Mobile comes of age

 “You may already be too late to be early”

An avalanche of demand is building up

It’s been coming for a long time.  When Bill Gates saw the light and started making the PC usable by ordinary mortals it was inevitable that sooner or later the computer would not only leave the cold room, but would eventually free us from the tyranny of keyboards, desks, mice and other unintuitive interfaces.

Great as the big PC screen is, if only to hide behind on one of those Mondays, most of us will already have experienced the freedom of being able to respond to an email from our PDA just before a meeting begins, or to check stock availability from a corner of the web page while cowering in a shady doorway with our trusty mobile phone and thought well it wasn’t fun, but it got me the order, now I can play golf.

Those of us with the time or inclination to think beyond the box on those matters can only express dismay at how long it has taken and despair at how long more it will take before we have real purchase, but make no mistake the age of the mobile device is here and it’s uptake amongst early adapters is tumultuous.

The difference between uptake of the mobile device and say the PC is very notable in one particular way; the users are demanding it, workers are taking these initiatives forward and asking for funding.  I even know of a multinational where a secret wireless network exists along with growing number of android apps that are accessing very sensitive data all unofficially.

Such is the draw of these ubiquitous little devices that people will go to amazing lengths to get hold of them, acquire apps, or even write them in their spare time and get connected to business data and systems.

 “Apple has recently taken steps to make it easier to create iPhone and iPad apps for employees. Its iOS enterprise developer program gives programmers access to resources for $299 a year that will help them develop proprietary, in-house applications.” Business week

IBM recently launched it’s internal apps market called “Whirlwind” where employees can download apps for Blackberry and they are busy writing Android and Apple apps as we speak.

These businesses are reaching out to serve the demand and grab the added productivity on offer.

   

What can these devices actually do for your business?

The attraction for employers is obvious. Representatives regularly turn up for meetings now with their decision maker available on text,  decisions get made right there and then with no set aside and no waiting till the “CXO has a window in his diary “. 

Field service people have instant access to detailed site information and statutory safety information, service history, single customer view, product catalogue, supplier materials or parts catalogue and are able to instantly prepare quotes, complete work and get paid.

Wasted trips, double handling, lost orders, wasted journeys to the supplier, waiting in supplier trade areas are all wiped out, or greatly reduced.

A week’s service calls organised into five days of highly optimised routes with the shortest cheapest distance calculated and bearing in mind the estimated time for each call, the traffic situation ahead and any emergency calls that might suddenly arrive.

Field service businesses are saving between 18% and 45% on their operation costs. In my first mobile routing project, I achieved 25% workforce reduction in a Public sector organisation.

Phones are just the beginning

If you are having difficulty with the idea that just as the PC became de rigueur we are probably abandoning it for a little phone the size of your palm, then I’m not sure whether this is good news or bad news for you, but there is no question that the mobile phone is to smart phones what the car phone was to mobiles, just a staring point.

Sitting at your desk is not healthy and it is not conducive to imagination, enthusiasm, creativity, or any of the qualities we would like to develop.  Already there are some fantastic motion  and pressure sensing devices that allow a user to;

  • Paint with the fingers just like Van Gough, or play golf like Tiger Woods (and maybe some of his other pastimes too).
  • Talk to our devices and listen to our emails and documents.
  • Reach out virtual hands  to move stuff around giant projected screens
  • Walk around our living room to guide our Avtar around a meeting room and talk to people who see us in 3d as if we were there and indeed forget that we are not actually there

 

The longer term change of business culture

The PC wiped out typing pools and made executives self sufficient, it also made data more reliable and more complete as it was captured faithfully at the time of the transaction, but it did tie those executives more than ever before to their desks and above all it alienated the customer, demoting her to waiting in phone queues for the recorded message, or looking up the FAQ.
Face to face interaction, exchange of ideas and general motivation that exists in a healthy team environment has given way to a culture of saving emails as evidence and even recording telephone conversations.

