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Using Mobile Technology to Discover Your Path To Business Transformation

Using Mobile Technology to Discover Your Path To Business Transformation

This CITO Research Narrative addresses the challenge of discovering what mobile capabilities mean to a particular business. In our view, mobile devices and apps represent the potential for not just an incremental improvement of a business, but for transformation that helps reshape how work gets done and improves products and services offered to customers.

But you cannot just by this capability off the shelf. Implementing Mobile Device Management, offering basic productivity apps like email, contacts, and calendar, promoting BYOD and learning how to manage it, and setting up an internal app store are all important steps, but not likely to be transformational.

Agile Experimentation Is the Road to Business Results

In our view, it is possible to systematically understand the potential that mobility has for a business by following a program of orderly and agile experimentation. Based on these experiments, you can segment the user population, understand what each segment wants and needs, and perform further experiments that lead to more data and more understanding.

It is important to point out one limitation of this narrative. Companies in industries that are heavily regulated, have challenging compliance or conflict of interest issues, or must be extremely careful about privacy will not be able to start experiments until they have a way to ensure safe use of mobile technology.

A Data-Driven Program for Mobile Productivity

So what is the ideal way to promote mobile productivity?

In the most abstract sense, the ideal state is for any mobile device and any user could access every piece of content and every application in a read/write fashion. While this is a compelling vision, it goes too far. Most companies will be able to get to a state of true mobile productivity by making good choices about how to provide each class of user with access to the content and applications those users need.

But this ideal vision is deficient in another vital sense. To realize the full potential of mobility, it is important to acknowledge that you don’t yet know all the ways that mobility will improve your company; they must be discovered through experimentation. In addition, applications may need to be adapted to work best on mobile devices. In other words, the ideal vision must include the ability to learn from experience and to experiment affordably.

Here is a checklist for accelerating progress.

Stage 1: Establish Goals, Policies, and Expectations

The first step toward mobile productivity is to understand where you want to go. For a small business, considerations such as data loss protection, compliance with privacy and other regulations, and usability may not be important. Being able to access web applications through browsers or apps provided by vendors may be enough.

For larger organizations, some of the quick solutions probably won’t work because they can’t protect data. In addition, some first generation solutions, such as virtualization, provide an awkward user experience.

The right approach is to define what you can live with.

If you need to allow users to download, view, and edit content, but cannot tolerate loss of data, consider an approach that provides a secure container that isolates downloaded data from other apps.

If you can live with web versions of existing apps, do so in a way that makes them as easy as possible to use.

The list of considerations may be long, but by thinking through your goals, the requirements for crucial issues such as security and privacy, and the kind of usability required to achieve adoption, you will have a strong foundation for comparing alternatives.

Stage 2: Offer Incremental BYOD

Implementing a BYOD program is a popular way to attack mobile productivity. The problem is that such a program provides help for personal productivity applications, but generally leaves needs to access content and existing applications unmet.

If you want to improve morale and help take a baby step toward, a BYOD program may be a great tactic. But we suggest another approach. Instead of a companywide BYOD program that only goes partway to true mobile productivity, choose a smaller group of key workers. Allow them to participate in a BYOD program that provides access to all the content and apps that they need.

Such an experiment offers a massive amount of learning to make later companywide BYOD efforts successful. In addition, incremental BYOD enables you to test different approaches to providing secure access to enterprise apps.

Stage 3: Provide Content First

The fun and flash of mobile applications often steal attention from the most important first step in a program to achieve true mobile productivity: providing content to mobile users. Remember, it pays to be humble about your understanding of what people need. By making content available and tracking what content people use, you can get evidence about what people to want to do on the road.

There are many challenges to providing access to content. A simple way is to just use a web browser to access a filesystem, or some other repository like SharePoint, Dropbox, Google Docs, SkyDrive, or Box. This is fine if you aren’t worried about what happens to the data after it is downloaded to the device. But most companies are worried. They want to know that data can’t be emailed or shared by another mobile app. In this case, it is vital to have a safe space, usually called a container, where content can be saved. Containers are also vital to making BYOD work because they allow corporate content to be wiped clean when someone leaves a company without touching personal information.

While viewing is important, to really make the content useful, it must be viewable in a high fidelity manner, so that all the work done to make something well-designed and effective can shine through. Then being able to edit content and save it back to the server completes the picture.

