Ever since first Apple iPhone was unveiled the in 2007 the world has been in love with smartphones. Taking a ride on the MTR shows just how prevalent and personal they have become. Ten years ago a lot of people would have been reading newspapers but that’s quite uncommon now; instead commuters are reading news on their mobiles and partaking of many other mobile activities.
Suffice to say mobile devices have had a huge impact in the social sphere but when it comes to business, their presence is less obvious. Why is that? Well for a start CIOs were justifiably concerned about poor security on most smartphones, which is why BlackBerrys – thanks to a more robust security model – were once the preferred choice for enterprise users. The next stage was for companies to leverage mobile device management systems (MDMS) that grew up to plug the mobile security gap, enabling the now common “bring your own device” programs that typically give employees access to company email and perhaps a few other generic apps.
Diving below the surface
From an enterprise IT perspective, however, this barely scratches the surface of mobility’s potential. Enterprises typically have hundreds, if not thousands of application in place that have been developed over the years with a screen, keyboard and mouse front-end in mind. While developing touch-enabled front-ends for these systems is becoming increasingly straightforward as a result the availability of better development tools and standards, a one-to-one translation of applications from PC to mobile isn’t really the best way to exploit mobility.
To help explain this I’d like to tell you something about the IBM Mobile Sales Experience (MSE) program, which we’re currently rolling out globally including Hong Kong. We’re issuing all our sales personnel with iPads that have mobile broadband connectivity and a host of new apps to help them in the field and deliver an obviously superior mobile experience that they and their clients will appreciate.
Engagement and insight
The tablets are the most obvious manifestation of the MSE program but it is the apps that make all the difference. We’ve been through an exercise of envisioning how mobile devices can be used to help sales. Apart from being “always on” and more portable than laptops, a cardinal characteristic of tablets is that they’re easy to share and this is key in terms of how sales personnel can interact with clients.
Our CEO Ginni Rometty recently talked about applications moving from systems of record to systems of engagement and ultimately becoming systems of insight. In line with this we’ve designed and developed a set of sales apps to engage clients, connect to knowledge and deliver insight. This approach is also at the heart of the strategic partnership formed with Apple last year, with IBM MobileFirst for iOS solutions representing a completely new class of apps designed to put the power of cloud-based analytics into the hands of those most need it.
Doing it right
Of course, there are a number of steps that must be taken before you can start rolling out insight-in-an-app for customer-facing employees in the field. The supporting elements have to be in place, which means looking at the whole mobile ecosystem and this necessarily starts with security. Done right, mobile security is the fundamental enabler for enterprise mobility.
Our app development is based around the concept of containers – securely segregated areas within mobile devices where all apps and data relevant to the business can protect through encryption and remotely erased via the MDMS if needs be. We’ve also deployed our own AppStore as a trusted source for MSE apps. This has been linked to a deployment enablement platform – another fruit of the partnership with Apple – which auto-configures apps based on the user’s role within the company, transforming what might otherwise be an hour or more of manual configuration to a streamlined 5-10 minute process.
Don’t look back
Some may argue that much of the IBM MSE program could have been delivered on laptops but that misses the genuine difference of the mobile experience and appears in denial of the fact that there are already more active mobile devices on planet that there are people. At the end of the day we see mobility is a catalyst for enterprise transformation to achieve new levels of efficiency, effectiveness and customer satisfaction, faster and easier than ever before.
Jenny Oh, IT Lead, IBM Greater China Group