The challenges of deploying mobile devices in an enterprise environment.
Most organizations have already made a significant investment in a technology infrastructure to support their enterprise. Mobile technologies are an extension of the enterprise infrastructure, not a replacement for it. It is impractical and expensive to completely abandon existing infrastructure and legacy applications when leveraging new technologies. Mobile solutions must be able to integrate into the existing enterprise infrastructure.
Managing the applications and data available to you on your own mobile device is relatively easy; managing the applications and data available to hundreds or thousands of users is much more difficult. As consumer-focused devices, the model for deployment of software to mobile devices has been made very simple and in most cases a seamless function of the device itself (i.e. the App Store icon on the iPhone). However, these functions are at the will of the user – a managed enterprise deployment of applications and any subsequent updates to many devices requires a more structured approach.
While many useful apps can be created using “write once deploy to multiple devices” approaches (i.e. mobile web), taking maximum advantage of a device’s features (including local data management) still requires applications that are “native” to the device. This will likely continue to be the case as it is a point of competition between the major OS/device manufacturers. This is rapidly becoming a more complex problem in the mobile application space than it ever was with desktop computing – with at least 6 operating systems and an equal number of major programming languages contending for next-generation superiority.
Specialized Technology Skills
There is no common programming language common to developing applications on all mobile device platforms. For example, to develop and deploy applications for iPhones and iPads, an Apple Macintosh is required and membership in the Apple developers group with a small annual fee. Windows Mobile devices are able to utilize .NET applications. Android devices are able to utilize Java applications. Apple Objective C is similar to Visual C#, but is only supported in native Macintosh environments.
Use of web based forms to collect data is common and widely accepted. With modern mobile web browsers it is possible to access the web based version of existing forms from anywhere, but what happens when there is no connectivity? While data connectivity is now prevalent, there are still many instances where cellular data service may not be available (ports, farms, new highway construction, interior of buildings, etc).
Security of Mobile Devices
Data security to and from mobile devices have the same problems and solution space as other data transmissions. Good encryption is the obvious solution for secure transmissions on commercial networks. While Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) has become the tool of choice for securing data and access from mobile devices to backend systems, physical security of local data on the device is also a threat. The use of Smart Card technology is one solution to this problem, and has been widely adopted by the United States Government for the implementation of physical infrastructure security.
The issue with reliance on Smart Card technology for the newer mobile technologies is readers and hardware support for newer operating systems such as iOS and Android are very limited.
Return On Investment (ROI) of Mobile Solutions
One of the most important elements of implementing enterprise mobile solutions is identifying areas in your business process where use of mobile technologies will give you real, quantifiable return on investment. Between the costs of hardware, software, integration, and training, mobile solutions represent a significant dollar investment – often easily over $1500 per year per user over three years for midsized businesses. Mobile solutions should not be implemented just because ‘everyone else is doing it’ or employees think technology is cool – it is important to define and quantify the real value of the mobile solution within your enterprise environment and ensure the presence of the elements necessary for success.