Avoiding a piecemeal mobile strategy

It is easy to see that world is ‘going mobile’, from smartphones and tablets to radical innovations such as wearable technologies and the highly connected internet of things. The impact on consumers is wide-ranging and fast-changing, but despite this, some businesses seem to think that this is a phenomena that they can take their time to evaluate further to see how it ‘pans out’. Or their IT departments think that it will be ok to slowly edge towards decisions by perhaps dealing with those shouting loudest (often senior executives) first.

This would be a mistake.

While it is true to say that early mobile adoption was often the domain of the ‘pink collar’ executives (so termed because they might buy their shirts in Thomas Pinks in London or New York) with devices such as the business-like BlackBerry, mobile usage, acceptance and even eagerness has spread to all job roles through a multitude of desirable smartphones and tablets from Apple, Samsung and others.

This led to the trend of bring your own device (BYOD) among many employees, but rather than reducing company expenditure by eliminating the potential need for the organisation to purchase the hardware, it transfers investment demands into other areas, particularly IT management and security.

In the previous deployments of mobile technology, select individuals could be given, for example, a corporate laptop and costs could be foreseen and planned by making incremental increases in the number of employees to whom laptops were deployed.

In the modern mobile world the challenge rapidly surges to include all employees and all devices. Some organisations are trying to contain the growth of mobile access, but employees are aware of technology options through their consumer use and think that the technology they have at home is often better than in the workplace. Clearly this is not efficient or effective, so organisations need to embrace the mass adoption of mobile and apply the right resources to make it safe, secure and sustainable.

Acceptance of user choice, either by permitting a subset of BYO devices or by the organisation buying devices more in line with employee preferences essentially means that almost any type of device will need to be supported and managed. This means investment in a mobile device management (MDM) system, ideally closely related to desktop management tools, but with further capabilities to deal with mobile specific issues such as cellular and public Wi-Fi network access and airtime contracts.

The risk of loss or theft of mobile devices is not insignificant, although somewhat reduced when personal choices are exercised or the device belongs to the individual, and although insurance can cover hardware costs, loss of working time and data is more significant. A suitably sophisticated MDM will make it simple to not only apply some uniform protection and configuration controls to the complete fleet of devices, but also to quickly re-instate a new device with the setup of one that has been lost or stolen.

However just protecting the hardware is no longer sufficient, especially as employees expect to be able to use mobile devices for personal as well as business purposes. Organisations must also take a strong interest in mobile applications and apply suitable levels of security to both what apps are on the devices and what corporate applications and data can be created, used or accessed on the move.

It might be that the best way to serve a large fleet of mixed roles of mobile users is to put in place a corporate app store and have some way to allow employees to self-provision access to central services and applications, with appropriate controls to ensure that only those employees who are permitted certain applications are allowed them.

To get enough future flexibility to bring the best out of mobile working, this type of strategy and support model needs to be put in place today, rather than enduring the chipping away of IT support resources by the ad hoc creep of a diversity of mobile devices, users and applications.

Getting it right might require more investment upfront, but it will save time and money over time and ensure that employees are as productive as possible from the outset.

In addition to controlling who has access to what apps and on what devices, the vulnerability and integrity of data accessed and used on the move needs to be assessed and securely managed.

This is the issue most likely to be keeping IT managers awake at night, and no wonder. There have been plenty of high profile losses of data, and mobile makes the task of data security much harder. There are software tools that will protect against data loss and leakage, as well as applying digital rights management. In addition to the technology, this also requires one vital ingredient that is frequently overlooked – training. All too often only simple ‘how to use’ training is put in place, but mobile technologies encourage such a dynamic shift in work practices that employees would benefit greatly from coaching as to how to safely and securely get the best out the tools at their disposal.

Effective mobility benefits from a wide strategy that encompasses productivity and training. It is thus not a piecemeal approach, but all embracing. It doesn’t necessarily mean providing everyone with the latest gadget from California, but it does mean having a way to cope with managing a portfolio of technologies, dealing with complexity, and requiring a step change from thinking small (focusing on the devices) to thinking big (how it changes the business).

Overall, mobile brings huge benefits but significant changes to organisations and the old model of small proof of concepts and slow rollout is no longer valid. Employees are well aware of what technology is available and want to participate in selecting what works best for them as individuals. However, the collective needs of the organisation mean that controls need to be put in place, and IT departments needs a strategy for the safe management of devices, apps and most critically data used by employees on the move.

For some thoughts on how to finance the changes required to address an enterprise mobile strategy as a whole, download this free report.