The mobile-enabled enterprise: Are we there yet?

Modern mobile technology may have been born with the first iPhone, a quintessential consumer device, but it wasn't long before the business possibilities began to emerge. Fast forward to today, and it's difficult to find a company that hasn't embraced phones and tablets for its employees to some degree.

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Modern mobile technology may have been born with the first iPhone, a quintessential consumer device, but it wasn't long before the business possibilities began to emerge. Fast forward to today, and it's difficult to find a company that hasn't embraced phones and tablets for its employees to some degree.

It's not difficult to see why. After all, the potential is nothing if not compelling: an untethered workforce equipped with easy-to-use tools for workers to be productive no matter where they are and at any time of day.

That allure, indeed, is surely part of the reason IT organisations will dedicate at least 25 percent of their software budgets to mobile application development, deployment and management by 2017, according to IDC. By that same year, in fact, the vast majority of line-of-business apps will be built for mobile-first consumption, IDC predicts -- and for competitive necessity at least as often as for efficiency or productivity.

The "bring your own device" trend -- in which employees bring their own devices into the workplace -- is one key factor contributing to this massive shift in enterprise computing. It's an extension of the consumerisation trend seen in enterprise technology more broadly: People want to have the same mobile tools at work that they've become accustomed to in their personal lives.

"This is a revolution," said Eldad Eilam, CEO of mobile productivity vendor HopTo. "Everyone is looking into BYOD."

A veritable "tsunami of devices" has entered companies as a result, said Rana Kanaan, vice president of products at workspace-as-a-service provider Workspot. Also playing a role, however, is what Kanaan calls "the rise of the corporate citizen": independent-minded employees who place a high value on the ability to work wherever and whenever they want.

Put those two trends together, and IT is left with a very different landscape than what it faced years ago.

"Originally, we all worked on desktop computers in the office," Kanaan said. "Then, in the first generation of the mobile enterprise, we started working from somewhere else, but still on computers; we tried to solve that through desktop virtualisation."

When mobile technology first began to enter the corporate world, employers tried to limit it to specific, locked-down devices and applications. But users rejected that.

"The problem is, computing happens everywhere," Kanaan said. "That kind of control doesn't work -- it made users revolt."

Today's workers simply expect to be able to use the technologies they want and to be able to use them any time, said Michael Luu, IS director for the city of Milpitas, California, which uses Workspot's technology for mobile access. "The expectation is that even if you're on vacation, you respond to email," he said. "It's just part of normalcy now."

Vendors of enterprise software are racing to address these new expectations in numerous ways. With its workspace-as-a-service offering, for example, Workspot lets users securely access apps and data from any device, it says.

Enterprise-software heavyweight Salesforce has committed to a "mobile first" philosophy with its own applications, said Anna Rosenman, senior director of product marketing for the Salesforce Analytics Cloud.

"If you look at the consumer space, people spend at least 50 percent of their time on mobile devices," Rosenman said. "We're seeing our users closely mirroring that behaviour."

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