ready security and integration capabilities, closely followed by Microsoft with its Windows Mobile OS. But the mobile landscape is vastly different with the iPhone, Android and Symbian, the latter of which is still the No. 1 mobile OS in the market today (See table).
IDC predicts that the mobility explosion will continue with huge device volumes, new form factors and millions of mobile apps. "The PC-centric era is over. Within 18 months, app-capable non-PC devices will out ship PCs," IDC noted in a report.
"At Gartner we see three major eras of mobility," said Nick Jones, a VP at Gartner. "The device era was dominated by device manufacturers. This was followed by the application era which arrived with the iPhone, popularizing application and media stores. Going forward, the service and social era will build on the application era, but it will be characterized by cloud services and streaming media. Applications will survive, but often as a component of a more complex end-to-end experience involving the cloud."(See sidebar: Silver-lined cloud
) Strategy rethink
With so many staff bringing in personal smartphones into the office that give them easy access to corporate email, Ng Long Shyang from StarHub said companies need to have a more cohesive device management policy in place that ensures data security, without compromizing productivity.
Yip Ly, CSL corporate and business market EVP, pointed to three key challenges in formulating a mobility strategy. There are keeping up with the shorter mobile device lifecycle, deploying applications and solutions across multiple mobile operators, and mastering multi-device knowledge and management tools.
CLSA's IT organization, for example, has revamped its mobility strategy in the face of such dynamic change. Like many firms CLSA had until recently provided executives with BlackBerrys as the standard device for accessing company email and data.
But the reality today is that staff are buying their own devices and they want to stay up to date at all times. "We have concluded that corporations cannot dictate to users in this space," said CLSA CIO T Rajah.
What is now clear is that unlike the PC-server world, companies cannot "write once run anywhere" when it comes to mobile applications.
CLSA's approach is to allow employees to own and bring in their own device while its IT department works with vendors like Sybase on device management and other vendors to create a flexible framework to govern the use of mobile devices across the company.
Sandy Shen, research director at Gartner's mobile devices and consumer services group, however, expects enterprises to try and support a few key platforms. "I don't think it's viable to support all," she said.
She noted enthusiasm for new devices is fast outpacing the ability of enterprises to manage and secure them. "We believe there is a high risk of significant data-loss events, which may cause a temporary backlash in attitudes to device choice and the use of consumer devices.
She said that the mobile space is fragmented and expects three or four platforms to be prevalent and that enterprises must plan for that scenario.
Rajah at CLSA believed that mobile operators won't have an active role to play in forming a enterprise mobility strategy. "Frankly the device makers and the software players are the ones that are helping shape how companies like us develop strategy," said Rajah.
Already there are signs of the influence shifting to device-makers with players like Apple able to exert their muscle on the mobile industry. A recent example of this potential disruptive force was the announcement of Apple's plans to introduce a software-enabled SIM that could effectively bypass carrier control. Such an embedded SIM would allow users to switch networks remotely as and when required and without carrier intervention.
Mobile carriers were so unhappy with the idea that they threatened to cease phone subsidies to Apple if the handset maker continues its desire for embedded SIM cards. In the end Apple backed off its plans but the signs are there.
Rajah believes that mobile service providers could help by providing better flexibility and control around usage plans. "Mobile roaming and data costs are now getting to the point that they warrant serious attention."
Ovum counters that multinationals need to take more responsibility for managing mobile costs and services. It has found that while most are quick to lay the blame on the mobile operators, they could do much more themselves to bring the situation under control.
In a recent report Ovum claims that multinationals are struggling to manage the growing cost and complexity of business mobility and many have little idea how much they are spending globally.
According to Pauline Trotter, Ovum analyst and author of the report, major mobile service providers have invested in improvements over the past two years to support multinationals in tackling the issue of international mobility. In particular they have improved areas such as expense management, device management and help desk support.
"However, our research shows that multinationals continue to be unimpressed by their offerings. We think this judgment is harsh as, while managed mobility services are still immature, multinationals need to take responsibility for some of the problems themselves," adds Trotter.
While on the whole multinationals feel that the service provided in individual countries is satisfactory, on a global scale they do not feel providers are meeting their needs. The report notes that multinationals want to see a global managed services approach for mobile similar to those they have already for fixed services.
Ovum says that this situation is even more critical in Asia Pacific where MNC users are highly mobile, but the enterprise mobile service offers from service providers are underwhelming. He adds that most solutions are restricted to remote access services, on-premise mobility support for users traveling between MNC sites and general roaming offers. There is a lack of managed mobility offerings on a pan-Asia Pacific scale, and where support is provided it is only available for customers with a very high number of mobile users.
