Gen Y consultants and industry bloggers climb over each other to report social-mobile announcements. Location awareness, the latest Android mutation, ‘augmented reality’ and Mashable gossip get these guys all sexed up. It’s exhilarating because they see immediate consumer reaction. People crave the new and shiny, and so far, the engineer has delivered.
When they turn their eyes to the more staid information technology vendors, those who sell to large businesses, they see it’s still 1997 back there. ERP vendors offer timid bolt-ons. Network companies crow about ‘security.’ Even Microsoft, the one vendor who does both business and consumer, seems content to amble towards mobile solutions. And ‘social software?’ Can we say “Social CRM” is about all they can trundle out?
What’s going on here? As someone in a large enterprise, I can tell you it’s not for lack of demand. There’s iPads in corporate backpacks. I see business people carrying both scratched-up Blackberry phones and iPhones. You’ll see clusters of employees standing by the open window, trying to share a feeble 3G signal on their personal devices.
Too bad the corporate Wi-Fi is denied to them. Skype? Blocked. Yammer? Blocked. ITunes? Blocked.
Blocked, blocked, blocked!
This is really consumer behavior behind the firewall. Employees would love to use their superior personal devices to access corporate resources, but corporate IT can’t deliver. There’s a few reasons why:
- Security. For years IT held the fortress safe against malware, worms and viruses. They do this with anti-virus software. They also assure safety with complete ownership of the entire hardware chain. “No non-corporate devices” are allowed past the firewall. Although there are flexible, robust VPN solutions now. IT Security is very risk-averse.
- Cost. Finance usually sees phones and service plans as IT spend, a frivolous IT cost that must be controlled. If IT says the devices must be corporate devices, then you better have a business case.
- Network. Most companies have creaky data networks that are optimized for file transmission and server-to-server connectivity. It is very expensive to improve networks for mobile’s needs (streaming, file services). And building a robust, pervasive WiFi cloud on top of it all takes more cold cash than they have.
- Budget. Not quite the same as cost, but businesses still (mistakenly) think mobile devices and service plans must be paid for by the company. A 1990 mentality that is a holdover from subsidizing ‘on-call’ costs for employees.
- Enterprise architecture. We still have a lot of two-tier technology in Enterprise Land. For browser-based systems, IE 6 reigns supreme. It’s an ordeal to recertify hundreds of applications on a new browser. Heck, we’re still developing dense, crowded ‘Web portals.’ How can you put that on mobile?
- RIM. “What’s wrong with the corporate Blackberry?” Management thinks these are ‘mobile’ devices for the next decade. A good phone that does e-mail and a neat-o little browser. What else do you need?
- Enterprises are transaction-based. There’s a whole lot of data fields in an internal business transaction. Just ask a road warrior how much of a trial it is to submit travel expenses. Now try to squeeze that into your iPhone screen. You can get away with lean UI for the home. The enterprise must relinquish its hunger for detail and exception processing before you can ‘mobilize’ a business system.
- Most middle management doesn’t get it. Yet. Mobile handsets? Those are for the kids.
- Application development expertise. App vs HTML5? ITunes or Marketplace? You’re speaking a foreign language. Most IT development teams are clueless here. And as a one-time developer, I can tell you that developing lean, simple UI is not a cultivated strength inside the enterprise.
- “Are you talking about that ‘cloud’ stuff again?” ‘Cloud’ is a bugaboo for IT management. It’s scary stuff, more frightening than ‘mobile.’‘Mobile’ isn’t ‘cloud,’ though they are related. IT must develop a unified strategy for both at the same time.
Enterprise software vendors sell to markets, young consultant. They make products businesses will buy.
Right now the customer isn’t ready.