Many enterprises face challenges in implementing mobile strategies and hesitate to jump headfirst into the sea of mobility.
The top three issues raised by enterprises are security, wireless connectivity, and coverage and compatibility, according to a recent survey done by VDC Research Group Inc., a mobile advisory firm based in Natick, Mass.
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In the survey, 62% of respondents said security was a concern, and 50% cited wireless connectivity and coverage as issues. Forty-two percent said a mobile solution isn't compatible with existing systems.
[About 10 to 15] years ago, the Web was huge. Now it's mobile.
principal analyst, J. Gold Associates
"Any sensitive information is exposed through platforms such as Salesforce.com, customer automation and [customer relationship management]," said Eric Klein, senior mobility analyst at VDC Research. "[But once] access [is granted] on mobile platforms, the risks heighten."
Mobility hindered by inflexible networks, apps
Many businesses now have open wireless networks, and that can cause issues. The more people who use the network, the slower it becomes. IT also has to worry about who -- besides authorized users -- is tapped into the network.
"You need to control [which] people have access," Klein said. "Another element is bandwidth. Combining this with network access and the amount of employees connecting with tablets and mobile devices at the same time -- it crowds the network."
But updating the network to accommodate a mobile strategy isn't easy. IT pros don't have the time to update networks, and companies can't afford the downtime or the network upgrade costs.
"A lot of activities on the platforms are mission-critical, and employers can't afford employees to not have access to the Internet," Klein said.
In addition, some enterprise applications aren't compatible with mobile devices. Converting apps can be expensive and tough to do, said Jack Gold, principal analyst for J. Gold Associates, a technology industry analyst firm in Northborough, Mass.
"It's complex to convert Windows apps to mobile devices," Gold said. "How can I put them on [Android and Apple] devices? What users want is to do their work easily, and then move on to something else," Gold said.
Still, some companies have been able to deploy apps that are less complex to run -- such as expense tracking and workload approval -- to include purchase reports, timecards and vacation leave for employees.
"Most [companies] have a standardized set of vendors and types of solutions deployed that aren't technically industry standard," Klein said. "There's a lot of customization of applications so that they work in their environment. So investing in customized apps is a challenge."
Businesses would also have to spend funds on finding an expert with the knowledge to integrate and customize applications for mobile devices, Klein added.
Solutions to mobility concerns
To ensure that employees are aware of the risks that come with using mobile devices, companies must take precautions, starting with a company-wide policy.
Having a policy and control over what can be downloaded to or sent from a mobile device is crucial. IT can then lock down the device and protect data from getting out, Klein said. A company should also have employees register their personal and work devices' IP and Wi-Fi addresses with the IT department so admins know which devices are using the network.
Some businesses outsource their mobile strategy development to a third party.
"Some companies work with large consultants or system integration firms, so there's already familiarity with their technology integrations," Klein said.
Other companies turn to IT services firms that have mobile specialists to develop mobility practices, Klein said.
There are also a number of software-based tools to protect and manage mobile devices.
"Whether it's [managing the company's mobile devices] or BYOD [bring your own device], this gives IT some control over managing the phones," Klein said. "Data leakage prevention is a standard part of the solution."
There are also some simple ways to prevent some mobility-related issues in the first place.
"Keep the data transfer efficient and don't upload junk," Gold said. "Don't put a lot of stuff onto the network that slows things down. Another way is to break up apps into smaller chunks. Send a little bit of data through each time."
Developing a mobile strategy
Despite the challenges, businesses have to develop mobile strategies.
"If an enterprise wants to stay in business, then it needs to get a mobile strategy," Gold said. "They'll be at a disadvantage if they ignore this. [About 10 to 15] years ago, the Web was huge. Now it's mobile. Mobility is mission-critical for an enterprise."
One thing is for certain: A mobile strategy requires planning.
"People thought it was would be easy to move stuff over to a phone or tablet," said Brian Katz, head of mobility and engineering at Sanofi, a large pharmaceutical company with U.S. headquarters in New Jersey. "You have to figure out what your wants and needs are."
Mobile policies should be in place before anything is done too, Katz added. Once that's set up, the issue becomes how the devices and apps should be managed.