Most mobile operators of course offer special roaming packages for large enterprises that fit different user travel patterns as well as customized packages. For their high-traffic users, enterprises tend to look for unlimited packages that ensure stable monthly expenses.
CSL's Ly said because cost management and user friendliness are important considerations, frequent travelers are also interested in all-in-one data roaming packages covering key countries without needing to swap to local service providers in each location.
Move over BlackBerry
One company that has made the plunge into the next-generation of mobility is Standard Chartered. The UK bank has bet its mobile play on Apple's iPhone and had planned to roll out iPhones to around 15,000 employees globally by the end of 2010.
Its decision to replace its previous device standard BlackBerry was based on a belief that the iPhone interface is how staff and customers will prefer to interact on the mobile channel.
"We believe that giving people complete mobile access to the systems they need to do their job will dramatically increase productivity and employee satisfaction," said Jan Verplancke, CIO and group head of technology and operations for Standard Chartered.
The bank will address what it perceives to be a dearth in robust enterprise apps available today with a strategy for developing its own internal apps with the support of Apple.
Operators eye silver-lined cloud
Enterprises looking to take advantage of smartphones and tablets to mobilize their workforce and their business middleware apps are faced with a basic choice: do we build, host and manage everything ourselves, or do we outsource to the "cloud"?
The "cloud" option is generating a lot of hype in general, but particularly in the enterprise mobility space ?so much so that Juniper Research projects that 75% of cloud-based mobile apps users in 2014 will be enterprise users. An online survey of IT managers from SAP-owned Sybase in December found that 82% of respondents favored the idea of hosting mobile apps in the cloud.
One key advantage specific to mobile is the existing heterogeneity of the current smartphone environment.
According to a recent KRC Research survey conducted with Juniper Networks, over 80% of smartphone users use their own smartphone to access the corporate LAN without permission, and the smartphones in question usually cover most if not all of the major mobile platforms. The mix varies, but a Forrester Research report says that IT managers interested in managing corporate mobile apps need a solution that can support at least BlackBerry, iOS and Android. Web-based apps via the cloud, says Forrester, can ease that headache.
Granted, enterprises can also support multiple platforms via the new range of "enterprise app store" solutions on offer that effectively enable IT managers to create device-agnostic storefronts hosting company-approved apps. But that also means having to deal with everything from synchronization and integration with the backend to security.
One security issue with enterprise smartphones is what happens to the data stored on it when the device is lost or stolen (which happened to two million smartphone users in the US alone last year, according to Credant Technologies). Keeping apps and business data in the cloud rather than the handset is one way to minimize loss of data, although it also means having a good mobile device management solution in place to ensure that handsets can be tracked and found, or wiped remotely before thieves can use them to access the data.
Consequently, service providers that are jockeying to tout various cloud services (hosted apps, SaaS, PaaS, IaaS, etc) are also talking up their security expertise as a major selling point, says Sharat Sinha, MD for managed and cloud services APAC at Cisco Systems.
"Enterprises want security and some level of privacy for content, as well as SLAs, and telcos are in a position to provide that," he said.
John C. Tanner
Not all companies will pursue a policy of what user-wants-gets. Companies will adapt at different speeds and for the sake of security, ease of deployment and support, the strategy of working with a single standard mobile platform will still be the best practice for some.
Companies like Jebsen & Jessen in Singapore along with Amcorp Group, an investment holding firm in Singapore, have both decided to adopt BlackBerry as the company standard for mobile devices and applications.
Amcorp Group CIO MH Ding admitted that the different phone OS platforms would have been tricky for IT to support when there were technical issues. "Most of the time users expect over-the-phone support and most of them refused to surrender their phone to IT for troubleshooting," said Ding.
Lack of or weak data loss prevention features in most smartphones also caused Ding some sleepless nights. "Standardizing on the BlackBerry Enterprise solution helped mitigate the risks."
Jebsen & Jessen director of IT Gopal Varutharaj noted that the costs of supporting mobile users as they access email and applications is significant.
"It's important to choose an operator that understands how enterprise data needs to be handled," said Varutharaju. "The organization's mobile platform is closely integrated with its enterprise applications including its enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management."
He said the company standardized on BlackBerry devices as they are one of the best in data compression for emails. He noted that the business will be deciding on a mobile device upgrade in the next three months and added the key selection criteria for the new platform is easy portability to the backend.