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Mobile challenges: no end in sight

Read time 9min 50sec

Five years ago, tablets in the enterprise were rare. Today, they're ubiquitous and causing headaches for IT managers, security officers and boardrooms everywhere. Will things get more chaotic in 2013, or will they calm down? Paulo Ferreira, head of mobile product and enterprise mobility at Samsung, believes the former.

"What we can expect is more platforms and more choices," he predicts. "Windows 8, for example, is going to play not only in the tablet form factor, but also in the PC form factor. Corporates are asking about Windows 8 because they have a Microsoft infrastructure. They arguably don't want to add to the existing complexity, but it's still going to be a choice in 2013."

As the new kid on the block, Microsoft's Surface tablet has the potential to be a game-changer, but only if the quality, pricing and user adoption make it so. Comments Sean Wainer, country manager of Citrix southern Africa: "I think it very much hinges on the quality of the Surface device because the market is driven by user adoption rather than company adoption. We're seeing a big groundswell in 'bring your own device', and what users choose will be what drives adoption. But, do we really care about the device anymore? Shouldn't it become more about the application? Then the issue becomes more about mobile application management rather than mobile device management."

Jim Burgess, enterprise mobility specialist at IS, says companies can finance Surface if they want.

"The way Microsoft wants to take the surface to market is to distribute it through the normal enterprise agreement, amortised over 36 months. That is a very compelling argument for corporates. There are also big expectations for Windows 8 and Office 2013, which should greatly improve the usability of mobile devices. As the diversity of devices grows, management of them becomes more important, as does the level of visibility."

Ferreira agrees.

"The one thing that I guess differentiates the Surface is native Office, which will resonate with the corporate user," he says. "Native Word, PowerPoint and Excel are all fundamental productivity tools for the enterprise environment."

Everyone had exactly the same arguments for laptops.

Gavin Hill, technology director: network and converged communications, Dimension Data, doesn't think Office per se will be the key.

"I don't believe that a screen or surface-based device demands Office and I don't believe users want it on there either. Office was written for someone with a keyboard and mouse in front of them."

But he feels the common platform has an advantage.

"I think IT departments could really benefit from a common platform to support if Windows on a tablet form factor takes off widely."

Mark Strathmore, director of ecosystem alliances at Nokia SA, says it's certainly valuable to have a tablet offering as a vendor if the tablet is going to be an important corporate device, but agrees with the support argument.

"There are two other factors that we need to consider," he notes. "One, the consumer devices are dominated by the operators, and two, the corporate devices will be dominated by the ones that are easiest to support. Microsoft, in my opinion, has the best supportability by far."

David Hislop, director of Korwe, says tablets could replace PCs in plenty of places.

"I see tablets and tablet-like devices becoming workaday tools. When you go to check out at a retail store or visit your doctor or, indeed, visit a lot of other places, a tablet is what those people will be using to do their jobs. I don't believe Office is the tool that those kinds of workers want to use; they will want some sort of domain-specific tool instead. And those devices will be invading more ordinary environments. It's not a question of whether it will or not ? it will ? but it's how the devices bring data to people that will count."

Samsung's Ferreira agrees.

"One of the things we can expect to happen in the business environment is that companies will segment business users by specific niches in the workplace and decide that certain users will be better off with a tablet rather than a PC-type device. Some of this behaviour is being driven from a software point of view, but some is being driven by companies saying this user is much better off having a device that's fit for purpose."

Device implications

If mobile devices continue to grow both in numbers and diversity, as they look set to, then what does an enterprise do? As Dimension Data's Hill points out, the device itself is not the real cost centre.

"I agree that there will be a proliferation of devices, especially when the cost is coming out of the user's pocket rather than the corporate's pocket. But sooner or later, enterprises are going to wake up and realise that this thing is going to cost them a lot if they don't understand how to control the costs. This great idea of mobility is not necessarily returning on investment. Bandwidth, security, support, management, application licensing are all factors. I can buy a dollar app here, some 3G here and file an expense claim for a small cost, but sooner or later all these costs start filtering into the business."

