These days, IT is responsible for supporting an unknown number of devices and applications, each requiring its own connection to data behind the firewall, in a landscape that seems to change dramatically every six months. Additionally, if that wasn’t enough, IT is also still being held accountable for maintaining the highest levels of security within the organization. The tasks of sorting through all the implications of enforcing IT policy, monitoring and supporting device usage, and keeping an eye on the ever-changing landscape of the consumer tech space leave little room to plan and implement solutions that start to address these concerns. Not to mention, the increased workload that corporate networks face with the increase of wireless devices competing for bandwidth. What’s an IT director to do?
Laying the Foundation In line with traditional IT approaches to controlling the flow of corporate data, there are a number of ways to start building a foundation for a mobile IT strategy. Among those are Mobile Device Management (MDM) and Mobile Application Management (MAM). MDM forces compliance with IT policy by auto-configuring settings at the device level to regulate how a device is used in the enterprise. There are limitations, however, in that device control is ultimately dictated by APIs provided by each device manufacturer and the implementation of those APIs by the MDM provider. Often, there are far fewer control points compared to the methods for locking down a PC, like most IT professionals are used to. In addition to the limitations in capability to control the device via MDM, in the case of a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) environment, there’s also the legal and ethical question of how much control the enterprise is allowed to impose on a user’s personal device. MAM, on the other hand, looks to remedy some of those shortcomings by limiting access to corporate data at the application level, which brings up fewer questions about user privacy since corporate doesn’t need access to the entire device to lock down access to systems and data. MAM and MDM are important foundational pieces to IT’s mobile strategy as they provide important support vehicles for device deployment, diagnostics, and software distribution. However, the perceived shortcomings of these approaches compared to the traditional control methods that IT is used to highlight a much larger problem with traditional IT.
Enter UX-Driven IT Services Let’s take a moment to examine why the consumerization of IT seems to be growing at a faster rate than ever before. At various mobile tech conferences over the past few years, I’ve listened to CIOs and IT directors speaking about wanting to enable BYOD policies in their organizations in order to provide their end users with the freedom to use the latest, coolest devices. People have a desire to own the latest fashionable gadget and the instant-on, always-connected nature of mobile devices has been a major factor behind their growing popularity. The software being written for these platforms offers a frictionless approach to very focused, task-based workflows. I think this is the primary driver behind the consumerization of IT in mobile. Simply put, the user is finding a more pleasurable work experience through the use of these smaller, more focused apps than with the software and systems put in place by corporate IT. The IT department that finds religion in user experience-driven solutions can create a much happier, more satisfied user base and establishes a line of trust between the business and IT. Genentech’s IT organization is one very successful example of running a user experience-driven mindset, particularly as it applies to mobile software deployment and development. Check out this clip as two of Genentech’s leaders in mobile software and services describe some of their ideas promoting the importance of user experience-driven services.
Potential Long Term Approaches Supporting a large organization’s ever-changing landscape of devices and software is an exercise in futility. There are far too many variables to effectively manage day-to-day support issues, let alone keeping current systems in perfect working order. So, why not empower the users to perform a bit of self-help? The trend to ‘simplexify’ mobile interfaces makes set-up and maintenance a breeze for most users. Additionally, the introduction of a knowledge base and corporate social communication platform make it relatively easy to create an environment where users can help each other with the more mundane support issues, thus freeing up IT to focus on larger initiatives.
One of those larger initiatives should be an effort to transition to a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), if one isn’t already in place. Most custom business software applications running in the enterprise are web-based and architected with proprietary dependencies on specific hardware and software combinations. The presentation layer is usually tightly integrated with the backend systems in such a way that if you needed to make that data available to other applications, much of the data-side logic would need to be re-programmed. Service Oriented Architectures look to separate the logic layer from the presentation layer by performing all the system-side business logic behind a “black box”, accessible through generic APIs and web services. This allows many different applications the ability to request the same data from the web service, but display it in a context that makes the most sense for the task at hand. So, when it comes time to create a mobile app version of that critical business application, the access to the data is already set up in an easily consumable data stream and ready for use in a new context.
Finally, the concept of good user experience needs to transcend the bounds of user interaction with software and hardware and take root in the day-to-day interactions between the business and IT. In the old days, this was called good customer service. Establishing a good rapport with the business is a great way to anticipate changes in the needs of the business and become more proactive in delivering solutions that help the business perform beautifully.