by Thomas Wailgum

Enterprise Mobile Apps: All That Glitters Is Not Gold

Oct 07, 2010
Enterprise Applications

Just because enterprise software vendors can mobilize an application doesn't mean you should buy it.

Growing up, my best friend Johnny G. would often get really “hopped up” after eating too many M&Ms. His actions became nearly irrational, and he could barely function enough to play a decent game of Donkey Kong on ColecoVision.

I remember one New Year’s Eve party at his house, we were seven or eight, when he was consuming handful after handful: His parents finally cut him off…but it was too late; if memory serves, that sugar high lasted for days.

Mobile Device Hype Gold

Right now, it seems like every technology vendor is viewing mobility with that same glazed and crazed look Johnny had when he spied a fresh bowl of M&Ms. And why shouldn’t they? Vast improvements in hardware, software and networks have created an exciting mobile communications experience for the 234 million U.S. consumers (more than 75 percent of population!) who have a mobile phone plan, according to Forrester Research.

No sane person would argue against that, and I am a sane person.

But I worry that enterprise software vendors, in particular, are rushing too fast to get to the mobile party—SAP, Oracle, Infor and others. Sooner than later, they will likely flood the market with off-the-shelf enterprise applications (some ready for prime time, some not) to satisfy the consumer demand now foisted upon businesses by their employees.

These vendors want to be market makers, of course, and they see the incredible consumer demand, too.

But just because a vendor can mobilize an enterprise app doesn’t mean you should buy it.

As such, I also worry about modern CIOs, many of whom are desperate to be seen as “strategic.” And mobility (along with cloud computing efforts) is as strategic as it gets today. I can see some CIOs caving too quickly to users’ well-intentioned but ill-formed demands for mobile apps. Instead of playing the “trusted advisor” role and advocating for mobile deployments that link to business strategy and can demonstrate ROI, CIOs may be coerced into signing off on these new mobile apps—adopted in a Johnny-G.-like sugar frenzy.

The combination—enterprise software vendors flooding the market with apps and CIOs eager to placate the masses—could be a dangerous situation that’s reminiscent of other tech-buying frenzies (ERP+Y2K anyone?).

Remember: CIOs have said that they do not need any more apps in the enterprise. (In fact, many say they need to do some serious house-cleaning on the apps they already have.)

In a new report, Forrester principal analyst Paul Hamerman points to 2010 Forrester survey data showing that for today’s typical business worker, e-mail and calendar are the most used mobile applications. The survey research also showed steady growth in sales-force automation, customer-facing mobile apps and field-service applications.

However, he cautions, “packaged mobile applications for business processes are being developed aggressively by enterprise software vendors and mobile development boutiques, and business process professionals have much to consider in terms of value, risk, control and technology selection.”

As with any technology project, Hamerman notes that risks are everywhere in enterprise mobility: Care must be taken to ensure the target audience, piloting processes, cost calculations, security risks, and hardware and software selection are all examined thoroughly.

He correctly points out that many roles and business processes don’t need to be mobilized—for instance, those jobs that involve extensive work with data processing and management.

“Mobilizing existing enterprise applications, by itself, will not create business process value scenarios that will motivate companies to invest in the technology,” Hamerman writes. “For more compelling value scenarios, the mobile applications must take advantage of capabilities unique to the devices, as well as leveraging anytime/anywhere connectivity.”

Hamerman states that every application vendor he has spoken with is working on packaged mobile app development, and some already have apps on the market today. “Enterprise applications vendors appear to universally agree that mobile applications are strategically important,” he adds, “but levels of enthusiasm vary.” (Consider yourselves forewarned, CIOs: The mobile apps pitches will be forthcoming from your vendor sales reps.)

Let me be clear here: I am by no means pooh-poohing the mobile applications revolution unfolding before our eyes and on the devices in our pockets. Again, last time I checked, I’m sane.

But CIOs who work hand in hand with their colleagues on mobile-apps teams need to be extra vigilant about ensuring that there’s some type of return for their dollars. In other words: Think hard about whether your iPhone-toting finance personnel really needs anytime/anywhere access to the company’s ERP applications.

Hamerman says it best in the report, when he advises to discount the “cool” factor.

“Whereas customer-facing applications can take advantage of the contemporary coolness of mobile and engage more customers, this offers less value for internal mobile business applications,” he writes. “Instead, focus on concrete ROI that comes from process speed, service and efficiency.”

Thomas Wailgum covers Enterprise Software, Data Management and Personal Productivity Apps for Follow him on Twitter @twailgum. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline. E-mail Thomas at