ROI and enterprise mobility: The Holy Grail or more technology snake oil?

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Updated Enterprise mobility offers an unmatched opportunity to transform your business processes. This is not change in the form of a large consultancy approach, where massive business processes are redesigned over months and end users are repurposed, but rather change through simply removing large swaths of administration steps in your current process.

By example, let’s look at field requisitions of new equipment or supplies. Currently, a request is filled out or emailed so it can pass by appropriate management who will either reject or approve it for processing. The requestor however rarely knows the status of his submission and, in particular, when the inventory will arrive? If he is a field technician by example, this means he is holding a job open waiting on this equipment delivery. Paper is simply slow work.

If enterprise mobility is delivering, why did a recent survey show 71% of mobile projects deliver only average or poor ROI?

If we gave our field technician the ability to request equipment via a mobile app, not only would the request process through management faster, but he would know who has it and, if approved, when delivery is expected. The result of this expedited process is the technician can plan his work in a timely manner. So the process has not changed, but all of the handling is removed and the status of requests becomes transparent. Companies have built a bird’s nest of bureaucracy around their processes and mobility offers a simple and magnificent capability to remove complexity.

So why then did the 2014 MGI survey “State of Mobile Apps” show that 71% of mobile projects deliver only average or poor return on investment? Surely any mobile app removes, at the least, paper handling and data entry, so how can this not deliver a great return?

The problem lies in what corporations are choosing to mobilise. If you put out an app so staff can use their phone rather than the internal web portal for holiday leave requests, well, that is nice, but what has it saved?

The issue is great ROI projects are where the money is. To explain, companies need to first automate the processes in work areas that deliver revenue or impact customer experience and, as a result, also deliver revenue. Not an earth shattering observation, so why would companies ever choose to mobilise non-core activity first?

The answer is it’s easier for IT to simply give ERP extension capability – what Gartner calls “apps of record” –  than it is to move up the value chain. For example, in the oil and gas industry entering a pumper’s wellhead readings directly into a tablet would save time by eliminating the need to write down data before transferring it to an excel document. However, the business process of delivering such an app is a high multiple of effort in comparison to the holiday leave app.

Great ROI projects are where the money is – so why would companies choose to mobilise non-core activity first?

Of high concern however is the reaction of your business divisions.

When IT doesn’t deliver the mobile apps they are requesting divisions find their own solution. Specifically, they go to an app store and buy a simply configured app that places data in the cloud. The simple app isn’t ideal for what they need but at least it helps. At a corporate level this trend is a disaster, each time frustrated business users find their own solutions they are exposing corporate data to potential security risks. But who would blame them?

So the conclusion is that mobility has a great ROI, probably the best return seen for IT in the past 20 years, but only if it is at first focused on areas that deliver return to the business. But unless executive management gets behind this innovation IT will simply make mobile apps that reflect what is on today’s desktop and there is little or no financial return in this activity.

Executives need to consider mobility as part of the answer to many of their real challenges: transparency of business activity, ease of audit, responsiveness to customers, productivity of labour and quality of data in corporate systems, among others. Rarely has an IT innovation offered such a great return, and the benefits of implementing enterprise mobility is today a question of achieving return on investment, but in the near future it will become a necessity for successful competitive positioning.

Update July 3: An earlier version of this post claimed the MGI survey had 7% of mobile projects deliver average or poor ROI. The actual number is 71%. This has since been corrected.

 

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