Mobility in the enterprise: Who should hold the hot potato?

Mobility touches multiple facets of IT -- platform choice, application development, customer engagement. Does it make sense to put one person in charge of it all?

mobile management

On this we can agree: Mobility is a matrix of madness for enterprise IT.

The current explosion of tablet, smartphone, netbook and laptop options creates a complicated hardware equation. Cross-platform or OS-specific application development affects software, security and management decisions. The desire to give both customers and employees access to back-end enterprise applications is just one more monkey wrench in the mix.

"Mobile is changing all the rules, whether you're on the IT side or the line-of-business side," says Bob Egan, CEO of Sepharim Group, a Boston-based mobility consulting firm. "We've gone from a homogeneous environment to a heterogeneous environment with multiple screens and operating systems. It's a capacity issue, a security and authentication issue, and a policy issue. It's a brave new world for organizations to deal with."

So how do you manage the madness? Should you, for example, do the following?

  • Hire a mobile wrangler to corral efforts, and make him or her the arbiter of interfaces and back-end architecture access, as Case Western Reserve University has done? If so, to whom should that person report?
  • Create a separate, ad hoc group to get your company quickly and creatively up to speed on mobility, as gaming company Electronic Arts did? If so, should those responsibilities eventually roll back into IT?
  • Establish a group that functions as center of excellence for mobile, as Boston-area Needham Bank has done? If that's viable, then how should it be staffed and who should oversee it?

While there is no one right answer, IT managers and analysts agree the stakes are high. Mobility is no longer tactical, it's strategic, and that requires a higher level of consideration. "It went from being nice to have -- something that executives and users really loved -- to being a mainstream initiative," says Ojas Rege, vice president of strategy for MobileIron, a mobile enterprise management vendor based in Mountain View, Calif.

Who's in charge of the ball of wax?

Before you can corral mobile, you need to figure out who or what group should do the corralling. But even that decision is not easy to make.

Take the issue of support. Mobility is not solely a hardware issue, so it doesn't necessarily make sense to drop it in the desktop team's lap. "In the tablet world, IT can't push [just] Apple iOS," says Rege. "It's not technically possible."

And it doesn't make sense to put the email team in charge of mobility, because mobile devices are used for much more than email these days -- you have to take into account security, device management and more. Beyond that, it's one thing to offer technical support to your company's employees; it's another to offer the same kind of support to the exponentially larger customer base you're trying to engage.

Then there's the age-old schism between marketing and IT. As Egan points out, "marketing's first responsibility is to drive the persona of the brand through all channels and geographies. IT's responsibility is to protect the brand, not extend it. Its goal is to protect profits, not drive revenue."

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