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Enterprise Mobility & The Art Of The Possible

Smartphones offer tremendous potential to connect with customers, make employees more efficient and create new markets. Yet nothing is simple in the enterprise space, where security, data storage, authentication, and management issues are mission-critical. The key to enterprise mobility is getting past the quagmire to the art of the possible. 

Three Obstacles

Mobility in the enterprise is, almost by definition, transformative. It is transforming how employees work, what devices are used, how data is gathered, maintained, distributed and secured and how companies interact with customers and clients. Navigating transformation is never a simple matter.

There are two primary concerns that enterprises must contend with when developing mobile strategies: internal and external.

Internal enterprise mobile issues are, on the surface, relatively straightforward and follow the traditional concerns of IT departments: hardware deployment, software distribution, data security, communication solutions and day-to-day management. But straightforward does not necessarily mean easy. Enterprise computing is complicated by consumer choice of smartphones: the “bring your own device” problem. IT departments are forced to balance productivity and security. 

In a meeting in Boston this week, IBM’s VP of marketing for mobile, Mike Riegel, identified the three biggest hurdles that enterprises face in creating internal mobile solutions.

  • How to secure devices and data.
  • How to create solutions across multiple smartphone platforms and operating systems.
  • How to connect everything (back-end systems, cellular connections etc.).

Those three primary objections in the enterprise create a quandary for enterprise mobility. The problem is figuring out the future application of mobility as opposed to recreating traditional functionality in a mobile landscape. 

The same three issues also apply to external (customer- and client-facing) enterprise mobile strategies. This is where enterprise executives face the most anxiety. They know they need to do something on mobile, but what and where to start are pain points that often do not have a clear solution.

Resource Management

In talking to many mobile development firms that work with these large enterprises, a surprising theme emerges. Many Fortune 500 companies are woefully ignorant and understaffed to handle mobile application development and deployment.

There are large, very recognizable companies in the United States that have one mobile developer on their IT staff that handles everything, from iOS and Android apps to bug fixes and customer queries. The art of the possible is moot when one very overworked mobile developer is struggling to handle everything. Traditional IT staffs are equipped to manage problems and create solutions, not build apps. 

Most enterprises work on both internal and external solutions in predictable cycles that range between 12 and 36 months. This system is a legacy of the old client-server paradigm that evolved with the rise of personal computing through the 1990s and 2000s. This is where the transformative qualities of mobile clash head-on with existing enterprise structure. Whereas mobile is a fast-moving industry that iterates quickly, enterprises are simply not used to short cycles. Resources are deployed elsewhere from previous development cycles that did not prioritize mobile, leaving a vacuum in the enterprise infrastructure.

A cottage industry has developed over the past several years to fill that vacuum. Companies that are creating mobile solutions for enterprises come from every segment of the technology industry, from independent developers and consultants to startups to established mid-market companies to billion dollar behemoths looking to create new market verticals for themselves. There are boutique developers that specialize in making apps for enterprises on a contract-by-contract basis to companies like Brightcove that provide integrated development and cloud services solutions. Companies like SAP, Microsoft, Google and IBM specialize in both providing tools and resources to enterprises while also acting as consultants. Startups like StackMob or Kinvey can handle backend mobile infrastructures while wholesalers like Apptopia buy and sell apps from developers to enterprises. Almost anything that an enterprise needs to jump into the deep end of the mobile pool can be found with off-the-shelf third-party services. 

In the near term future, these third-party services will be essential for enterprises. The reason for this is fairly simple: scarcity. If I am a mobile app developer (working on either front or back end systems), the last place I am really going to look for work is a non-tech related Fortune 500 company. The technology industry is rife with talent wars for top developers with startups battling billion dollar companies like Google for a finite amount of qualified developers. Enterprises are then forced to work with those companies as opposed to employing the developers themselves. 

Assessing Possible

In a meeting with forward-looking mobile thinkers in Boston, it was IBM’s Riegel that posed the question: what is the art of the possible? 

In this context, the possible is not the current landscape that enterprises find themselves but rather the next step where companies fully harness the capabilities that smartphones can offer. As it stands right now, most enterprises are just trying to catch up to the transformation that mobility has brought. The companies that can quickly iterate through the current obstacles and move onto creating dynamic new functions will be the ones that will reap the benefits.

The question then becomes, what are the types of dynamic new functions? The near-term future will be less about repurposing CRM systems for mobile (or something similar) and moving to features that harness contextualized data, persistent location and authentication, human behavior and social awareness. Features that not only know where you are, but who you are and what you are doing. There is extreme power in that notion, but it cannot yet be harvested by most enterprises while they still search for solutions to basic problems.

Hey IT Manager, We're Your Friends

You know who you are. You are the employee who ignores mandates from the IT department. You use your own devices and apps to get the job done, company policies be hanged. The IT manager might call you a problem employee, but actually you are part of the solution.

The mobile elite is what Forrester Research, in a report commissioned by Unisys, calls tech-savvy, early-adopter employees:

“Mobile elite workers are those who make the most intensive use of multiple personally acquired technologies for work and who use them for improving their work with customers and business partners. Those technologies include smartphones, tablets, home computers and non-authorized software applications and web/cloud services.” 

