Mobility is not a new concept in the world of enterprise software. For me, it started when my former employer handed me a corporate pager. It wasn’t for him to page me when he needed me to recover a deleted file or to fix a broken application – although that did happen from time to time. It was for the servers to page me when something was wrong in the data center. The machines sent me actionable information which allowed me to respond to the situations before they became emergencies.
As time moved forward so did mobile technology. Pagers have been replaced by iPads, androids, blackberries, Windows mobile devices among others. The demand for actionable information has skyrocketed. Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with the CIO of one of Cincinnati’s largest hospitals about trends in mobility. He shared a number of insights with me.
Hospitals are very dynamic and demanding environments where information is collected, analyzed, distributed and acted upon. Doctors, like executives, want to be informed of important tasks that require their attention. Doctors also want access to x-rays and lab results regardless of whether they are in the hospital or not. Nurses need to chart vital statistics for all the patients they are responsible for and really don’t have time to wait for their turn at the computer.
The push by the federal government to reduce the cost of health care and improve patient care has forced the industry to address its use of technology and to consider mobility to enhance the productivity of its workforce. Manufacturers face the same situations today.
The rapid pace of innovation, desire to maximize profits and control costs have lead many companies towards mobilization as a means to make people more effective. They also need to be very concerned with the security of their data just as the healthcare industry must protect the confidentiality of their patients.
Tough choices for IT – BYOD and What to Support
One issue that IT departments must face will be how to construct the user interface (UI) layer to surface all this data. You have mobile devices that can surf the internet or run their own apps. Which do you support? Well the decision may not necessarily be yours or it may be an “all of the above” answer.
Employees from the C-level down are bringing in their own consumer devices to use as tools to assist them in the enterprise. It’s a pretty reasonable request actually. Who wants to carry around two devices to help you manage your home and work calendars? And with the plethora of apps in the app stores, can’t we just subscribe to an app to get the data we want?
It’s hard to say what the right approach is. Mobile users like the simplicity of mobile apps. These apps generally do one little job exceptionally well. But how many little apps can you support? Whereas if you used a web-based system for your mobile devices, sure you have less stuff to maintain, but you have to worry about rendering the sites on more browser technologies. So in this case you have to pick your battles. Invest the time in researching the devices your users have and then tackle the top devices.
Mitigating the Risk of Security Failures
So you targeted your mobile platform. You decided either to build webs or mobile apps or probably some combination of the two. Your next question is how to service the apps with data. This becomes a bigger issue because the news is frequently telling us about instances of security breaches involving thousands of identities stolen from credit card processors or some government agency losing a laptop that contains thousands of social security numbers.
IT would prefer you to tighten up your internal controls and limit access to data to the four walls of the enterprise. That approach is impractical. Your mobile users want to consume the data you have in your four walls, but they may be on the road needing to access it.
What can you do? Most mobile device retailers offer applications that can remotely wipe the device if it is stolen. Mandatory installation of these apps will assure that your IT operation can easily wipe the device remotely if it is lost or stolen. Another option is to host those pieces of information that are needed in a public cloud where vendors like Microsoft, Google and Amazon can assure security.
Users demand mobility. Companies attain a competitive edge by embracing mobility anywhere it makes sense. Mobility is here to stay. Your enterprise needs to develop a mobility strategy that delivers value to your users and thus facilitates the delivery of additional value to your customers. The challenges of supporting and securing the apps and data associated with mobilizing your operations are great, but not impossible to address. They are almost certainly displaced by the benefit delivered from mobility.