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Forrester Research: Mobile applications will empower enterprise business processes

Despite the boom in consumer use of mobile technology and the increased availability of mobile sites and tools for customer engagement, internal business use remains limited beyond e-mail and calendars. E-mail has seen virtually ubiquitous deployment by the enterprises and SMBs Forrester surveyed in early 2010, with 89% either having implemented wireless e-mail, expanding current implementations or planning to implement within the next 12 months. Calendaring and contacts showed similarly high levels of adoption of among the survey respondents (74%).

However, the mobile apps for business processes that touch internal operations and administration, as well as mobile employees, show far less uptake. Emergency response (24%), sales force automation (21%), customer-facing mobile applications (19%), and field service apps (18%) see some adoption, with lower levels of uptake related to asset management, inventory, logistics and supply chain. Based on our survey data and discussions with users and suppliers, the current state of mobile business process apps is that:

  • Custom development is predominant, but off-the-shelf use is increasing. The bulk of mobile applications in use are custom-built for specific situations. Forrester survey data shows that while some business applications are purchased from apps stores (27%) and as extensions to enterprise packages (for example CRM, 24%), the most frequent scenario is in-house development (38%) or development that's contracted to external developers (25%). Mobile middleware platform use was only 5%, but packages and custom development based on these technologies is likely to increase rapidly.
  • Off-the-shelf package offerings are in an evolutionary stage. Numerous mobile packaged applications are in the market today, both from large suppliers such as Oracle, salesforce.com and SAP, as well as from specialised ISVs and platform ecosystems (for example, RIM and Microsoft). Interviews and demonstrations with enterprise applications suppliers, however, suggest mobile adoption is at an early stage. The applications reviewed generally offered limited functionality, restricted platform choice and evolving selling and pricing models.
  • User profiles are narrowly defined. In deploying mobile applications, the target audience must be carefully defined. The most common target for mobile applications are task workers, where a specialised mobile application or device provides clear value in automating a task. Examples of highly evolved proprietary uses include freight shipping (for example, FedEx and UPS) and car rental returns. Such targeted applications are typically controlled by IT and limited to a specific company-issued device, often rugged or custom-built.
  • Mobile users ultimately determine success. Pilots are necessary for mobile applications. In rolling out a custom application for field sales, Sunbelt Rentals tried RIM and Microsoft platforms before settling on iPhone as the platform of choice in a successful mobile deployment. Usability limitations inherent in device form factors and platforms require careful usability design and testing.

Mobile business apps can enrich business processes

With mobile technology drawing so much attention today, the question facing business process professionals is less about where we are today with mobile business applications but rather where we are going. In addition to extending enterprise applications to mobile devices, mobile applications will evolve to encompass end-to-end business processes (for example, procure to pay, talent management and sales to delivery) and a broad range of business users.

Match mobile business applications to user roles

Workers fall into different classes or profiles, based on job roles and work locations. These include corporate office workers, executives, managers, telecommuters, corporate travellers, field sales, field services and operations. Mobility clearly has value for workers that frequently are out of the office.

Mobilising existing enterprise applications, by itself, will not create business process value scenarios that will motivate companies to invest in the technology. For more compelling value scenarios, the mobile applications must take advantage of capabilities unique to the devices, as well as leveraging anytime/anywhere connectivity. Device capabilities that can drive higher business process value include location presence, image capture, video recording, live videoconferencing, social networking, multimedia consumption, money transfer, bar code scanning, text messaging, data storage and Bluetooth connectivity.

Packaged application suppliers jump on the mobile bandwagon

Most enterprise applications suppliers are working on packaged mobile app development and some of them have mobile solutions available today. Mobile applications enable suppliers to extend core business technologies to more users while creating additional product SKUs and revenue growth opportunities. The market for mobile packages applications also gets a boost from smaller independent software suppliers (ISVs) that specialise in mobile technology, from start-ups to established mobile development platform suppliers such as Antenna Software and Pyxis Mobile.

Enterprise apps suppliers see mobile as a strategic imperative

Enterprise applications suppliers appear to universally agree that mobile applications are strategically important, but levels of enthusiasm vary. SAP, the market leader in enterprise applications, is one of the most proactive. SAP presents mobile as one of its top strategic imperatives, even before the Sybase acquisition, and now will extensively leverage Sybase's portfolio of mobile middleware assets to develop new offerings. Concur, Oracle, and salesforce.com are also proactive in mobile and have products in general availability. Many other business applications suppliers, including ADP, Infor, Kenexa, Kronos, Lawson and Workday, are in various stages of mobile applications strategy and product development

The excitement around new mobile devices like iPad and Android phones and the explosion of innovative consumer mobile apps seeds the market for business apps, but successful implementation is not guaranteed. Rushing to adopt this next-generation user experience is risky.

 

 

Today, we regard the mobile device primarily as a communication tool, which extends some of the functionality typically accessed via desktop computers (for example, e-mail). In the future, mobility will be taken for granted as computer devices adopt new form factors and usability paradigms. Within five years, existing limitations in mobile network bandwidth, device memory, weight, battery life, rapid data entry, and so on will mostly evaporate. This means business applications will run on any device and, in many cases, will be more useful in the hand than on the desk. Traditional ERP applications will persist for complex tasks, as will deskbound workers - these investments remain backbones for enterprises. The untethered aspects of business processes, however, can make workers more productive and increase the pace of business process execution by filling in time and information gaps. The applications will be more usable and engaging as well, as touchscreens, social collaboration, video, voice, and other multimedia functions become standard features in business applications, regardless of the device. For business process pros, this means it is critically important to work with business process owners and other stakeholders to add mobility to the functional requirements and process models for business processes under development. Use continuous process improvement techniques to modulate the rate and pace of mobility adoption into different process versions.

 


 

This is an excerpt from the Forrester Research report Mobile Applications Will Empower Enterprise Business Processes by Paul Hamerman, vice-president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, where he serves business process professionals. For more information see www.forrester.com.


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This was first published in January 2011

 

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