This elite is an outgrowth of the fact that powerful digital technology is readily available at your local consumer electronics emporium. Consumers who buy this equipment often see no reason to use something lesser just because an employer wants them to. Indeed, Forrester found that 52% of all global workers it surveyed (and 62% of Generation Y/Z) thought their personal devices were better than those provided by their company.

The Forrester report found that members of the mobile elite use three or more devices (smartphone, PC, tablet) and work from multiple locations outside the office. They do so not because they want to but rather because they feel they need to: The IT department does not provide an internal solution adequate to get their jobs done. 

Members of the mobile elite are more engaged, innovative employees. They use third-party services like mobile video conferencing, email add-ons, chat, CRM services and file sharing services. 

IT departments are more willing and able to support these types of workers than in the past. 61% of global enterprises support personal use of mobile devices, up from 27% in the same report in 2011. Yet, there is still a gap between IT and the mobile elite. For instance, about 75% of IT decision makers view an employee's use of personal applications for work as grounds for dismissal. About 63% of IT professionals surveyed believe they are the primary decision makers for bringing in new technology to the enterprise, while 63% of mobile elite believe that they play a significant role in the company’s innovation processes. This is understandable as IT departments do not want to be marginalized, but technologically savvy employees think IT is slow and not forward-thinking. 

Most IT departments are building or procuring enterprise apps for both customers and employees, yet they are not yet willing to support the bring-your-own-app phenomenon. IT departments are worried about security and compliance, which is laudable, but they are not moving as an industry to secure employees personal devices. Only about 50% of enterprises offer basic security and app help. 

The disconnect between the mobile elite and IT departments is a result of the speed at which the mobile industry moves. Mobile, as a technology platform, is rapidly iterating. After only a few years of development, it's moving toward its third cycle of innovation (from mobile WAP sites to native apps to hybrid apps and cloud integration). Whereas the Web took almost 20 years to evolve through versions 1.0 to 2.0 to the cusp of 3.0 (where it integrates with mobile). Enterprise IT departments are still somewhere between steps one and two, figuring out how to embrace the native app culture and secure company information. If they do not accomplish that, they stand to be left behind in the next wave of productivity growth.

This is where the mobile elite are valuable. Smart workers on smart devices push the boundaries of what is possible. IT departments need to structure themselves to match the efficiency of these employees, not the other way around. 

Not so long ago, the most advanced piece of technology present at the intersection of consumer and retailer was the cash register. Today, buyers are bringing their own technology on their shopping trips - and trailing a very revealing online data footprint. One big enterprise software company is promising retailers new technology that will let retailers leverage that information to market to those consumers in real-time.

For retailers and tech companies that serve them, billions of dollars are up for grabs. If there were any doubts that there was real money to be made leveraging big data to create custom marketing pitches in real time, those doubts should be shattered by Tuesday's entrance of mega-software corporation SAP into the retail tech frenzy. The move is the equivalent of an elephant walking into a room of working mice and telling everyone, "I've got this."

SAP's product is a new implementation of its upcoming NetWeaver Cloud called SAP Precision Retailing that uses the consumer's location, social profile, needs and the time at which they are conducting their business to generate relevant content (including discounts and special deals) designed to get that particular consumer to make the purchases the retailer desires. Technology, then, as virtual salesperson.

On the surface, this is nothing new. Social media profiles have been used as a marketing tool for quite a while now, as have location-based services that suggest a business or product to you when you're nearby. SAP's product, though, is a major effort to combine a lot of different inputs and process them in real-time. SAP's pragmatic approach to this new market runs right up to the point of being just a bit creepy.

Real-Time Analysis In Aisle 14

All of this real-time processing promises a very personalized level of interaction between the retailer and consumer, according to Herve Pluche, Vice President, Retail Consumer Mobile Initiative, SAP Lab, enabling the retailer to "influence behavior."

That retailers are in the business of influencing customers is not new either - visit most any U.S. grocery store and you'll have to schlep back to the rear of the store just to get your milk. The store is trying to make sure you see lots of other items to tempt you along the way. But SAP's determination to extol the processing benefits of its new system seems destined to raise eyebrows among privacy advocates.

The profile aspect of the new Precision Retailing product could be a red flag, since it mines past transaction history (online and in-store) and social media profiles to help figure out what it is you need and want. Customers using this service will likely have given permission to the retailer to perform such actions when they click "Accept" for the Terms of Service, so there's no technical breach of privacy, but such real-time analysis could tip consumers into the creeped-out zone when they see it in action?

Of course, SAP is not exactly trying to ease customer's minds here: it wants to sell this system to the businesses that can use the capabilities. And it may not be a hard sell. The product is already in use, and doing pretty well.

