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Not all systems suit a mobile workflow

Not every aspect of your IT environment can or should be mobilized. Consider whether employees will get any use out of it before going mobile with a business process.

When you spend a lot of time talking mobile strategy, you end up talking about all the things you can fix with mobility and the increases in efficiency and productivity it brings. It's easy to be swept up by the tide, thinking that if mobile works for one app or process, it must work for all.

Mobile really isn't that simple. It doesn't always make sense to mobilize everything, and figuring out what you should and should not integrate into a mobile workflow is a job in itself.

When you start the mobile journey, it's easy. There is so much low-hanging fruit: Email, calendar and contacts are table stakes. Everyone wants to be able to access those apps on smartphones and tablets. After that, most organizations' strategies for are based on looking at their processes and workflows and figuring out which aspects make sense to mobilize at certain points in time. Take expenses, for example: It makes more sense to mobilize your expense reporting, so employees can relay their expenditures as they are happening, rather than doing it at their desk a month later.

Some things that are easy to mobilize, however, shouldn't be. It depends on the job being done. For instance, it's very easy to use Photoshop on a tablet. Yet, when color fidelity and speed are an issue, I would rather be at a machine with a color-calibrated monitor and a large screen with a lot of pixels. Ask most photo editors, and they would prefer such a setup every time. An onsite photographer, on the other hand, may prefer to do some simple edits at a shoot on a mobile device. Different jobs have different requirements, and you should match the workflow to those needs.

When it comes to legacy systems, you can get the biggest bang for your buck if you mobilize them, but it also may take considerable effort to achieve. First, look to see if the systems come with an API for data access. You can always build a mobile app that uses the API. If there isn't an API, look at what the system is used for. Is it something that can be part of a mobile workflow? If it isn't, leave it be. No matter the amount of time and effort spent to mobilize, you won't achieve tangible benefits.

Some things that are easy to mobilize shouldn't be. It depends on the job being done.

If a legacy system can integrate into a mobile workflow, you can use application or desktop virtualization technologies to make it available on smartphones and tablets. If the expected efficiency and productivity gains of your users outweigh the cost of this deployment, then you are golden. But make sure to consider: Will your users get any real use out of it? It didn't take companies very long to realize that Outlook, for instance, was designed for a mouse and didn't work well on a touch-enabled tablet screen. Closely examine any system that can't be readily modified to have a touch interface. If there is no return on your investment of time and money to mobilize a legacy app or system, use it as is until you can find a better way to address the workflow.

Mobility is an approach to work that gives people the right tool at the right time. A tool isn't just an app or just a device, but the right combination of the two that allows users to get their jobs done. When you reimagine workflows for this age of Internet-connected devices, you know which pieces it makes sense to mobilize. Some things work better on a PC, while others make better sense on a tablet or mobile phone. It's the combination of uses across a workflow that really shows the power of mobile.

This article originally appeared in the May issue of the Modern Mobility e-zine.

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