Attending two days on executive overview from IBM leaders may seem a strange place for a mobile analyst to be spending time. But wait, didn’t they buy a company called Worklight? What about MDM, don’t they have a play there? Both are true, but it’s not a single product that’s big blue’s big idea in mobile. They’re looking at the platform.
Fact is, IBM is working to make their plethora of tools one, contiguous base from which they can sell business solutions. Sound familiar? If you’ve bought a PC in the last five years, it should. When’s the last time you went out and bought memory one place, a processor at another, hard drive at a third and so-on? The days of piecing together commodity components to create a tool are gone in the hardware world. Sure, you can still do it, but who would? IBM – and, to be sure, their large software rivals – are seeing the impending commoditization of mobile. It’s not about playing nice with the top 10 platforms, or having apps in every mobile app store, it’s about the mobile device playing two, critical roles in business; the first, the endpoint on which users will consume information and access tools critical to their job, the second role it plays is a sensor. Approaching the design of mobile business process should start with strategic planning and governance ahead of technology adoption. To date, companies have done just the reverse.
Create the plan, then adopt the technology, unless you like high support costs.
Whether smartphone or tablet, iOS, Android or Windows, IBM sees its role as providing the tools to take processes mobile and gather insights from all of the information that mobile users generate. That big data, in turn, can act as a feedback loop to continually improve workflows and drive more efficient business, or, to use IBM’s favorite adjective, “smart” business. ,When dealing with mobile, companies have traditionally parceled out the infrastructure that makes up our mobile management tools and customer- or employee-facing apps to many different player. It’s true that a company needs a mobile control plane made up on many parts, but those parts are beginning to converge and IBM is betting on a mobile future that depends on being able to harness an integrated platform of tools that follow a business need from application design and development, through management, security and deployment and through to the analysis and data yielded by those mobile tools.
One vendor, one integrated set of tools. Sound like a big buy? It is, at the moment. The company is not shy about sharing that it’s got some holes to fill in fleshing out its solutions, and it’s not in any hurry. The calculated approach takes into account that we’re still in the early days of mobilizing business. We’ve moved from simple, standalone mobile tools, on to mobile-centric tools but have not yet reached a state where we have tools and processes that adapt on the fly to whatever device we’re using, and take advantage of that device’s capabilities.
Take the example of an insurance adjuster in the field, traditionally, “mobilizing” these professionals was all about giving mobile-formatted access to certain tools email and PIM functions, perhaps the ability to look up data on a company intranet, but the information was static, being pushed to mobile. In many organizations, taking this a step further has meant using off-the-shelf tools from mobile centric providers to foster collaboration. The result is a more functional set of tools that are mobile friendly, but often require a migration of data, come from net-new vendors and don’t yield any data back to the company on usage. The unified mobile platform from a large software provider would center on customized or from-scratch apps built with compatible libraries to access existing assets (everything from reporting tools to data protection and ID) be managed by MDM tools that can also facilitate publishing of apps to devices and provide detailed data from the use of those mobile apps. The result? When the adjuster goes to the scene of a car accident and gathers data (images, audio testimonials GPS-tagged notes) all elements of that information is managed and secured and ported back to existing company databases along with macro-statistics on how the adjusters are using the app, when, and with what data.
Few companies have their mobile ducks in a row yet to be able to “plug in” this sort of mobile development, but IBM and others in enterprise software are building their arsenal of tools when the existing stack of multiple-vendor, off-the-shelf solutions start to teeter under heavy use. IBM has made a business out of taking the uncategorized, large data sets and making sense of them (think Watson) applying this rigor to mobile could mark them as a strong player in taking the next step toward truly valuable business applications, but it will mean revisiting a lot of past tech adoption decisions.