For those interested in enterprise mobile access (though it also touches on the cloud and also social networks). The lecturer apparently liked the essay, giving it 21/20.
Enterprise mobile access (hereafter EMA) is a combination of modern technologies to allow professionals to have access to the corporate network and resources anywhere and anytime. Many corporations are planning to go ahead with mobility projects in order to improve productivity, reduce costs and bring services closer to the customer. With smart phones in hand, employees are now able to do a range of activities that were once limited to static desktops. One of the catalysts for EMA is the fact that enterprise software is becoming an online service, delivered fresh from the cloud and bundled with phone applications that allow users to be connected wherever they travel. This essay will shed light on the modern enterprise and its growing reliance on smart phones combined with the cloud. It will firstly explain what EMA is, giving an example of a mobile user’s workflow. Following this will be a look at the how the mobile enterprise arose and the technologies supporting it. Thirdly there will be a discussion on personal cloud and how it changes the way people interact and share experiences with each other. Finally management issues of running a mobile workforce will be given along with recommendations on how to address them as a CIO.
Enterprise Mobile Access
“A technician working in the ﬁeld needs to receive a dispatch. He can accept the order, reject it, or assign it to somebody else. He needs to retrieve a more detailed explanation of the problem and some history of the equipment in question. He needs a map or directions to get to the site. He needs to ﬁll out time and materials. He may need to order parts and he may need to generate an invoice.” (Brans and Basole 2008)
EMA has the ability to solve the above needs. By using a smart phone, a technician such as the one above could do all of those things using either a special mobile application or web-based interface for specialised software.
Another example is a truck driver. Before commencing driving he or she uses a phone to acquire route information and an inventory list of what’s in the truck. Upon arriving at each destination the phone is used to view the customer’s information. On the way back he or she makes a pickup of new inventory, using the phone to add a new record into the database. While this is occurring a systems analyst could be sitting in an office on the other side of the world, watching these events take place on their own smart phone. As these two examples show, many possibilities are available to an organisation using EMA.
Before EMA is explained in more detail, an overarching definition is needed:
“The mobile enterprise is built on a foundation of processes and technologies allowing full access and instrumented insight to all organizational resources, resulting in improved adaptability, access, and interaction among employees, customers, partners, and suppliers, independent of location.” (Basole 2007)
Small changes can make a large difference
While field workers can now be immediately connected to all the sources they need, they are also able to upload their own data results, which is then harvested for overall business intelligence used by management (Basole 2007). Real-time data collection also can aid other business processes such as order shipping and also provide benefits such as lower inventory and carrying costs (Basole 2007).
The components of EMA
Perhaps the two major technologies that bring EMA to life are the mobile phone and the internet, both of which originally followed separate paths until their convergence over the past 8 years (Scornavacca and Barnes 2008). A third concept that adds to the mix is cloud computing, which will be discussed in more depth later on. Put simply, cloud computing means that information is not stranded on individual machines; rather it is combined into one digital “cloud” that is available at the touch of a finger from many different devices (Hamm, 2009). When you put these three things together; the mobile phone, the internet, and the cloud, you have the ability to enable ubiquitous access to the corporate network and resources.
Origin of Enterprise Mobile Access
EMA originates as a result of several technologies merging together; namely cloud computing, smart phones, ERP and similar software solutions, and new wireless networks.
The online enterprise – business in the cloud
Before the advent of cloud computing (and still to a large degree today) organisations installed hardware and business software locally, as well as a company intranet to provide internal networking. Today this set up is very expensive and time consuming, and with data transfer over the internet now being at a very high speed, software can exist on one computer and be used on another, thousands of kilometres away. It is this concept of outsourcing software and computing power to external vendors that provides the basis of cloud computing.
The impact of cloud computing on the enterprise computing landscape is reminiscent of the shift from big mainframe systems to client server computing in the ’90s (Gogia, 2010). Cloud computing, while at first glance appearing overly technical, is really a natural advancement that has already occurred in many other areas of modern human society. For example, essential services such as water, electricity, gas and telephony have all evolved into a system whereby consumers pay for small proportions of the whole, which is operated by an external vendor. It would not make sense for every house or organisation to have an electricity generator, or water tank. Much the same it does not make sense that every business should house its own servers and data centres nor maintain its own software. Businesses now realise that the cloud computing can successfully be used to strategically cut costs and drive innovation (Hinchcliffe 2008).
The public cloud generally consists of large scale data centres comprised of commodity hardware orchestrated by customer management software (Gogia, 2010). While there are a wide variety of public cloud services, most share the following attributes (Gogia, 2010):
- Utility Model: Customers pay for public cloud computing services on a subscription or metered basis, replacing fixed up-front IT capital expenditures with variable operating expenses.
- Elastic Resources: Customers can access additional cloud computing capacity as needed, thereby eliminating the need to permanently provision capacity for peak demand.
- Shared Resources: Users share computing resources with other customers using virtual rather than physical data and processing partitions.
