The term "mobile workforce" has been around for years, but in 2011, mobility will become even more of a priority for enterprises and vendors, according to a new report from research firm Forrester.
Enterprise mobility is the biggest single trend across tech industry investment and innovation, even outpacing the cloud computing trend, states the Forrester report entitled, "Another Year of Outperformance for the Tech Industry -- Forrester's 2011 Tech Industry Predictions."
Enterprises and SMBs in 2011 will put mobile strategies at the top of the list by expanding the use of smartphones and investing in mobile applications that address the needs of all types of employees, from information and task workers to "mobile wannabes" who bring their personal smartphones to work.
Forrester analyst and report author Chris Mines cites "the breakneck pace of consumer adoption of smartphones, tablets and applications" as a driver for enterprise IT to mobilize their own core applications such as CRM, ERP, expense management, inventory management and time tracking.
The Benefits and the Complexities
Indeed, an effective mobile strategy is no longer just something "nice to have" but is becoming a necessity for business growth. In an article on CIO.com about choosing the most secure mobile architecture, Sybase CTO Irfan Khan outlines the benefits of enterprise mobilizing.
In addition to helping workers get more done in less time, Khan writes that mobile devices and apps "can improve customer engagement, customer service, improve supply chain operations and partner/supplier collaboration as well as faster, more effective business decision making."
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But with more mobile adoption comes more complexity on the security, networking and developer fronts. Companies that can simplify their approach to mobile applications and devices, and secure them (mobile security is a top subject at this month's RSA conference) will get the pervasive mobile movement under control, according to the Forrester report.
The Dawn of the Private App Store
One of the most efficient ways to simplify enterprise mobility, writes Forrester, is to build a private corporate app store in the vein of Apple's App Store.
"In 2011, we expect that 10 percent of enterprises will open private app stores, which simplify companies' distribution of mobile-enabled corporate applications," writes Mines in the Forrester report.
Mobile app stores that cater to specific platforms like Apple's iOS, Google's Android, RIM's BlackBerry and Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 have become hugely popular with smartphone users over the past few years. As consumers, users are comfortable downloading apps from an app store for everything from buying movie tickets to checking the weather to playing games like Angry Birds.
The problem for IT departments, according to Forrester, is that 25 percent of workers are using such app stores to download work-related productivity apps for managing expenses and reading PDF documents. IT, in turn, has no way to monitor and secure these outside apps.
"The emergence of private app stores, with a set of approved applications residing inside the corporate firewall, will let IT control and sanction approved mobile applications for employees."
Yet Mobile Hurdles Remain
Just getting your corporate apps inside a contained store will not resolve all enterprise mobile issues, as IT consultant Peter Gyurko points out in a recent blog post on CIO.com.
Some bigger questions to ask about enterprise mobile apps, writes Gyurko, are:
What network are corporate apps going to run on: a private, corporate Wi-Fi or the public cellphone network? Are IT departments accustomed to BlackBerrys prepared for corporate use of workers' personal Droid phones and iPhones, which come with browser and coding complexities? How do you slim down notoriously thick and data-intensive enterprise apps so they can run on smartphones?
"Enterprises realize the need and opportunity to extend internal applications to mobile devices, but still face many hurdles," writes Gyurko.
"Because of the small form-factor and inherent simplicity of current mobile apps, organizations must decide what enterprise features provide the most value in the hands of mobile users."
Shane O'Neill covers Microsoft, Windows, Operating Systems, Productivity Apps and Online Services for CIO.com. Follow Shane on Twitter @smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Shane at firstname.lastname@example.org.