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IDC interview: The five stages of business mobility

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It has long been a familiar feature of everyone’s working life but really we are all still waiting for mobile working to come of age.

There has been plenty of progress, the advent of 4G and the uptake of cloud services having led to a big change of attitude in the last couple of years, but generally few UK enterprises are coping well with the influx of mobility into their businesses.

With all this in mind, analyst house IDC has developed what it calls its Maturity Model for Mobility in the Enterprise, which traces the five stages businesses go through towards mobility.

The first stage is “ad hoc”, in which the business is reactive and defensive in dealing with mobile initiatives and has no strategic framework.

The next is “opportunistic or tactical”, when the business is proactive as well as reactive but still has no strategic framework.

The third stage is “repeatable”, with a robust infrastructure taking shape and the business looking at return on investment and cost-benefit analysis.

The fourth stage is where mobility is measured and managed and has business-related aims. The business has mobile infrastructure and platforms in place and a business objective of sustained competitive advantage.

John Delaney, who heads IDC’s European mobility team, says very few companies have reached the mature stages of the model, where mobility is the primary use case for IT.

“Companies have moved quite quickly from the first to the second and third stages, where they are no longer dealing with mobility as a problem. Eighteen months ago there were lots of companies that were simply ignoring mobility but there are not many like this any more,” he says.

Generation game

Delaney believes it is 4G that is making this difference because it offers the potential to make IT fully mobile.

“4G gives you something on your mobile device that behaves like your desktop: it’s fast, it’s instant, it responds in the same way. Users start to use the network differently when they have a 4G connection,” he says.

Aside from the fact that it is an all-IP data network, for the first time a mobile technology has been adopted globally as a standard by all the major operators.

“The trouble is that 4G has been adopted by consumers, not businesses, and that’s a pity,” says Delaney.

“If business started to pick up 4G then operators would make more money. They would be more inclined to invest and we would have a virtuous circle of adoption and investment. But so far business has taken a stand-offish approach.”

That said, some vertical markets have already started to realise big benefits from 4G. TV broadcasters, for example, are using 4G as a much cheaper and more flexible alternative to satellite.

Consumers are way ahead of enterprises

It is also finding a home in parts of the medical profession because diagnostic quality images can now be transmitted over the internet.

Otherwise, consumers are way ahead of enterprises. Although this is partly due to the length of business procurement and replacement cycles, Delaney believes many enterprises still don’t grasp in a concrete way how 4G can help them.

“They understand the obvious things, like faster data, high capacity, more efficient use of spectrum, but they don’t necessarily connect that with how they can use it to benefit the way they do business,” he says.

“What is missing at the moment is a horizontal appreciation of how 4G can help a business.”

IDC’s most recent European Enterprise Mobility Survey, conducted in February, indicates that the majority of European organisations are at the "repeatable" stage of maturity.

Mobility ranks as a "very high" or "essential" IT priority for about 75 per cent of organisations, and almost half claim to have a mobile strategy in place. However, mobility projects are still commonly initiated by business departments rather than IT, the survey finds.

Shrinking violet

Delaney says that most UK organisations have a long journey ahead of them before they reach the "managed" and "optimised" stages of maturity.

“Telecoms is still seen as plumbing in an awful lot of enterprises. It doesn’t get the attention that IT gets. Bear in mind that until recently IT and telecoms procurement were separate functions,” he says.

In fact IDC’s survey shows that only 15 per cent of organisations have rolled out two or more mobile apps. Nearly half of respondents say that their biggest mobility challenges are operating system and device management and cost control.

Only a quarter are working on advanced mobile initiatives such as application lifecycle management, business processes and workflows.

“There is wide variation but we are on the cusp of the transition from an early phase of mobility, in which essentially the objective has been to manage risks, to a second phase where mobile is not seen as auxiliary when you can’t get access from the desktop but as the primary access mode for IT systems. This is a fundamental shift,” says Delaney.

A further push will come as mobile operators point their 4G marketing efforts more fully at the enterprise, he believes.

“The availability of 4G smartphones has unlocked the consumer market,” he says.

“There was pent-up consumer demand which means a lot of low-hanging fruit for operators to go after. This is the right strategy as they have to avoid networks becoming overloaded.

“But they need to start shifting their marketing to the enterprise in the not too distant future.” ®

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