Pluche related that one European grocery retailer with 12,000 stores in seven countries is using the Precision Retailing system to deliver discount information into customers' hands via smart devices and in-store kiosks. The promotions were often the same ones that were email- and direct mail-blasted to customers, but Pluche explained that identical promotions see a conversion rate eight times higher when delivered directly as opposed to mass-distributed. That's a piece of data sure to attract the attention of retailers.

The Numbers Behind SAP's Product

Retailers are very motivated to get technology like this in place. A recent Retail Systems Research study noted the "top 3 technologies reported by survey respondents were customer purchase analytics, CRM, and marketing operations planning" - right where SAP's new product lives. And despite few problems collecting customer data, only 56% of the retailer respondents now believe they know who their best shoppers are, a big drop from last year's 73% figure.

There's also a little Inside Baseball action happening here. Precision Retailing's core technology, NetWeaver Cloud, is a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) cloud computing product that has not yet been generally released. NetWeaver Cloud relies on SAP's HANA in-memory database, which competes directly with Oracle's Exadata X3 database announced at OracleWorld this weekend. SAP's launch of Precision Retailing is no doubt going to be used as an early showcase of what NetWeaver Cloud can do.

So ready or not, consumers are going to see a lot more use of their shopping and social data driving future transactions, because retailers are increasingly shifting in that direction. SAP may be one of the largest players in this rapidly evolving space, but it won't be the last.

Images courtesy of Shutterstock.

Not so long ago, the most advanced piece of technology present at the intersection of consumer and retailer was the cash register. Today, buyers are bringing their own technology on their shopping trips - and trailing a very revealing online data footprint. One big enterprise software company is promising retailers new technology that will let retailers leverage that information to market to those consumers in real-time.

For retailers and tech companies that serve them, billions of dollars are up for grabs. If there were any doubts that there was real money to be made leveraging big data to create custom marketing pitches in real time, those doubts should be shattered by Tuesday's entrance of mega-software corporation SAP into the retail tech frenzy. The move is the equivalent of an elephant walking into a room of working mice and telling everyone, "I've got this."

SAP's product is a new implementation of its upcoming NetWeaver Cloud called SAP Precision Retailing that uses the consumer's location, social profile, needs and the time at which they are conducting their business to generate relevant content (including discounts and special deals) designed to get that particular consumer to make the purchases the retailer desires. Technology, then, as virtual salesperson.

On the surface, this is nothing new. Social media profiles have been used as a marketing tool for quite a while now, as have location-based services that suggest a business or product to you when you're nearby. SAP's product, though, is a major effort to combine a lot of different inputs and process them in real-time. SAP's pragmatic approach to this new market runs right up to the point of being just a bit creepy.

Real-Time Analysis In Aisle 14

All of this real-time processing promises a very personalized level of interaction between the retailer and consumer, according to Herve Pluche, Vice President, Retail Consumer Mobile Initiative, SAP Lab, enabling the retailer to "influence behavior."

That retailers are in the business of influencing customers is not new either - visit most any U.S. grocery store and you'll have to schlep back to the rear of the store just to get your milk. The store is trying to make sure you see lots of other items to tempt you along the way. But SAP's determination to extol the processing benefits of its new system seems destined to raise eyebrows among privacy advocates.

The profile aspect of the new Precision Retailing product could be a red flag, since it mines past transaction history (online and in-store) and social media profiles to help figure out what it is you need and want. Customers using this service will likely have given permission to the retailer to perform such actions when they click "Accept" for the Terms of Service, so there's no technical breach of privacy, but such real-time analysis could tip consumers into the creeped-out zone when they see it in action?

Of course, SAP is not exactly trying to ease customer's minds here: it wants to sell this system to the businesses that can use the capabilities. And it may not be a hard sell. The product is already in use, and doing pretty well.

Pluche related that one European grocery retailer with 12,000 stores in seven countries is using the Precision Retailing system to deliver discount information into customers' hands via smart devices and in-store kiosks. The promotions were often the same ones that were email- and direct mail-blasted to customers, but Pluche explained that identical promotions see a conversion rate eight times higher when delivered directly as opposed to mass-distributed. That's a piece of data sure to attract the attention of retailers.

The Numbers Behind SAP's Product

Retailers are very motivated to get technology like this in place. A recent Retail Systems Research study noted the "top 3 technologies reported by survey respondents were customer purchase analytics, CRM, and marketing operations planning" - right where SAP's new product lives. And despite few problems collecting customer data, only 56% of the retailer respondents now believe they know who their best shoppers are, a big drop from last year's 73% figure.

There's also a little Inside Baseball action happening here. Precision Retailing's core technology, NetWeaver Cloud, is a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) cloud computing product that has not yet been generally released. NetWeaver Cloud relies on SAP's HANA in-memory database, which competes directly with Oracle's Exadata X3 database announced at OracleWorld this weekend. SAP's launch of Precision Retailing is no doubt going to be used as an early showcase of what NetWeaver Cloud can do.

So ready or not, consumers are going to see a lot more use of their shopping and social data driving future transactions, because retailers are increasingly shifting in that direction. SAP may be one of the largest players in this rapidly evolving space, but it won't be the last.

Images courtesy of Shutterstock.

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