This article is the first in a series featuring our commentary on each of the Big 5 IT Trends of the Next Half Decade (original article from ZDNet). The first IT Trend is Next-Gen Mobile- Smart Devices and Tablets. I recently sat down with Ryan Williams, CTO of Nexxtep Technology Services, to get his perspective on the future of mobile computing in business.
Tablets are set to be on par with PCs by 2015. What do you think that means for businesses?
People won’t be tied to an office anymore. They will be able to conduct business anywhere. Most of the time now, when people think of mobility and business, they think of calendars and email on their phones. Mobile devices will take on a much broader aspect of the business, encompassing everything from order taking to accounts receivable. All aspects of business will be able to be conducted from the mobile device—not just tablets, but from phones as well.
The article mentions that smart devices have a poor enterprise ecosystem right now. Do you think that’s true, and if so, what needs to happen for that to change?
I do think that’s true to a certain extent because the ecosystem is immature at this point. There are a lot of individual apps available that solve niche business problems, but there aren’t so many that are all-encompassing and tied together, especially on the iPhone. Most of the apps are autonomous pieces of business functionality. They’re not completely integrated yet. You have to purchase individual apps to solve individual problems.
The ecosystem will change with time. I think that the adoption of mobile devices has proven to the business world and to the software developers that there is definitely a market there to be had, and it’s just going to take time for the products to mature to fill those needs. The adoption of the cloud computing model is also helping because businesses won’t have to build those ecosystems themselves. The ecosystems will be developed by the software vendors and provided as a service. In the “olden days,” if a company wanted to take advantage of a new suite of technologies, they would have to build out the infrastructure themselves. That won’t be the case anymore. The adoption rate will be much faster once the systems are mature enough to support it.
In your experience, have you seen resistance from IT professionals in embracing the use of mobile devices?
I guess it depends on the angle from which you’re looking at that question. I think technical people are the first to adopt mobile computing, but they are the last to want to support it. The IT people are slow to put that into practice and put it in the hands of the end users because the support and security of those devices is less defined and less mature. We can remote control a computer to fix a problem if we need to, but that type of functionality—although it’s in the works–hasn’t been developed for mobile devices. Security is always a concern, because people are much more apt to lose a cell phone than a desktop computer that doesn’t move. Having core business information sitting on someone’s iPhone that they leave at the YMCA after they work out is a concern, especially if you’re in a heavily regulated industry like healthcare or accounting. If you’re concerned about HIPAA compliance and some of the other compliance issues, then you’re much more limited as to what your options are.
Do you have any suggestions for how businesses should manage the use of personal mobile devices in and outside of the workplace, especially with regard to security?
From a security standpoint, one of the things Nexxtep has adopted is the use of Citrix because it gives somebody access to their full suite of software through a secure connection which is available on both the iPhone and the iPad without actually having to store the data on either one of those devices. In order for someone to work with the software programs, they’d still have to know the username and password to access them. There’s much less risk to the business because nothing’s ever stored on the mobile device. And I should also say, if you’re going to offer mobile solutions to your employees, you need to have the ability to remotely wipe those mobile devices from a central command center. That way, if the device does get lost, it can be remotely reset.
How would you describe Nexxtep’s approach to mobile technology?
I would say at the very least, especially compared to similar companies in our industry, Nexxtep is way ahead of the curve. We do everything from developing in-house custom mobile software solutions to holding training classes on how to implement mobile computing in the business world. We’ve held at least half a dozen of those classes in the last year or so. I don’t know if anyone else is doing that. I think that part of that goes hand in hand with cloud computing because there’s a good bit of overlap between cloud and mobile technology. Cloud computing enables the feasibility of mobile devices. Our overall approach to cloud computing is a hybrid approach; we think that certain business applications make sense in the cloud and others don’t. For the ones that do make sense in the cloud, the ability to put those on mobile devices is typically provided by the software vendors themselves. And the ones that we recommend remain in-house, typically the core business systems, can be securely accessed on mobile devices by using Citrix. I think the combination of those two enables the mobility for nearly all the business data without sacrificing functionality for those that remain in the office.
What do you think is the next big thing in mobile technology?
I think you’re going to see a lot more services based on mobile awareness (your physical location). Here are some examples:
-Sales people enter a certain town and their phone automatically schedules which appointments they should see in that town based on certain priorities.
-Automated dispatching of service technicians based on the nearest service calls.
-Route planning based on service locations.
You’re already seeing the integration of mobile location awareness with social media platforms, specifically Google+, where you can communicate with people you may or may not know just because they’re in your vicinity. With that comes an awful lot of privacy concerns too, but I think that will be handled because the upside is so great. The challenges will be overcome, or people will just accept the privacy concerns, which is what has happened so far.
Whatever the hurdles are, people will find a way around them, especially if there’s money to be made.