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Building a ‘Mobility-Aware’ Architecture

Taking a user-first design approach to integrate mobility into your business

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By Neal Foster

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Mobile computing platforms are now the standard, multi-device behaviors are the norm and adaptive networking that is contextually aware of the environment is here. It’s time to leverage the technology around us to create a better enterprise.

The benefits of mobility are obvious: employee access is 24x7, and customers and partners can see the enterprise anywhere and anytime, enabling organizations to be more efficient from both bottom- and top-line perspectives. But understanding how to integrate mobile technology seamlessly into business workflows requires a user-first design approach that incorporates the mobile, multi-device, smart networking experience, while mashing up all the intelligent data available to the enterprise.

Early adopters of mobility attempted to fit mobile devices into existing workflows, cramming big screen user interfaces into small screen devices and assuming users were always connected. The architecture took a similar approach, relying on a central gateway through which all mobile traffic would pass. For example, all email for an organization would travel through a specialized gateway to access the Microsoft Exchange server. While this decade-old approach worked, relying on a gateway—a single point of failure—added cost, complexity and risk for IT.

Today’s enterprise encompasses data and applications that are not housed solely within the corporation’s private network and may be shared by multiple organizations. So instead of a single gateway at the center of the system, a ‘mobility-aware’ architecture takes a holistic approach and puts the user at the center. It asks how companies can change their workflows to take advantage of all the data available to the enterprise, as well as the mobile, multi-device and smart networking environment, to provide compelling and relevant content, while pulling contextual information to improve the enterprise data in real-time.

From a technical standpoint, changing workflows means communicating with and orchestrating tasks across multiple applications and servers. A particular benefit is the ability to use web services to combine traditional business data with a variety of complementary data sources to provide additional context to improve and accelerate business decision-making. For example, by combining LinkedIn information with traditional CRM data, salespeople can get immediate access to a target’s background and whether they have contacts in common, which potentially could lead to a more productive call.

This sounds complex, and it used to be for most enterprises; the level of special integration and support needed to create a mobility-aware architecture was cost prohibitive.

Today’s mobility-aware solutions, however, promise to be cost effective, simple to deploy and extensible. They focus on simplifying the integrations needed to enable decentralized access to data sourced from multiple applications, without relying on a centralized gateway that all data traffic passes through. They leverage standard identity and access management (IAM) approaches for user-based authorization from enterprise-provided identity sources (e.g. Active Directory / LDAP / etc.). They integrate with unified enterprise mobility management solutions to enable provisioning and authentication based on the context of the user, device and environment. They also support multi-device interaction.

The greatest benefit of the decentralized mobility-aware approach is enabling companies to respond more quickly to the evolving needs of their people while reducing cost and complexity for users and IT.

But what if a company is already invested in a centralized, legacy, gateway-based solution? Consider phasing in a mobility-aware approach by adopting the new architecture as new applications are added.

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