The mobile device promises to free the executive up again to move around, to be where the customer is, or where the work is getting done. The mobile device is improving communication by keeping people in touch so they get to know each others styles and become a team.

In addition to all of this it is relatively simple to patch your mobile network to your VoIP network and enjoy free mobile calls between staff globally and cheaper calls outside as well as fee text messaging. The savings can be very significant especially if you bridge long distant external calls from the mobile out to your sip trunks and find the cheapest route via the internet.

Working at home, or on the train is now much easier and the office, or the meeting really can be wherever you happen to be.

Software development for the mobile device is simpler too, because it is done in response to a user demand rather than an executive mandate and it is a small simple app that does a simple job very well.  There is little issue with scope creep, overruns or confusion about what it was meant to do.

 

 Where does this leave the faithful PC?

Well the only thing that can be said with absolute confidence is that the PC won’t be going anywhere really soon, but there is no question that it and all that lies behind it and in it will be changing dramatically and the speed of change is about to accelerate to the point where Moore looks understated and space holidays suddenly look possible.

The PC will remain the most productive way to create documents and carry out intensive tasks and PC based interfaces won’t go away, but what will change is that most of the processing and all of the data will migrate to a cloud either private or shared and both PC and eventually COTS systems and the myriad of devices will access this cloud securely and run the apps, systems, or screens that are provided for them. Already Windows Azure, the Microsoft cloud system and Android the Open source mobile system are providing centralised stores accessible to all apps for common data like contacts and messages.  Who knows why it took so long, but now it is here and it will solve a mountain of enterprise data problems over the next decade

This combination of cloud data and processing with apps that access these services in appropriate ways to suit the device and the risk level will provide the flexibility that our workforces are crying out for and maybe even some maturity to the world of technology

What about security of data

Already we have servers that are capable of managing a mobile phone asset bank, updating their software, keeping them synchronised and wiping any data and locking the network to them when they are reported missing, or compromised.  Not only that, but we can now pinpoint their whereabouts on the map at any time within a few meters and compare it to where they should be.  We can even detect when a driver has been speeding. Controlling who they can call or test is simple if we feel the need.

Single Sign On makes it very easy to extend privileges to the mobile network and each type of device can have the appropriate level of access to the data it needs so that it risk is all but eliminated and no sensitive data  is carried around on the device.  There are very few arguments against mobile devices that could not be equally easily addressed at laptops and PCs and the only minor obstacle is the  time it will take IT decision makers to get caught up with the technology and make decisions about access to data and LOB systems

The EU has taken this so seriously that in addition to supporting development of Symbian with £22m of funding, it is funding project SEPIA  Secure Embedded Platform with Process Isolation and Anonymity) to develop security standards for Smart Devices in Europe. Read More

Web and ecommerce goes mobile

According to a recent Gartner report, by 2013 Mobile will be the most popular means of accessing the internet based on a projected 1.82 billion smart phones in use as opposed to 1.78 billon PCs.  This represents phenomenal growth that even surpasses initial internet uptake. In fact growth in web usage via mobile devices grew 43% from 2008 to 2009 and that would seem to be  gaining momentum if anything.

By 2014, over 3 billion of the world’s adult population will be able to transact electronically via mobile or Internet technology. That is a staggering opportunity and 2014 is only a poorly run software project away.
Already the mobile traffic to the web portals I have been involved with is growing daily and the demand to be able to place orders and download everything including high end video is growing exponentially.
There is no way to avoid this and “you may already be too late to be early”.
Understanding the difference between how and why people use Mobile as opposed to PC  is critical. Once you know who you are dealing with, providing the right user journey with shorter more succinct content is critical as well as filling in with the videos and podcasts that suit the mobile better and above all simplifying the shopping carts and enquiry forms.

There already is a raft of platforms that will help you target the main mobile devices easily and shorten the time to market, the main hurdle is to understand what it means to your business, agree the strategy and make a start.