The mobile industry has been, for many years, overly focused on the consumer, sometimes to the detriment of the business customer, but this has changed. The growth in mobile platforms that are capable of downloading, installing and running multiple applications – primarily in smartphones and tablets – has transformed the mobile end-point from a phone to a general purpose computing and communications device.
This has created a larger, more commercially oriented market for mobile applications. The games market has encouraged many types of serious application offers, some supporting sales and marketing, both business-to-business and business-to-consumer, with others addressing aspects of personal productivity.
As smartphone- and tablet-installed bases have grown the opportunity for developers has soared, encouraging more applications in a virtuous cycle. Many of the software products created are small, simple and of narrow purpose, so users’ collections of their favourite apps blur the line between business and personal use and the growth of mobile applications is stretching the capacity of the networks to breaking point.
While the industry is pushing hard with applications it is also trying to come to terms with the negative impact on the networks themselves. New technologies are called upon to meet the challenges of bandwidth, and the industry is looking at new concepts beyond the hype to support new commercial opportunities, such as near field communications and augmented reality.
Most social networking tools have adopted and exploited the use of location which mobile offers, while trying to streamline interaction so that it can happen anywhere. As well as connecting disparate employees, businesses can use social media to connect with customers and suppliers. Some analysts are already forecasting that social media will replace e-mail for a significant number of businesses in the next few years, but this would require massive advances in traceability, audit and security policies tailored for social media.
The myriad of devices, applications, social networking opportunities and emerging network technologies create confusion, but the industry has responded, picking up on the software-as-a-service (SaaS) concept to create telephony, unified communications and even platform management as service offerings. This should create an opportunity to bring communications budget management closer to an IT model.
But the industry has to find a profitable way to provide a massive increase in capacity to deliver data, having previously concentrated on voice calls, with investment in radio technologies and backhaul networks.
However, the expectation of users from their fixed internet experience is more bandwidth for lower cost, and no artificial caps. This will prove difficult to achieve, and it is not in a business’ interest for mobile carriers to struggle just when it is becoming reliant on mobile connections.
Although employees might enjoy the freedom to choose their favourites devices and social tools, they will have to take more responsibility for looking after their own hardware, applications, data and time. Keeping control will become an increasing challenge for the organisation. In particular, keeping control of ongoing mobile costs and ensuring security will become an increasing headache at a time when most organisations are looking to cut in-house IT budgets.
Individuals will continue to bring consumer products and attitudes into the enterprise, but this should not be a problem provided these can be aligned to make the employee and business productive. Policies need to be well thought-out and clearly communicated to control costs and regulate employees’ time spent working. Smart and powerful mobile technologies have removed the physical perimeter around corporate assets so security, data protection and privacy must shrink and be applied directly to precious data or lines of communication. Tackling this all in-house will generally be too much of a challenge, and businesses should look to service providers for support.