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Watch For The Sacred Cows On The Road To Enterprise Mobility

Several years ago, while working for a small manufacturer, I was tasked with mobilizing the salesforce. The goal, at least at the time, was pretty lofty: eliminate the need for a laptop for the sales guys. The project started off very well. I was able to get evaluation units of all of the latest devices running the latest operating systems. We put a few devices in the hands of the eventual end-users and gathered a wealth of feedback on what would work best for them out in the field. Synchronized email, contacts and calendars were all checked off the list.  Everything was going great, and as we were gearing up to roll out the chosen platform out to the team, a most unfortunate question was asked:  "What about our CRM software?"

Venerable is probably the most polite way to describe the particular customer management software in use by the company. Made popular in the days of DOS and ported to Windows, the application was not in the least bit ready for the coming mobile age. Unfortunately, it was well entrenched throughout the company, with everyone from engineering to the accounting folks feeding in their particular bits of customer data into the software. The mobility conversation quickly changed from one of how to un-tether sales from their laptops to one of how to make a single application work on these mobile devices. My task went from choosing the best mobile platform for the company to scouring the Internet for third party hacks and evaluating alternative CRM solutions. Unfortunately, the costs of migrating literally decades of data, as well as training most of the company on a new CRM solution, were just too high to justify.

Ultimately, to use a term coined by NASA about the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, this particular mobility project was a "successful failure."  While not able to get to the nirvana of a mobile CRM solution, the sales team members still embraced the functionality they did get from their smartphones and happily traded some extra effort in the office for the productivity gains they gained while on the road.

The moral of the story, of course, is that enterprise mobility is about more than dealing with the mobile platform, devices and carriers.  Every enterprise has critical applications that need to be addressed when mobilizing the workforce.  The focus should be on how to securely get the user access to the data they need, no matter where in the world they are. Identifying these sacred cows within the organization and effectively taking an application-aware approach to enterprise mobility will not only enhance the end-user experience, but will cast IT as taking a proactive stance on improving the productivity of the entire company through its services.