IT managers are faced with the challenge of embarking on a mobile strategy while knowing that the evolution of the underlying technologies changes rapidly. With so many choices as to setting a mobile strategy, coupled with the continuing rapid evolution of underlying technologies and products involved, how can one make a rational decision as to which alternatives to pursue, knowing full well that the decision process will likely have to be repeated in the not-too-distant future? Isn't it in fact better, at least from a financial perspective, to wait for next year's model, when one will more easily be able to justify purchases on grounds of the familiar faster/better/cheaper basis so commonly applied in high tech?
Rapid mobile technology evolution
Well, no, it's not usually in your favor to wait for next year's model. Imagine the consumer still handwriting letters ("Oh, I'll get email stuff eventually, when prices come down") because they're still waiting for next year to buy that all-important first PC. Sure, we won't have the latest and greatest all the time, but the productivity gain from a well-considered investment in IT can yield a serious return on investment assuming the purchases are appropriate solutions to real needs. So the situation we have with mobile strategies is not all that different from what essentially defined computing a decade (or certainly two) ago. All aspects of computers were evolving rapidly -- processors, storage, networks, operating systems, multimedia, software, everything. Potential solutions were diverse and usually incompatible with one another, and upgrade and replacement cycles were often fierce -- and that was when hardware was truly expensive.
Your mobile strategy can give you a competitive edge
But purchases based on a solid consideration of return on investment in terms of staff productivity were almost always easy to justify then, and remain so today. Sure, operational expense in the form of training and support was and is a major factor in any decision. But even after considering all of the costs involved, few enterprises can improve productivity with IT solutions that don't address fundamental requirements -- and mobility today is just that. Information must follow the users wherever they may roam -- in an office building, across a campus, or across the planet. Competitive edge, regardless of industry or application, practically derives today from the benefits of IT, and when one is out of touch, one is truly out of the loop. If IT isn't all about optimizing the productivity of all of those expensive human resources, then what are all those computer and networking guys doing all day?
Mobile access to information is the last good competitive differentiator remaining, regardless of industry. Your mobile strategy is the key to lowering costs, improving service, and innovation. So it makes little sense to defer purchases of mobile IT products provided that an ROI model can be built. And ROI is most often a function, in this case, of (a) carefully defining what information needs to be accessed by whom, when, where and in what form; (b) limiting choices as to handsets, applications and network services to take advantage of volume economies of scale; (c) putting in place appropriate security and acceptable use policies to limit liability exposure; and (d) carefully monitoring via mobile device management tools what users are doing and what problems are occurring, and taking corrective action with respect to both policies and systems as soon as possible. It's just not that hard. Or, of course, one can always wait until next year for what surely will be a better crop of solutions. Smart organizations, however, call that an upgrade plan.
Mobile strategy checklist:
- First things first: Before even thinking about hardware and software, start with information - what information is needed by whom, where, when, and under what circumstances? Draw a map of how information flows in applications to be mobilized.
- Policies before handsets: Next, make sure your employee agreements, security policy, and acceptable-use policy are all up to date.
- Training and support: Simple solutions are best, but be certain you've considered the costs and logistics involved in getting users up to speed and in handling problems.
- TCO and ROI: Make sure you understand total cost of ownership (both capital and operational expenses), as well as how to determine if the solution is cost-effective (return on investment).
- Standardize: Limit options in handsets (and other mobile devices) and service plans to get economies of scale and to minimize support costs.
- Software: Make sure you understand what it will take to mobilize a given application. While the Web-services model will eventually dominate, it's not the only (or even best, in many cases) option today.
- Listen and watch: Continuous improvements typify mobile devices and systems, and these need to be integrated into planning and operations. And listen to users - they'll tell you what's working, and what's not.
About the author: Craig J. Mathias is a principal with Farpoint Group, a wireless and mobile advisory firm based in Ashland, Mass. The company works with manufacturers, network operators, enterprises, and the financial community in technology assessment and analysis, strategy development, product specification and design, product marketing, program management, education and training, and the integration of emerging technologies into new and existing business operations, across a broad range of markets and applications. Craig is an internationally recognized expert on wireless communications and mobile computing technologies and has published numerous technical and overview articles on a variety of topics.