No, It’s really not a mobile ecosystem!

by Brian Katz on May 29, 2012 · 3 comments

As my good friend (as a side note, I wrote goof first…he’s my goofy friend dammit) Benjamin Robbins decided to disagree with me about mobile ecosystems and by virtue of the fact that I think he’s still missing the point, we are going to continue the conversation on ecosystems. Now, let’s be clear, some of this comes down to terminology and as such, this is one of those times you need to be both precise and accurate.

Ben makes some really excellent points. It is hard to have an enterprise ecosystem when you are a SMB (Small to Medium Business). You may not have the breadth of solutions many larger enterprises have. There really is nothing wrong with going out and looking at new technologies and finding ways to make things work for your employees. At the end of the day, if you can’t make your employees more productive and more efficient (hopefully happier too) then it is all for naught anyway.

Where I think Ben goes off the rails though is when he is equating having a mobile ecosystem with having a new way of looking at people, process and collaboration. That isn’t a mobile ecosystem, although in his language, having mobile ecosystem would enable that.

What we are really looking at here is having a mobile strategy, not an ecosystem. If you have followed me long enough you know that I don’t believe in a mobile strategy either, at least not as a stand-alone piece. You can either have a strategy for your company or you don’t, and if you do, mobile should be a part of it. If you would like you can think of it as a subset of strategy but you will do yourself a disservice if you only consider mobile when you are talking strategy.

As I challenged everyone in my post “You want me to do what?!? A mobile strategy challenge!” what you need to do is end the quagmire of legacy thinking by enabling your users to use your enterprise data to affect the progress of moving your organization forward. The issue with doing this by only considering mobile is that it doesn’t work. It’s really a backwards way into the company for enabling the type of collaboration that is needed. The goal when people talk about mobile first is developing a strategy that doesn’t stop at just mobile devices but carries through to all the endpoints in an organization.

So let’s take a look at a mobile strategy that is really just a company’s strategy. For this example we will use ABC gum enterprises (ask your kids if you’ve never heard of it). ABC started off simply. They began with a mission statement that they wanted people to be able to work from anywhere. They then defined that they should be able to use mobile devices to do some of this work and if possible all of it. Notice that so far although they are enabling mobile devices, their strategy isn’t mobile only; it is to enable their employees to do their job from where it makes sense. Next they decided that as part of this work from anywhere strategy, they had to make their web sites and web apps available to all devices. Here is one of the crucial steps. They can either decide to make 2 websites, one for mobile only and one for laptops and desktops, or they can decide to make a single website that detects what client is viewing it. Mobile first dictates the second approach and it is also the cheaper approach, you build with multiple clients in mind and only once, which means you also have only 1 site to maintain.

ABC is off to a flying start. Next they decide that some of their non-web apps should be available everywhere. They start by looking at their expense app. As they look at their expense app they realize that it doesn’t make sense to use it in its current form when you are out to a lunch meeting or grabbing a plane somewhere. They decide to simplify it and take advantage of the device capabilities that their employees have at their disposal, this includes a camera and a GPS. They find that employees start entering their receipts faster and more accurately through the app. They then extend the app to their desktops since all of their laptops and desktops have cameras built-in or attached. Employees no longer wait until the end of the month to do their receipts, and the company finds it easier to track their expenses to their budget. They then look at the paperwork that their sales people have to deliver to their customers. They decide to make it electronic and move to digital capture of the signatures. They enable this on the tablet that their salespeople are now carrying. The beauty of this system is that now they can send the form electronically to their home office for processing. The data is collated and sent to the plants where ABC gum is manufactured and they can make batch size decisions on the fly using the devices at their disposal.

You hopefully have noticed through our example that we didn’t create a mobile ecosystem here nor did we create a mobile strategy. What we did was extend our ecosystem to include mobile devices and our strategy to start with mobile first, which allowed us to simplify our tasks and be more productive everywhere.

Getting back to Ben, I agree that there is a “Mobile Value-Proposition” and that “Mobility creates the opportunity (excuse almost) to allow enterprise IT to hit the reset button” but it is important to note that it is the reset button that allows them to get out of their mode of legacy thinking. It is a strategy to extend their devices into mobile and their data center into clouds, public, private, or hybrid, it’s not a mobile strategy or a mobile ecosystem, just a corporate strategy.

To be fair, I will be tackling the question of sharing files in the corporate setting in a different blog post, rather than short change it here.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Benjamin Robbins May 30, 2012 at 8:33 pm

Katz (cause cats are not easily herded) 😉

You make great points on the need for mobility to support the overall organization. Here is where I think we are in complete agreement – “You can either have a strategy for your company or you don’t, and if you do, mobile should be a part of it.” Mobility should play a part in supporting the company mission and objective – not be the mission and objective.

The point I make is that for some companies that strategy may mean extending existing services, as you rightly suggest, or for others it may point to green field deployments of new services. I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all strategy. It my professional experience it has often meant a mix of both. For some companies, looking at mobile enablement has been a turn-over-a-new –leaf experience. It has helped them to realize how crappy and backwards some of their processes have been. They want to connect with employees and customers in ‘radical’ new ways. But as you suggest, it has better play a part in a larger company strategy or it will end as a side-show.

I don’t think that mobility has to make companies look at things in new ways. Mobility can simply be a mundane extension of business as usual. However, it can also provide the ‘excuse’ for a fresh start. It’s not a requirement nor a guarantee that it will, but how exciting when it does!


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