Why CIOs need to mobilise now

Mobility offers a way for companies to become or stay competitive, so CIOs need to become proactive about using it to transform business processes, an industry...

Mobility offers a way for companies to become or stay competitive, so CIOs need to become proactive about using it to transform business processes, an industry expert said this week.

It's not easy. The fragmented nature of the mobile sector is contrary to the buttoned-down, controlled and secure environment that CIOs are paid to create, said Kevin Burden, vice-president of mobility at market analyst ABI Research.

He said CIOs' traditional excuse that mobiles are not secure no longer held. "There are plenty of ways to secure the device," he told delegates at Blackberry maker Research in Motion's customer conference.

Burden said there was one main reason for the proliferation of devices: the single-digit margins in traditional laptop and desktop PCs, and the 40%-plus margins on smartphones and other mobile devices. This encouraged hardware makers to introduce new mobile devices to maintain their margins, as seen by the recent announcements by Acer and Dell, among others.

At the same time, software platforms are proliferating to provide the extra functionality that users want. "Five years ago we thought it was all over and in the enterprise space it was between Blackberry and Windows Mobile. Guess what?" he said.

Burden said Nokia's announcement that it would use the MeeGo operating system it is developing with Intel for its high-end phones and other devices meant its older Symbian operating system would be priced and licensed to new players for new applications. Its estimated 2014 market share of 20%-plus, in a much larger market, required CIOs to pay attention to the mobile space, he said.

Companies that use mobile technology to get data into IT systems quicker and cleaner are more competitive, he said. Once in, information can be moved quickly to where it is needed.

This allows firms to optimise resources, cut process cycle times, be more responsive to customers, and increase usage of and hence ROI on existing applications, he said.

Burden said by 2014 netbooks would make up 160 million of sales of 325 million mobile devices (smartphones, netbooks, tablets and single application devices such as games/video players and e-readers).

"It's not all about e-mail and personal information management," he said. An ABI survey showed users also wanted word processing (80%), instant messaging (45%), social networking (43%), navigation and map apps (43%), and spreadsheets (38%), with business applications, presentations and voice over IP desired by 30%.

This will have a devastating effect on network traffic, and CIOs needed to plan for this, he said. ABI expected global network traffic to rise from 1,000 petabytes in 2008 to 18,000 petabytes in 2014, driven mainly by traffic from embedded radios (smartphones today already have four or more radios built in) as well as modems and routers.

CIOs would not be able to control users' phones unless they supplied them, Burden warned. So CIOs had to choose the best compromise of hardware and software platforms for the tasks its mobilised staff were expected to do. "This is not about (novelty) technology but about implementation," he said.

CIOs also needed to monitor usage behaviour to optimise the network operator's data plan they used, he said. With the launch of Amazon's Kindle e-reader, where the price of bits was included in the price of the book, network operators had shown how innovative they could be, he said. Companies should press them to be as innovative for them.

Burden said malware on smartphones was still very limited. The few known examples used Bluetooth to steal user ID data, but the use of open source software made it harder to attribute liability for preventing, detecting and repairing security holes, he warned.

He recommended that firms supply smartphones with security precautions pre-installed. Two-thirds of users were not concerned about viruses on their phones, and even fewer took steps to secure their use of their phones, he said.

The same applied to compliance. Some regulated sectors, such as the financial services sector, might require all calls to be recorded or even encrypted. This would affect how CIOs developed the mobilised applications as well as their choice of technology platforms, Burden said.

Once a firm had decided to mobilise its workers, CIOs had to make sure that their use was monitored in real time. This allowed problems anywhere in the system to be identified quickly and fixed to maintain the system's reliability. Nothing hurt the application's credibility like the inability to complete the transaction, Burden said.

Getting adoption rates up was easy, provided users liked the applications. Apps went viral very quickly, he said. "That's good if they like it, and it will kill it if they don't," Burden said.

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