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The Mobile Revolution: Is Your IT Department up to the Challenge?

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Until recently, many CIOs and their development teams have been trying to meet user expectations around mobile by layering mobile functionality on top of existing systems – the “veneering” of PC-era solutions deployed to mobile devices, delivered by their traditional development teams using established methodologies. But, as increasingly advanced mobile technologies, sophisticated user expectations and innovative usages continue to emerge, could utilizing traditional IT approaches – and skill sets – cause companies to miss out on the mobile revolution?

Many organizations are struggling for break-through wins that leverage the potential of today’s smartphones and tablets. Especially for enterprise-facing initiatives, “good enough” user experiences built around incremental use cases have often led to departmental experimentation, perpetual pilots and visions anchored closer to email, calendaring and conference room scheduling than positively disrupting operating and business models. Not to mention, the mobile revolution is about far more than touch screens and tablets. Soon, the word “mobile” may likely be synonymous with ambient devices, wearable computers and highly tuned sensors, among other futuristic tools. As they try to harness the potential of existing mobile technologies and prepare for what’s next, many CIOs find themselves at a crossroads: Should they continue to focus on mobile enablement of existing systems, and treat mobile as just another deployment channel? Or should they follow a risky and largely unproven path, which could require them to abandon traditional strategies and hire talent with the kind of mobile experience needed to create an agile, mobile-centric IT environment?

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Mobile solutions depend on my existing ERP systems.
When it comes to design and usability, enterprise capabilities on the back end are likely as important as the user experience engine on the front end. Anchor the mobile team in the core – layering on design is the easy part.
You need more than ERP-friendly mobile tools.
Usability is the key. Rethink how problems get solved with mobile, and what new problems can get solved because of mobile. Design is not a phase, and mobile is about a mix of creative, technology and business. If you anchor new mobile applications in existing tools and processes, you may be biased toward the status quo.

My legacy IT staff has experience in security, reliability and scalability.
With mobile, these skills are not just relevant; they are more valuable than ever. The established IT department has earned credibility in building secure, broad solutions.  

 

Mobile security and performance are different.
It should be informed by existing policies and standards, but the rapidly changing digital landscape is full of nuance and particular requirements. Is it more effective to teach legacy security professionals new techniques, or hire a mobile security specialist who already understands its particular demands?
I can’t attract that kind of talent in my industry.
There’s only so much mobile talent out there – designers, user experience (UX) gurus, mobile engineers. I can’t afford to attract and keep creative designers – and I’m worried about retention over time. Can’t my current IT staff members learn new skills?
“Adequate” skill sets will likely not be enough.
Engineers don’t typically think like designers. If you want to achieve desired results in mobile, you are likely to need mobile strategists, creative thinkers and mobile engineers who can deliver in an Agile model. There is often a high bar around user expectations – even for enterprise-facing solutions.
We can’t just abandon tested methodologies so that we can become “agile.”
We have methodologies in place for a reason. At the end of the day, we should provide IT services that support the business – and are predictable, repeatable, auditable and responsibly manage risk.

Being agile doesn’t mean your methodologies should lack rigor and discipline.
Being agile should mean having the ability to develop and release new tools in a timely manner – and fuel experimentation of scope and features important to the business. The mobile world is changing at an exceptional pace, and the business should learn how the new tools can help reshape their world. But, to achieve results with mobile, agility should inform – not replace – demonstrated systems management methodologies.

 

My take

Bill Briggs, Global Lead, Deloitte Digital, and Deputy CTO, Deloitte Consulting LLP

The emergence of mobile is probably unlike any trend that you, as CIO, have encountered. The changes it can bring about in business, and the subsequent demands on IT, may require you to fundamentally rethink your delivery model. That doesn’t mean you should abandon current systems and methodologies. It may, however, lead you to assess how new skills and approaches could help the IT organization thrive in a new competitive landscape – and, in the process, help amplify IT’s position as helping to identify and harness innovative technologies to reshape the business.

To develop mobile applications, IT should take a fresh approach. For example, you cannot take your existing order system and put it on a tablet: You will likely have to redesign its interface, and you’ll also have to make it user-friendly and intuitive. “But it’s just for my employees,” you might argue. “I don’t really care what they think about the interface.” Think again. In the new mobile world, if you develop solutions based on yesterday’s point-click-type motif to complete a simple function, employees may not use it. Understand the user, rethink how (and when) they’re interacting with the app, and take full advantage of the form factor. Touch-swipe-talk should be the focus, with a simple elegant design that surprises and delights end users. If your mobile application is designed for customer use, such design considerations are even more important.

Simply put, “good enough” is no longer sufficient. Handing your developers a book and telling them to learn a little bit about mobile is not going to cut it. We have entered the post-PC era, and leading organizations are quickly eclipsing “Mobile First,” where the mobile channel is considered for virtually every investment. We are now moving towards “Mobile Only,” where the more compelling solutions would not be possible without mobile. But mobile requires different talent, a different delivery approach, and a fundamentally different philosophy. Going forward, your development team should be creative and agile, and have experience in several mobile application architectures – native, responsive web, cross-platform tools. What’s more, developers need to work in a timely manner – users may not wait nine months for you to design, develop, test and launch a new application. And they may not know what they want – and need – until they start hands-on vetting and experimentation. IT should adopt a product management mindset – planning for multiple releases with feature enhancements at an uncomfortable pace.

This doesn’t mean that rigor and discipline should diminish. Nor does it mean that you should create some free-form mobile adjunct that operates outside the existing IT organization. What it does mean is that IT – its CIO, its talent, and its processes – should evolve. Build-out of a mobile center of excellence (COE) is growing, where minimum enterprise tools and standards can be defined for mobile – often teaming with a mobile-focused digital agency to help fulfill the business’ immediate demand for high quality mobile apps while helping the internal team gain skills and experience. Digital spend is originating outside of the CIO’s control, but as many initiatives may eventually be dependent on existing transactional systems, data and underlying services (think security) – they’ll have to be invited to the party at some point. Get in front, and offer a new and different approach for the brave new mobile world – and, in the process, help reinforce IT’s strategic importance to the business.

Something bigger is happening here; something that simply veneering is unlikely to address. Mobile is just one of many “postdigital” platforms – think analytics, the cloud, social, cyber security – that are driving historic change in both business and IT. Going forward, you should consider how each of these areas – and, importantly, their intersection – change your world if you hope to carry out IT’s new mission.

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