These attributes highlight some of the major benefits enterprises acquire by using cloud services, such as a low barrier to entry, low capital expenditure and peace of mind in knowing the system won’t fail during peak periods. One issue that has been opened for debate is that of security; however it is often argued that cloud providers have a strong incentive to maintain trust and as such employ a higher level of security (Messmer, 2010).
The rise of the smart phones
Now with their information systems online, enterprises have been learning how to embrace this new found freedom of informational access. In the past employees were restricted to office computers with the right software and firewall setup; but now any device with a web browser installed will suffice. Global enterprise expenditure on mobile devices is expected to almost treble by 2012 (Datamonitor 2008).
While there is no clear distinction between a cell phone and a smart phone, generally a smart phone is a “next generation, multifunctional cell phone that provides voice communication and text-messaging capabilities and facilitates data processing as well as enhanced wireless connectivity” (Zheng and Ni 2006).
The main contributor to the proliferation of smart phones has been the increased availability of low-cost wireless data connections; namely the rollout of 3G and widespread Wi-Fi hotspots (Zheng and Ni 2006). With high speed internet available, the smart phones could now do a whole lot more than send email; executives were now accessing confidential corporate information through custom made business applications and mobile web browsers.
It wasn’t long before enterprise application providers began to develop mobile strategies and proactively promote their apps to mobile platforms (Leung 2009). One example of this is when SAP and Research In Motion (RIM) partnered together to develop a mobile Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application (Morphy 2008). This allowed BlackBerry users to access data from the SAP CRM, even when they are not connected to the internet thanks to data synchronisation (the application would automatically update the data when the phone hit a coverage area).
In regard to mobile web browser access it was the arrival of smart phones like the iPhone and Blackberry Storm that saw many enterprises focus on web-based delivery of applications and data access; the reason being it took a lot more effort to write custom applications for different mobile operating systems (Leung 2009).
Front and back end systems
Enterprise mobile access has its roots in the shift of software from local versions to the cloud. Software originally was installed locally on individual computers and company networks to automate processes and meet the needs of workers in the back end of the firm. The back end involves things like accounting, order processing and procurement. This was followed by software helping the front end workers in areas such as sales, marketing the general front office. Data became consolidated and was shared by both the front end and back end software; however this could sometimes be problematic when different departments required the data in a different format (Brans and Basole 2008).
ERP and friends
The next logical step was to integrate both the back office and front office software in all-encompassing software suites that have been given a variety of names, including Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Business Intelligence, Decision Support Systems and Executive Information Systems. These systems could produce reports and allow manipulation of data through web interfaces, meaning anyone with an internet connection could simply login and acquire access to the organisations data.
The online availability of enterprise information brought about a new computing paradigm with several new features (Brans and Basole 2008):
- Company data is far away and accessible by relatively slow networks (such as through mobile internet)
- If the user is not within company premises and sitting behind a desktop computer then security risks are higher
- The way the user interfaces with the application is different
- The mobile user expects the application to fit into his work life in a different way
3G and wireless networks
Perhaps the most important piece of EMA is the high speed internet made available by 3G and wireless networks. Now available in most countries, 3G allows data transfer of up to 2mb per second and keeps phones permanently connected to the internet.
The Personal Cloud
Today there is a remarkable degree of connection among people and this can be mainly attributed to the cloud and social networking platforms. With the advent of smart phones, people can now update their friends on what they are doing at any one time (Twitter and Facebook update), along with their exact location (Facebook Places) and even give a permanent review or write-up of the place they are in (Foursquare). To fully comprehend this interconnectivity a short history of social networks is necessary.
“If you’re not on MySpace, you don’t exist”
The last decade has seen a large shift in the way people communicate and share experiences online. Friendster was the first major social networking site to popularise the features that define contemporary social network sites and was launched in 2002 as a dating website (Boyd 2007). While some used the site for this purpose, others used it for a wide range of activities such as tracking down old school friends and creating fictional accounts for fun (Boyd 2007). This was the infancy of the new way of communicating and keeping in touch with a network of friends.
MySpace launched a year later and, unlike Friendster, welcomed bands online. When people found out their bands were on MySpace, they would go and view their profiles; finding that not only could the band’s music be listened to for free, but that they could make comments that the musicians could (and usually would) respond to. Bands and musicians brought the first wave of young participants to MySpace, but soon their friends were persuaded to join, “enjoying the social voyeurism and the opportunity to craft a personal representation in an increasingly popular online community” (Boyd 2007).
While having your own “space” with commenting capabilities opened up a new online presence and communication system, it was not good enough to stop Facebook from claiming the throne of top social networking site. Facebook started in the college community, where by 2006, students were posting lots of personal details including who they were dating, their music tastes, the groups they had joined and small updates such as “hating Money,” and “skipping class b/c i’m hung over” (Thompson 2008). Zuckerberg, the original creator, then added a new feature that catapulted Facebook to the top: newsfeed. Newsfeed meant that users would no longer have to find out new information by zipping around each friend’s page.
