A version of this essay was originally published at Tech.pinions, a website dedicated to informed opinions, insight and perspective on the tech industry.
Ready or not, here it comes.
That’s essentially the position businesses find themselves with regard to mobile technology and its influence on not just IT but all aspects of their organizations. The confluence of smartphones, tablets and cloud-based computing services, along with a growing percentage of millennial and Gen Y employees, is leading to a fundamental shift in how businesses are contemplating all things mobile.
There’s a growing sense of inevitability about this mobility trend. Everyone knows it’s going to happen. However, on the map to a mobile-optimized organization, not only is the route unclear, it’s also not at all obvious what the final destination is. This makes navigating the path from the present to an ill-defined future a particularly challenging task.
Thankfully, there are some relatively obvious — though still challenging — goals along the way. Workplace and work-device flexibility, for example, are waypoints along the road to a mobile-savvy enterprise toward which many organizations are now striving. Employees, particularly younger ones, are looking for the freedom to be able to do their work on any device, in any location. As simple as that sounds, however, implementing the infrastructure to enable this kind of device and location independence can be difficult, expensive, and often requires some fundamental changes to core IT policies, structure, capabilities and more.
As a result, many IT organizations take more of a Henry Ford approach to device independence: Employees can use whatever device they want, as long as it’s a company-purchased Windows PC that’s actively managed by IT and uses company-purchased or approved connectivity options. Okay, well, maybe not that bad, but it’s probably a lot closer to reality than many IT leaders are willing to admit.
Even if companies are actively embracing BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and/or other device choice policies, that doesn’t mean they’ve really embraced mobility. In fact, device choice is just the first step.
The real impact of mobility only begins to take hold when companies start rethinking processes, procedures, services, activities, expectations, measurement methods, and many other functions at the very core of how businesses operate. To do that, IT needs to start reworking existing applications or, even better, building new custom mobile applications which take into account a broader mobility mentality.
Despite a few high-profile efforts to do just that (think Apple/IBM), the reality is that only a small percentage of companies have done anything more than a few experiments in the area of custom mobile applications. And many of those efforts are actually only being done on behalf of senior management. According to a survey of IT professionals conducted by Technalysis Research, while most custom PC applications are deployed to all employees (more than 70 percent), custom tablet or smartphone applications are designed more for senior executives (50 percent), with only 40 percent of these mobile apps being deployed to the full range of employees.
However, even the availability of mobile devices and mobile applications does not mean a company has completely embraced mobility. At its core, the move to mobility requires a change in the way companies think about data and how they access, use, and secure it. Mobile devices are forcing companies to deal with these key issues.
Some companies have run into issues with mobility because they haven’t thought through these implications. Instead, they’ve discovered only dipping their toes into the tepid waters of the mobile pool can actually cause more harm than good. Security breaches, lost data, frustrated workers, IT ill-will, and lots of other bad results can befall organizations that don’t fully embrace the mobile mindset and all it entails.
At the same time, it’s easy to fall into the opposite trap of thinking mobility supplants everything. Despite its importance, mobility doesn’t and shouldn’t come at the expense of other non-mobile devices and application. In other words, while mobility changes everything, it doesn’t replace everything. Traditional PCs and custom enterprise apps aren’t going away just because you add mobility. Instead, organizations need to think about their mobile devices and mobile applications as “companions” to their existing devices, by using the devices and applications best suited to each task and figuring out ways to make them work together.
It’s not an easy process, to be sure. But, if companies really want to innovate, they also need to think creatively about how they integrate mobility into their business mindset.
If you’d like to learn more, you can also check out the Harvard Business Review webinar I did on the same topic: “Mobility in the Enterprise: Proactive or Reactive?”
Bob O’Donnell is the founder and chief analyst of Technalysis Research LLC, a technology consulting and market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. Reach him @bobodtech.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.