Is Mobility Immature?

I often hear people describe the mobile computing industry as ‘immature’.  For some reason, this really irks me.  Cell Phones and PDAs have been popular since the 90’s and smartphones started gaining momentum in the early 2000’s.  Now, of the 7 billion people in the world, nearly 6 billion of them have a cellular subscription (Source: ITU).

Look at how the technology has evolved over the last 10-20 years:

  • The smartphone and media tablet hardware available is just phenomenal.  Sleek, portable, and powerful.  HD screens, dual-core processors (with quad-core processors around the corner), and significant data storage.  And they are affordable (maybe free with a cellular contract).
  • Wireless access is pervasive.  It seems like most places have Wi-Fi access.  If they don’t, many just use their cellular data service or whip out their Mi-Fi and share with their friends.
  • There are now over one million downloadable mobile applications.  Apps that can tell me where I am, where my friends are, where my stuff is (like my vehicle), how to get somewhere, help me do my work (personal or business), and keep me entertained.  Installing a mobile app is usually just a press of a button instead of a multi-step process ending with a required reboot.  Many of us can interact with our phones by just talking to them.  As the slogan goes, there’s an app for that.

Immature?  Seems like a industry that has come a long way in a short time.  Yes, there are some industries well over 100 years old, and many of the advancements listed above have only been around for a few years.  That doesn’t mean that it is not mature.  In the animal kingdom, different animals reach maturity at different rates.  For example, chameleons reach maturity in a few months while the tuatara takes 10 to 20 years.

Through the lens of a user, the mobile computing ecosystem provides a highly compelling user experience.  Six billion people can’t be wrong.  However, looking through the lens of an enterprise, mobility can generate much FUD.  Some points to ponder:

  • Enterprises like homogeneity, and mobility is heterogeneous.  As an example, a 2011 Gartner survey found that CIOs expect to support up to three mobile operating systems in 2012.  Developing applications and providing support for such an environment can introduce a significant level of complexity.
  • Vendors not traditionally associated with business solutions are invading the enterprise.  Apple and Google products, once shunned, are now being deploying or at least being evaluated.  These new business relationships may be starkly different than previous ones.
  • Usage costs can be wildly unpredictable.  Costs for dedicated circuits are the same ever month and even Internet costs .  On the other hand, cellular services, especially roaming charges, can vary greatly from month to month.  Every company has their horror stories of a ‘user gone bad’ where charges were unsuspectingly racked up.
  • IT is no longer in full control.  The consumerization of IT, where users have access to technologies and services without going through IT, is one of the most disruptive trends to the enterprise.  Bring your own device (BYOD) programs have IT as well as HR and Legal out of their comfort zones.  And if you don’t have an official BYOD program, chances are you have an unofficial one.
  • ‘Functionality first, security later’ seems to be the mantra.  Even die-hard enterprise vendors are launching products which appeal to consumers first and enterprises later.

That’s enough to send chills down the spine of the most steely-eyed IT professional.  Through the enterprise lens, you can certainly see why there is cause for concern and why mobility looks immature.  But is it really immature or are enterprises applying old world processes to new world realities?

Maybe another way to look at it is that mobility will remain immature.  Maybe it won’t grow up.  Maybe it will be a perpetual teenager.  In any case, the dynamic nature of the mobile ecosystem is going to continue.  Maybe we need to think about changing our ways on how we approach the adoption of mobile technologies, like using more nimble, agile processes and creating a ‘trusted advisor’ relationship with the business.  It’s the mature thing to do.

Explore posts in the same categories: BYOD, Mobile Applications, smartphone

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4 Comments on “Is Mobility Immature?”

  1. Thank you for your insight. I see mobility as very mature. Where the ‘immaturity” factor comes from is the position that many take in terms of the importance of framing a mobility strategy for their users.

    They did this for paper, electronic documents, laptops, email and PC’s but are either ignoring or struggling with accomplishing this for Tablets and smartphones whether they are corporately issued or personally owned.

    It is amazing how many companies I speak to who have basically swept this under the rug.

  2. Jonathan Says:

    Great points Randy. In addition, I’d suggest that the biggest challenge for IT is adapting to BYOD forcing a transition from managing the device to managing the data on those devices via other mechanisms.

    One approach that I believe has strong relevance is container applications that IT can remotely manage and control. So even on BYOD units, entering those apps puts the user in the IT sphere, yet if outside that app, they are free to use the device as they wish.

    The evolution here is how to co-exist in these new mixed-control environments.

  3. Stellar stuff, Randy.

    I agree that it’s counter-intuitive to call mobility immature, considering that it has penetrated the world population to an extent that we never could have projected based upon adoption rates of PC’s and laptops. Today’s human, regardless of culture, loves a multi-tasking device that fits in your pocket and opens many doors to communication and efficiency. I think the “immaturity” label comes from the fact that enterprises have allowed their data & content to be accessible by unleashed devices.

    It’s the security policies imposed by enterprise that are immature… not the tech.

  4. Labeling the entire mobile computing industry is harsh, however the industry is yet to mature in the software side especially in the below mentioned areas.

    Mobile Platforms – The mobile platform landscape remains fragmented and will remain for a foreseeable future. For any enteprise to invest on mobility there is a cost associated with fragmentation and even though Cross Platform Tools (CPTs) helps in reducing these costs, none of them has matured enough to provide a true WORA(write once run anywhere). There are now countless CPTs in market and clearly none of them have matured and stands out as a winner. OS vendors vying for platform and associated services lock-in aggravates the whole issue.

    Enterprise Mobility – Enterprises are forced to allow BYOD by compromising on security and confidentiality of information. None of the existing smartphones or products like (Airwatch/MobileIron) provides a comprehensive solution for addressing the enterprise policies and securities. Most of the device policies still are based on Exchange ActiveSync policies and can be overridden by any user with basic mobile knowledge. Only when the mobile OS platforms start taking enterprise segment seriously and provide security hooks and advanced management functionality the whole concept of BYOD & enterprise mobility becomes viable.

    The telcos on the other side are finding it hard to compete with OTT alternatives which are faster and less expensive. They need to redefine their strategies to play in the software era. Voice is under huge pressure to unbundle from the traditional approach of all in one, take all or nothing, scheme.

    The whole Mobility era is reminiscent of the Internet era which needed more than a decade to mature and be an integral part of every business IT operations. The onus is both on the industry leaders and other players to together create an ecosystem for bridging disconnects and bringing in standardization to bind together the various fragments

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