According to a study done by American mobile solutions provider XCubeLabs, 67% of CIOs and other IT professionals surveyed believe mobility will impact their businesses as much as or more than the internet did in the 90s. Add to this the fact that Gartner notes that software as a service providers (think cloud computing) will represent more than 50% of profits in the customer relationship management (CRM) market by 2016. Going mobile therefore seems to be a no-brainer.
But why then is there still a sense of hesitancy from many South African decision-makers when it comes to adopting mobile strategies? Rick Parry, MD of technology distributor AIGS, says that there are conflicting ideas, ideals, and expectations around enterprise mobility. “Sitting in Johannesburg, we have world-class services considering what is available in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. There is no precedent for what we have here. And even though we are still a third world country, many of the technology and solutions around us are first world. But when it comes to mobile voice and data, the country remains hamstrung around the age-old issues of bandwidth and the high cost of accessing mobile data.” Comparing us to Kenya, for example, Parry says that the people there cannot afford smartphones so apps are developed that work on feature phones. “The rest of Africa appears to be smarter than us as they are using cheaper devices that require less bandwidth. This is resulting in the development of more interesting apps for business and consumer use.”
According to Kevin Jacobson, GM of enterprise marketing at MTN Business, more flexible mobile solutions at more affordable rates have to happen for companies to be competitive in the market. “It is not a case of being able to move large volumes of data but giving people the ability to unlock themselves from the office environment. With mobile technology and connectivity you can access all the systems and get the benefit you need irrespective of where you are.”
An app in your pocket
Daniel Hall, country manager of Magic Software South Africa, believes that the age of mobility is resulting in enterprise apps having a lot to take on. “This is especially the case since the consumerisation of IT has given employees the power to leverage their devices and apps of choice for work. Users are so used to playing and working with apps, that certain standards and perceptions have been formed. As a result, the moment the experience does not meet expectations, dissatisfaction sets in,” he says. But for Parry it is more than just about being mobile. “There are hundreds of thousands of apps available for download but how many deliver real business value? Certainly, what we have available today is quite staggering especially looking at how the younger generation have grown up with these devices. There are real business benefits associated to mobility. However, business applications need to access data and present that in a way that is accessible on a mobile device.”
For Hall though, ensuring a quality user experience within enterprise apps should be the top priority. “If the app is too slow, struggles to load, uses too much data, does not allow for offline capability, has a different look and feel across all your other devices, and does not seamlessly connect and update your backend systems, it will not be used and may lead to increased BYOA (bring your own application),” he says. Fortunately, he says, there are mobile app platform providers that offer ease of development and important enterprise features that can help ensure that all the challenges above can be overcome.
According to Jacobson there is a big revolution happening around BYOD (bring your own device). “Companies are forced to deal with BYOD. People want to use the technology they are comfortable with whether it be an Android smartphone or an Apple iPad. Enterprise mobility management (EMM) will help companies deal with this shift to let them put policies in place to better manage this.” He says that a good example of using EMM would be to separate the business and personal segments on the device without compromising it.
For some, it is not the large corporations that will be driving enterprise mobility over the next few months, but rather smaller and more agile organisations over the next few months. “It is all about time to market or rather time to money. The bigger the organisation, the more red tape to fight through. The smaller companies will see opportunities in mobility and develop apps for this environment especially given the fact that bandwidth is becoming more widely available and more cost-effective,” says Parry. He cautions though that the best mobile apps in the world will mean nothing if the network reliability does not exist.
Parry believes that there are three things that need to come together for enterprise mobility adoption and value to be delivered. “Firstly, there is the modification or enhancement of back-end systems to make them more agile and capable of interacting with mobile devices. Secondly, there is the issue of bandwidth that needs to be addressed. And finally, the realisation of the first two points need to happen with clever people saying that they can design valuable business application for mobile device that understand the business requirements.”
While this all might sound very straightforward, the next 12 to 18 months in South Africa will see if it will be realised. Jacobson adds that companies have to embrace mobility and adapt to the changing business requirements. “We have so many things integrating around the mobile ecosystem. The reality is that mobility has to happen. It is how the company manages, secures, and benefits from it that will make the differentiation.”