Gabi Strip, executive head of business mobility at Vodacom, has seen these sorts of questions before.

"It was a few years ago when we saw the laptop enter the corporate market and everyone had exactly the same arguments: what are we going to run on this? What suite? What business applications? The point of devices is that they create possibilities, some of them beyond desktop applications."

Native Office will resonate with the corporate user.

Craig Collins, CEO of Cradle Technology Services, also thinks it's more about the data and the applications than the device.

"The device is almost irrelevant. As they become more standard and corporates start to embrace them more, it will become more about presentation of data. We're seeing a suite of applications going into corporates that allows you to do pretty much anything from an iPad."

There's a value argument as well, says Keith Jones, strategic business development director at Unison.

"It will come back to sales: who will be able to drive sales into a corporate environment? And the motivation must come back to business intelligence. The guys who can show at an executive level that mobility delivers real intelligence will be the ones that get the cheque."

And there's another factor at work too: how to effectively get data onto a mobile device. Samresh Ramjith, CTO of Dimension Data Security Solutions, says 2013 will see the start of more data abstraction. "The trouble with applications at the moment is that they were built with specific data in mind and the display was built around a specific format. Now we have mobile device proliferation and the cloud. So we will start seeing front-ends that can pull data from any source. We're already starting to see some of it although it's read-only. The question will be how to take a customer application and unlock it so that you can get the right information directly rather than in some bastardised form."

And there's another large assumption hiding in there, one that may not be correct, notes Peter Scheffel, CTO of BBD.

"The mobile and tablet world assumes that big corporates have all that data-organising and service-enabling correct and that you can simply add to it. But a developer churning out apps has no access to that enterprise information. To build a good tablet app, you need thought, design and ability to get access to the corporate, plus significant infrastructure to be built to expose it. And it must be reliable 24/7. It's a significant piece of work."

Korwe's Hislop says the expectations for mobile application development also need a reality check.

"For the last ten years, the app ecosystem has been promoted as the way to get rich as a developer. But if you did the maths, it quickly becomes apparent it's not. Yes, there are a few people who become super-rich, but the majority don't. Ultimately, the valuable data lies in the enterprise and it needs to be got at in a sophisticated way. It won't be got at by people sitting on the Internet churning out apps that won't sell. It needs to be accessed by using the discipline and rigmarole that we all know from 30 years ago. The fact that some PHP guys can develop a .mobi site is not consequential. We need real data and we need to present it in an intelligent way. The argument is how to take the bits and turn them into something that people care about."

Security and privacy

On top of this are some natural security and privacy issues. Says Dimension Data's Ramjith: "Half the challenge from a security perspective is that there's more enterprise data in the public domain than ever before, and there's risks associated with enterprise data out there."

Cradle Technology Services' Collins says that's a human problem.

"The whole security concern that corporates have is that there's confidential information on your iPad. It's got to become about trust: if I work for a company, then I should be trusted to look after that data. I could use the photocopier to copy data if I wanted to. What's the difference between that and an iPad app?"

And then there's the other half of the equation: data sent to devices from companies. William Hardie, executive head of enterprise mobility at Vox Telecom, says this is not to be underestimated.

"The importance of being able to control what data gets pushed to what is a very personal device is going to be very important. It won't be about e-mail so much, but more about Facebook, Twitter and other services. Legislation like POPI is very important: we need to realise that users don't want to be contacted all the time. We need to put in place mechanisms that allow users to opt out or do whatever they need."

Nokia's Strathmore says there's a big picture to all of these issues.

"Our industry is cyclical: we contract and then expand. Every time there's a contraction, there follows an expansion that incorporates more consumer-oriented devices, and the network that serves them becomes more, based on a public network of some sort. What we're seeing now is the network conveyance is the Internet and the devices at the edge are smartphones. The problems haven't really changed much, but the speed of them has changed."

Companies struggling with the implications of mobile technology now may derive little comfort from the fact that they ain't seen nothin' yet.

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