Most people are skeptical that a content-first approach is the right way to go, until they start seeing how much they learn from taking this step.

Stage 4: Publish Targeted App Catalogs

Because the volume of devices and apps will only keep increasing, mobile app and content offerings must be organized so that each role can quickly find relevant information. Even modest size companies will need some sort of catalog offering tailored to each department or role.

At first, such a catalog may contain only apps from public stores, or those provided by enterprise app vendors. Simply curating the vast amount of apps that are available can help staff find ways to be more productive.

Curation of content also helps. Providing quick access to the repositories that have content needed while using a mobile device can increase productivity. A catalog also offers a way to introduce new apps or content.

Stage 5: Offer Enhanced Delivery for Existing Apps

The first four stages provide a strong foundation for mobile productivity. The next challenge is to expand the number of available apps, both versions of existing enterprise applications and new custom apps that emerge out of the learning that takes place from watching mobile workers.

Most programs for mobile productivity get stuck after the first four steps. The challenge of providing access to existing applications, especially those that were not intended for use on mobile devices, is pretty thorny. It may not be possible to modify existing apps easily
to create versions that work for mobile devices.

The ideal first step would be would be to deliver existing enterprise applications as is with the best user experience possible in a way that maintains security and also prevents data leakage.

The next step would be to deliver those applications in a way that provides the ability to modify the user interface to make the app more usable on a device, without having to change the underlying application code.

The highest level would be to allow apps to take advantage of device capabilities to help capture data and make use of sensors in a way that provides better data to the application but does not require changing the underlying code.

The right solution for a particular situation may vary. Each approach has strengths and weaknesses. UI virtualization using something like Citrix allows access to an enterprise app without modification but usability is low. Offering a browser through a VPN provides a better user experience but doesn’t protect against data leakage. A mobile app container approach in which the UI for a browser-based application is run inside a container on the mobile device is able to perform most of the three steps toward using enterprise apps. This approach is newer than the others, but as it is proven, it is likely to find wider adoption.

Stage 6: Create Custom Web Apps

The biggest victories in mobile productivity come when new applications are provided to staff that are based on a deep understanding of how to work more efficiently. For example, Starbucks made their field staff more efficient by creating a mobile app that allowed inspection reports to be filled out on tablets, but also allowed inspectors to reach out to each other and ask questions about what they found in earlier inspections and to collaborate with store managers about addressing problems. Both the quality and the efficiency of the reports went up as well as the speed of implementing remedies.

The question then, in a world of many platforms and BYOD, is how to create apps that will provide a good user experience across many devices but also be able to take advantage of native capabilities. Of course, providing security and preventing data leakage is vital. In addition, the lower the cost of creating and maintaining apps is key.

One solution that balances all of these requirements nicely is using web application technology such as HTML5, JavaScript, and libraries like PhoneGap to create applications intended for mobile delivery. Most of the time, these applications easily run on all devices. When you add the capabilities provided by a mobile app container, you get security, prevention against data leakage, and the ability to take full advantage of device capabilities.

Using web application technology also makes it easier to find developers since there are far more web developers than mobile developers experienced in native app development on iOS and Android.

Creating web apps for mobile use is going to be a popular way to provide an excellent user experience for new functionality.

Stage 7: Create Custom Native Apps

For certain apps, a native app may be the right choice. Native apps are able to do anything that is possible on a device. Most of the time native apps are developed for one mobile platform, usually either iOS or Android, but there are ways to develop native apps that run on both platforms using multi-platform development environments like Eachscape.

Native apps, if designed properly, can offer the best possible user experience, but are the most expensive to maintain. They can be secure and protect against data leakage. For the highest volume uses, especially when an app is going to be released to the general public, native apps can be the right choice.


To achieve true mobile productivity, we must go beyond device-washing and app-washing and get the needed content and apps in the hands of staff wherever they are. Having the latest mobile device should be more than a corporate status symbol. What we really want is to save time and get all of our work done, right now, without waiting to get back to the office. That’s the key to driving real value from mobility.

By executing the checklist described above so that mobile staff get immediacy and a rich context as quickly and as cheaply as possible, you will be able to find your own way to true mobile productivity and avoid common mistakes.