It’s the data, stupid: Why mobility is not really about mobility but connectivity

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Editor's note: The author feels that given the political climate, it was reasonable to adopt James Carville's campaign management policies in reminiscence.

Mobility is not about mobility really – it’s about connectivity and data. Or in other words, why ‘app refactoring’ (which we define as remote desktop or screen scraping, or any other ‘agent in the cloud pretending to be the user clicking on things in a virtual machine/browser on-premise’) wasn’t a great idea three years ago, and is now even worse.

I’ll explain why. When a CIO needs to provide employees with mobile access to data, the complexity isn’t whether she uses native applications (although they’re obviously better), or HTML5. It’s actually about how data is accessed, and then how users get to interact with it.

When we were looking at solving mobility, we put ourselves in the client’s shoes. The main question being asked by the CIO is this: what do you do when you have 50,000 employees with mobile devices and you need to give each of them the best tools to do their job?

Let’s assume that as a CIO, she bought 10,000 mobile devices. The CEO has approved $40 million for devices (we all know that CAPEX is unlimited these days…) and then spent another few million ($0.5-$4 per user per month) on MDM, because the CSO said you can’t put the devices out without it.

Fast forward a year. Let’s be optimistic and say the mobile devices are in the field and the MDM is deployed – and let’s also assume the CIO gets Salesforce on the sales folks’ devices, and email is working along with Concur’s app. What now?

Well, there are two next steps:

  • She needs to get apps on the phones
  • She needs to plan for the next asset refresh

This is a problem, because there are now three other issues:

1. The CIO is in the middle of a bunch of integrations and upgrades for SAP, Oracle, and consolidating three Salesforce instances (sales, marketing and field services all signed up separately and pay separately out of their own budget)
2. “Cloud cloud cloud!” “Hybrid!” “Security!”
3. And in one year and counting, the CEO comes back to ask: “Why did I spend $10m on devices that have less functionality than I had on my BlackBerry?”

Building and deploying mobile apps in the enterprise is all about the data. That’s the hardest problem to solve – and if you solve it, all the other problems become relatively minor

So here is the important question a smart CIO should be asking herself: do I really think that solving mobility by giving remote access to an old system while I work on upgrading, sunsetting or fixing that old system is a smart strategic decision?

How can she really answer this question without knowing what her IT world will look like in one to three years? How far will she be with cloud migration, for instance? How many SaaS products will have replaced legacy systems? How many users will want mobile? How many BYOD users will she have?

Considering all this, the problem with app refactoring is that it is a temporary solution the CIO knows is suboptimal. If your web app is not responsive, it’s probably quite old and you should be thinking about upgrading it anyway (you do know that IE is dead?) If your desktop app is fat, then it was probably not build as an end-user tool in the last few years…and therefore should be upgraded.

In today’s ROI-driven, time to market focused business environment, the most important thing is to give the users value earlier rather than later. If you give them value, they will trust you. User experience is key, and service integrity is equal. So having a mobile web app wrapped in a container that instructs a cloud server that then instructs an agent inside the network to click on your behalf and populate fields definitely does not apply.

Building and deploying mobile apps in the enterprise is all about the data. That’s the hardest problem to solve, and if you solve it, all the other problems become relatively minor.

History tends to repeat itself while adapting to context; desktop web apps replaced desktop clients by benefitting from server-based architecture. Mobile doesn’t follow the same paradigm. It’s a different form factor that isn’t just a different interface – it’s a fundamentally different workflow.

In fact, every function or workflow employees or customers perform throughout a typical day ideally needs to be optimised for a completely different front-end approach, and sometimes more than one. In some cases, the best user experience is a native iPhone app, sometimes it’s HTML5, in others it’s a desktop client, and in others still it’s a bot within a messaging app.

Therefore, to really provide a mobile solution, one needs to deal with two aspects: which interface to interact through; and the best workflow. Simply taking an existing flow and giving mobile access devoid of context just doesn’t help. It’s why, ultimately, most of the app refactoring solutions never get to deployment or renewal – because the end users just can’t make use of them.

Editor’s note: Read more about SkyGiraffe’s ‘meta connector’ for Tableau – which also features a heavy focus on data – here.

 

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