An Abundance Of Apps For Consumers, A Scarcity For Enterprise
With the explosion of mobile apps for consumers, I’ve been wondering why the corporate enterprise is lagging so far behind in its ability to provide mobile apps for its employees. Clearly there is huge benefit for allowing their employees to use their mobile devices to do day-to-day activities, such as checking inventory, reordering, approving purchases and expenses, getting latest forecasts or results, monitoring on-going status reports, updating contact information, enter customer meeting notes, etc.. There are certainly dozens, and perhaps hundreds, of such frequent (yet simple) tasks that can be done on mobile devices that it seems shortsighted for companies to not exploit this opportunity.
What’s standing in the way?
It seems to me there are three barriers to this, some requiring new technology and some necessitating a re-thinking of the mobile opportunity. Let’s take a look.
- Security. Perhaps the number one requirement for mobile apps in the enterprise is security. RIM solved this with its BlackBerry Enterprise Server. But now that employees are bringing in their own iPhones & iPads and Android devices, security has again come to the forefront. Rightly so. But this is now being solved by MDM (Mobile Device Management) vendors, opening (again) the possibility of mobile access to the enterprise.
- Effort. Mobile applications have been viewed as big projects … the typical design, implement, test, and iterate … type of projects, taking months if not years to complete. There are often focused on large tasks (e.g., field operations) that are critical to the enterprise functions (think of FedEx and their thousands of mobile users picking up and delivering packages). All well and good … important and beneficial. I don’t want to diminish these types of mobile apps, only to indicate that ALL mobile apps are being viewed this way … big projects and thus needing big ROIs, big project teams and lengthy timelines. But this is a narrow view of mobility.
- Attention. What about the simple tasks mobile users could perform, things like checking inventory, getting status reports, updating information. These apps can be built in days, if not quicker. But they are being ignored. Business users are starting to demand such mobile apps from corporate IT. “Look at what these consumer apps can do for me … why can’t I get business apps here at work?” We are now seeing tools that enable these frequent, simple tasks to be created and deployed in days, if not hours. In fact, some tools can be used directly by business users to create their own mobile apps. Corporate IT needs to catch up.
I believe we will see an explosion in enterprise apps, just like we’ve seen in consumer apps. With the security issue being solved and with a focus on building dozens of mobile apps for everyday tasks, I see a huge opportunity for making these mobile devices a key platform for the enterprise.