As smartphone adoption in South Africa continues to accelerate beyond all expectation, enterprises are increasingly focusing on how to capitalise on a ‘mobile-enabled’ workforce. The fact that so many employees now have smartphones is a massive boon for companies – enabling them to surface core enterprise services and extend them into the hands of employees. This improves efficiency, productivity and makes the working environment far more flexible.
While simple in theory, the complexity comes in when one considers the myriad of standards. Firstly, there are four broad types of architecture: mobile apps, responsive web sites, web-apps and hybrid apps. Secondly, there are a number of mobile operating systems in use, most notably iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone, Symbian, and S40. Albeit that Nokia has ceased production of phones using Symbian and S40 earlier this year and also ceased developing the Symbian and S40 OS in favour of using Windows Phone. And finally, there are literally hundreds of handset types – from tablets, to the rarely-liked ‘phablets’, to high-end smartphones, and all the way down to the low-cost smartphones that sit just one step up from feature phones. All have their own screen dimensions, sizes, and resolutions.
Developing a mobile enterprise strategy is indeed an intimidating thought. And for those that do overcome the initial inertia, there’s the risk that embracing mobility in the wrong way will just end up adding more complexity and confusion, and add to IT support costs. If there isn’t a critical mass of users interacting via mobile devices, then exposing enterprise services to mobile handsets isn’t adding any value. However, with a mobile strategy that is tightly linked to the organisation’s broader business goals, and appropriate to the users and their devices, then the possibilities are limitless. Companies can extend the edges of their organisations, enter new markets and customer segments, develop competitive advantages, and radically increase the speed of doing business.
Think, for example, of the bank that can empower staff to remotely open new customer accounts in rural areas. The camera function can capture images of ID books, perform optical character recognition (OCR) to extract data from the images, customers can sign with digital pens, and forms can be completed on-the-spot. What would previously have required a trip of tens, or even hundreds of kilometres to the nearest bank branch, can now be done from anywhere with basic connectivity.
Sales reps can place orders directly from client’s premises while doing their regular visits – instantly firing off a chain reaction within their company, and enabling the ultimate delivery of goods in faster time. Mobile solutions that empower staff in this way illustrate the concept that we refer to as ‘zero distance’ – closing the gap between businesses and their customers. As an organisation’s customers, partner companies, those in the supply chain, and employees benefit from automation and mobility, the distance between these entities collapses to virtually nothing. But how does one go about charting the course for enterprise mobility? We recommend discovery workshops that seek to unearth the biggest opportunities that mobile could present, as well as the most pressing challenges it could solve. Depending on the nature of the organisation and the legacy infrastructure it uses, some systems are easier and more applicable to ‘mobilising’ than others. In terms of delivery channels, we generally find that well-designed, responsive web sites are the best choice for “free-flow” content such as intranet portals for example. For key processes and complex systems interfaces, one of the three ‘apps’ variations are often the optimal format – as they provide for a better experience when inputting and interacting with data.
The future may be uncertain, but one thing we can be clear on is that “mobile-everything” will become a dominant theme. Those companies that invest in their mobile enterprise strategy will attract the best staff and empower them with the most useful functionality.
By Marc Fletcher, Director at Intervate – a T-Systems company