Mobile's Enterprise Impact Already Big, But Just the Start

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. – Mobile devices and the flood of new mobile applications presents both opportunities and challenges for those looking to push through new mobile initiatives in the enterprise, said panelists here at the Mobile Internet Tsunami conference held Friday at Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Silicon Valley research campus.

"Three years ago, no one was looking to download mobile apps, unless you went to (third party) sites like Crackberry.com," Kevin Nix, senior vice president for business solutions and technology at SAP (NYSE: SAP), said during a panel discussion at the event. "Now the mobile apps industry is growing at a pace we haven't seen since the dotcom era." Nix said recent industry estimates put the number of mobile apps at over 350,000, a number forecast to grow to 1.5 million by 2014.

"The question is, how many of those can you consume on a mobile device and how many can stay resident?" he added.

Enterprise apps giant SAP has definitely realized value in going mobile. Nix said the company now runs the majority of its business on iPads and BlackBerry devices. "That's literally happened in just the past 6 to 12 months," he said.

Another panelist, Alan Boehme, is helping financial services giant ING re-architect systems as part of a government-ordered break up into two separate banking and insurance entities. "It's a unique, Greenfield opportunity," said Boehme, senior vice president of IT strategy & enterprise architecture, at ING. "The one mantra we're looking at it is 'do everything on mobile first'."

Not every company has the opportunity to start over, but as part of a reexamination of operations Boehme said they discovered one business unit had 17 different processes for getting money dispensed. "From a mobility standpoint, it only made sense to have a few and that's our goal to get it down to one or two ways depending on the country," he said.

Boehme noted global firms like ING face particular challenges when it comes to mobile. "Each country has different privacy laws and financial institutions have audit requirements," he said. Those audit rules can be tricky though. "You can't inspect every mobile device financial information is stored on, but the rules may call for that," he added.

Based on his experience at other companies, Boehme said that early adopters and other enthusiasts should be prepared for resistance from IT even when it comes to increasingly popular mobile alternatives. "Change is fearful to some people, especially the ones who don't want to be getting the phone calls at 2 and 3 in the morning asking for help. But if you can crack that resistance with one successful application, the challenge will be a lot easier," he said.

Boehme said one way to help win IT support is to show success with one successful application. But he also suggested developers and vendors might not even want to approach a company's IT organization initially. "Look at what Marc Benioff at Salesforce did. He didn't walk in to the CIO's office. He saw marketing and sales people having problems not being able to get the information they needed and he sold to them. Look for the low hanging fruit," said Boehme.

Panelist Debby Hopkins, chief innovation officer at Citi, said it's important to remember how much of the mobile industry is still new. "Mobile payments are happening … but it's extremely unclear how to make money on them, but they do solve a pain point," said Hopkins. "What mobile users want is security and a quick experience. If it takes 30 seconds to authenticate each transaction, no one wants to use it."

Hopkins said near field communications (NFC) technology, recently touted by Google CEO Eric Schmidt, is definitely coming to mobile. Mobile devices outfitted with NFC chips could theoretically replace the need for credit cards and transform those devices to so-called digital wallets. Citi's "Tap and Pay" pilot, launched late last year, was one of the biggest NFC trials in India.

"You have the over-the-air provisioning and Point-of-Sale device, and point-to-play to make it all work," she said. "It's not simple to connect it all, but I think it will happen …. It's about what the business model is going to be."


David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.




mobile, smartphone, Eric Schmidt, digital wallet, NFC