Seven Questions That Will Decide Mobile’s Future-Part Two

2/25/11Follow @wroush

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sending you discount offers at the precise moment when they’ll be most enticing—when you’re deciding what to put in your shopping cart. And once you’ve filled your cart, there are plenty of companies who want to help you pay for your purchases; AisleBuyer, for example, has iPhone and Android apps that let you scan items, pay for them securely from your phone, and walk out of the store without waiting in the checkout line. Companies like FaceCash, Fig Card, and Bling Nation are working on working on their own ways to use mobile software and hardware to replace cash and credit cards for in-store purchases. (AisleBuyer CEO Andrew Paradise, Modiv Media CEO Mike Grimes, SavingStar president Mike Libenson, and Fig Card CEO Max Metral will all be on hand for a Mobile Madness chat on mobile commerce.)

While it’s not clear yet if your mobile phone will ever become your uber-electronic-wallet, retailers who want to please their best customers should be experimenting with these technologies. The big picture is that mobile devices are helping shoppers save time and make smarter choices. The tool providers themselves will probably be the biggest winners, but who knows—the bricks-and-mortar retailers who adapt to the changes most enthusiastically might just find that happy, informed customers spend more.

5. How much of business IT can be “consumerized” and replaced with cloud services and employee-owned mobile devices?

It used to be that the technology you used at the office was far more powerful than the technology you used outside it; after all, you didn’t see many suburban homes in the 1960s with IBM 360 mainframes in the living room. Connection speeds at the office used to be a lot faster too—that’s how the whole “Cyber Monday” phenomenon evolved in the early 2000s, as people waited to get to work on the Monday after Thanksgiving to start their online Christmas shopping.

Mobile has changed all that. Now the Android phone in your purse or the 3G iPad in your briefcase is probably one of the most sophisticated, versatile pieces of hardware in your whole office. So why shouldn’t it become the platform for more of your actual work?

There’s been a lot of talk about the consumerization of enterprise IT—by which people usually mean simplification, the replacement of bloated, expensive, server-based software with user-friendly, easy-to-install, cloud-based services. Salesforce.com’s success undermining Siebel in the area of sales automation software and Box.net’s assault on Microsoft’s SharePoint document sharing system are great case studies. That’s still an important trend, and it’s actually being accelerated by mobile devices (Box.net has a great iPad app, for example). But I think something broader is in the offing: the potential consumerization of the whole office, down to the hardware on your desk. We may be entering the era of BYOT—bring your own technology.

Corporate IT departments will always need a few people around to keep the company network running. But chances are you make a lot of business calls, do a lot of work-related searches, or navigate from sales call to sales call on your own smartphone. You do a lot of you work on your laptop—you probably own that too, or you might as well given that you probably manage all the software installed on it. And if you use an iPad or some other tablet to keep up with the latest work-related news or social media activity, it almost certainly wasn’t a gift from your company.

In other words, employee-owned devices are infiltrating the workplace whether companies like it or not—and given how attached most people are to their mobile gadgets, the trend isn’t likely to reverse. So the question is how companies should respond.

Most, so far, are in defensive mode, focusing on security and compliance challenges. Providers like Zenprise have come up with software that makes sure every iPhone, iPad, Android phone, BlackBerry, or Windows phone that employees bring into the building has the latest security features, and that they can be remotely wiped in case of theft or loss to prevent data breaches. (Enterprise Mobile provides similar services for companies that choose to purchase and deploy their own fleets of mobile devices, and CEO Mort Rosenthal will be at Mobile Madness to talk about that.)

But I think there’s a lot of room for new software and services that would help companies be more proactive about the BYOT trend. There ought to be business-optimized versions of the basic communications functions on smartphones and tablets, such as e-mail and voicemail management. (Obviously Research In Motion has a lead here.) There ought to be … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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  • http://kerskine.tumblr.com Keith Erskine

    Hi Wade – This is a comment on Question #5

    While personal cell phones and iPads are the norm in startups, I think there’s a reluctance for employees to use them in larger organizations. The bigger the company, the more likely they are to restrict access to sites like Twitter and Facebook. The personal cell phone then becomes the means to route around the company firewall allow the employee to keep in touch with family and friends.

    As to turning business processes into mobile apps; that will be driven by the general (and sometimes brutal) restructuring of businesses. There might be advantages to having someone do something important with 3 clicks on an iPhone, but if a process can be simplified to that level, why can’t it be 1) eliminated, or 2) done by one less person.

  • http://www.xconomy.com/author/wroush/ Wade Roush

    @Keith — Thanks for your comment. Yeah, I’m sure many companies still feel that employee social media activity is incompatible with “work” and that the only way to curb it is to control the hardware in the office. But it’s not like employees aren’t Tweeting and checking Facebook from their mobile devices anyway. Seems like the cost benefits of letting your employees bring in their own hardware might start to change some minds eventually.

    To your second point: Not sure I agree with your bleak, bordering-on-cynical assessment. Doesn’t software-driven business process improvement account for huge productivity gains over time? Seems like there are plenty of work-related tasks that could be made much more efficient if they were overhauled by mobile developers with an iPhone mindset. Efficiency gains can lead to downsizing, yes, but they can also enable small companies to achieve outsize results.

  • http://mobile-web-developer.com/ mobile web developers

    The availability of new mobile devices, such as smart phones and tablets, has made it easy for end users to connect to each other, from anywhere in the world, at any time. However, while mobile technology has improved social connectivity for consumers, and increased the flexibility and productivity of business people, it has also introduced a new set of dilemmas for IT managers who need to protect the confidential business data stored on these devices.