Mobile Mastery

Texas Instruments CIO Brian Bonner shares his strategy for managing mobile and wireless devices

Texas Instruments CIO Brian Bonner has a unique perspective on how mobile-device proliferation affects business operations and IT. That's because TI has some 31,000 employees around the globe, including in Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Oslo, Tel Aviv and Berlin. In an e-mail exchange, Bonner discussed the benefits and drawbacks of mobility, the cultural and geographic differences between the United States and Asia, and the fate of the laptop.

CIO: How does the huge number of mobile users affect device management inside your company?

Bonner: We realized early on that we needed to limit the number of device choices, corporate rate plans, centralized billing and chargebacks. This allowed us to manage costs and provide effective device support. We are using market-leading mobile middleware solutions that do an adequate job of device management as they evolve.

In what ways does the sheer number of mobile workers affect business and IT plans?

Mobile e-mail devices at TI are expected to double in the next three years due mostly to international adoption. This will drive increased focus on cost management. Also, we expect location-aware applications to grow as the number of GPS-enabled devices grows. The first will be maps and driving directions. We will probably need to start supporting an application in the next couple of years.

We expect employees worldwide to start figuring out how to do mobile entertainment on company devices. We'll need to set some sort of policy if that activity starts costing the company. We already have workflow approval projects in planning now, and we can expect more in the future.

As people become more mobile and rely less on a laptop PC, they will want to collaborate more with mobile devices. Mobile IM is probably the beginning, but online meetings will someday be on mobile devices. In fact, TI created its next-generation OMAP 3 architecture specifically for both of these trends, to enable even cooler mobile entertainment features—integrating features such as standalone digital cameras, gaming consoles, MP3 players and camcorders—while also enabling mobile workforce productivity, such as access to databases, spreadsheets, presentations, Web browsing and downloading, videoconferencing and e-mail.

We are a global business, so collaboration application use is becoming quite critical and is growing rapidly as a demand among our own global employees.

What benefits do you see emerging?

Mobile device management strengths and capabilities will start emerging in PC management solutions. For example, the ability to remotely erase a laptop, now emerging in the PC management space, first emerged in mobile device management.

A potential benefit of dual-mode devices is also the ability to integrate with existing enterprise voice infrastructure to take advantage of intercompany dialing and lower long-distance rates.

What are the challenges?

PC management solutions took a long time to mature. Fortunately, mobile device management is maturing faster. It is not a major challenge for us because we limit employees to just a few choices, but companies that allow employees to connect nearly any device to their network are going to have a major management headache soon.

We are forced to support more device diversity than we would like due to the sheer number of devices available, combined with relatively short product lifecycles and the lack of global offerings. However, we cannot support every employee's personal favorite.

Dual-mode devices—those with cellular and wireless LAN (802.11b/g) connectivity—pose another challenge. Currently, handheld devices are outside our network and pose little or no risk to the rest of the corporate environment. Dual-mode devices bring direct connectivity inside the enterprise and introduce additional security and device management challenges.

What are the core software applications that mobile business users need right now?

Mobile e-mail and PIM (personal information management). The capability to make an international mobile phone call across the company's global voice network or supplier. A great mobile browser that can browse the company intranet. Mobile IM. GPS-enabled mapping and driving directions and device tracking. Mobile workflow applications.

TI has a large presence in Asia. Why do you think Asian countries have led in the adoption of mobile devices and multimedia applications?

Asian countries have generally lagged behind the U.S. in wired connectivity. Wireless networks allow them to skip the need to finish the wired buildout, resulting in a leapfrog effect. The costs associated with computer hardware, a broadband connection plus hotspot charges are too expensive when compared to the average per capita income in most Asian countries. Owning and using a smart phone is much more cost-efficient. Additionally, the living spaces in Asia are smaller than in the U.S., so a PC or laptop takes up expensive real estate.

What is the holdup in the U.S. as it relates to mobile device usage? Is it cost? Culture? Technology? A form-factor issue?

The holdup on more applications isn't technology or cost; it's a combination of culture and form factor. We just aren't used to thinking about including the handheld form factor in the design of new applications.

The form factor is a barrier because you can't just shrink an application and be done. You have to rethink the purpose of the application for a handheld. E-mail on a handheld is very different from e-mail on a PC.

What will future mobile devices look like?

Most people want the large portable device-a notebook—with a big screen and keyboard that they can use for complex content creation and extended work periods. But they also want the small and light mobile device in order to stay connected while on the go. This device needs some kind of a keyboard and must be small enough for the pocket, belt or purse. It also needs at least two days of battery life. The small device will gain the performance, storage and bandwidth of the larger device to the degree that it can stay small and power efficient.

The middle-sized device fails to fulfill both needs well. It will succeed in niche markets, such as warehousing or perhaps mobile TV, but it won't see wide adoption by highly mobile knowledge workers.

When we look into our "crystal ball," we see a future where technology is more about the individual—not about fitting applications to the existing technology in a device, or even to the device itself—and about how the technology can enable a more user-centric and stimulating experience. Mobile devices will intuitively adapt to a person's unique interests and recognize the user's environment, location, culture and preferred means of communication.

The user interface will become more "human" and less "machine." You'll see less button-pushing. For instance, a mobile phone will sense that your car is low on gas and not only finds the nearest gas station with the lowest price per gallon, but also provides directions instantaneously.

Will the laptop fade away, or will they and handhelds remain complements?

They will continue to complement each other. Highly mobile workers will continue to need both to varying degrees, depending on their need to create and view complex content or work for extended periods in one place with a laptop.

The two major form factors will continue to influence each other, and new attributes of one will emerge in the other. A great example of this is how cellular connectivity is being added to notebooks and wireless LAN connectivity is being added to handhelds. However, the fundamentally different purposes of each will not change, and the "middle-sized" device will remain a niche device for some time to come.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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