“Instead, they would just log into Facebook, and News Feed would appear: a single page that — like a social gazette from the 18th century — delivered a long list of up-to-the-minute gossip about their friends, around the clock, all in one place. “A stream of everything that’s going on in their lives,” as Zuckerberg put it.” (Thompson 2008)
Facebook and the other social networking sites such as Twitter have transformed the way we interact with our networks of people. We now have instant access to vast amounts of social information, and are able to almost continuously stay in touch with friends and colleagues. However one question that arises is has this new social phenomenon really increased the number of friends we have? Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist, created in 1998 what is now known is the “Dunbar number”, which is supposedly the upper limit of the number of people that you can count as “friends”. Thompson (2008) argues that while this number, which is 150, has been increased by social networks; the number of intimate relationships remains the same.
“…deep relationships are still predicated on face time, and there are only so many hours in the day for that” (Thompson 2008).
But one area that has exploded in growth was in “weak ties” or people’s loose acquaintances such as someone you met at last night’s party or business networking function. 15 years ago these shallow relationships would have been quickly lost in memory, however having them as a Facebook friend or following them on Twitter means that every so often you will receive updates into their lives, throwing them back into focus.
On the downside studies are beginning to show that the internet and its social networks (namely the short snippets of information, links, and flashy animations) are making us stupider, less creative, less productive and increasingly shallow (Carr 2010).
Mobile phones will play a large role in the future of social networks. Currently there are 1.3 billion mobile internet users today, which will only keep increasing (Yiibu 2010). Also it has been argued that enterprises will shape the next generation of social media applications and websites; having reportedly invested an average of 25% more funds toward social media activities in 2010 (Lichtenberg 2010). The result of which will be more social applications tailored to meet enterprise needs (such as Chatter from Salesforce.com).
Software Management in the Mobile Data Age
Because it can deeply affect the way organisations do business, EMA presents an array of issues to management, including the issue of employee productivity, security and international travel issues.
One implication for management is the possibility that the benefits of smart phones are not being effectively utilised by employees. A first step an organisation should be to ask if mobile access to enterprise systems is necessary. Are staff constantly on the road? If yes, what kind of data do they need in the field? What kind of mobile applications will best provide this data?
While smart phones can enhance productivity, they can also distract employees with their multimedia capabilities. Phone calls, SMS and emails can arrive one after another, creating a distraction from the work at hand and possibly extending the monthly phone bill. While it is hard and time consuming to track such things, a CIO could organise seminars and workshops that teach employees how to best use their phones while in work hours.
IT managers have a new set of challenges when it comes to the mobile enterprise, including (Brans and Basole, 2008):
- tracking the software and hardware that belongs to the company
- performing automatic backup on behalf of the users
- performing remote troubleshooting
With private corporate data being available for viewing on mobile phones, an array of pressures arise for managers, including making sure that only employees have access to the devices. If a phone is suspected lost or stolen, the phone should have the ability to be remotely locked or instructed to encrypt or delete confidential data. Finally, the IT department should know who is using a given device, and grant or restrict access to various information resources accordingly (Brans and Basole, 2008).
Dealing with international travel
One issue that organisations will have to deal with is international travel. A professional that is relying on the company data from their phone may not be able to access the internet in a different country. To deal with this problem it is necessary to briefly look at how mobiles work at a global level.
The most popular wireless platform (technology that carries the signal back and forth from the phone to the receiver ) is the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), which is used by more than 2 billion people in over 200 countries (or 73% of the worldwide mobile market share in 2006) (Lin and Brown 2007). However while in Europe, Australia, Asia, South America and Africa the popular frequencies range between 900-1800 MHz, the USA service providers most commonly use 1900 MHz (Lin and Brown 2007). This presents a problem for travelling to and from North America; and can be solved by doing the following things (independenttraveler.com 2010):
- Make sure the phone is tri-band or quad-band, which means it will work with 900/1800/1900 MHz frequencies
- Talk to service providers to work out international plans and roaming options for travelling employees
- Make sure enough data is included in the international plan – data used above the cap can be very expensive
With smart phones, fast wireless connections and specialised enterprise software, professionals are now able to access corporate data from any place at any time. This convergence of several technologies has allowed the creation of EMA, which can provide a variety of solutions to large organisations, including enhanced efficiency of operations and workforce, reduced costs and increased customer satisfaction. One of the catalysts for EMA is cloud computing, which provides dynamically scalable and virtualised software solutions and serves them up to users on a web browser as if the program were installed locally on their own computer or mobile phone. This ubiquitous access, coupled with the communicative abilities provided by social networks has altered the way professionals perform their business activities. Employees are effectively able to travel with their office in their pockets, creating new issues regarding the security of confidential information for IT managers. In the near future enterprises will need to make tough decisions on whether or not to engage in EMA practices, which is still in its infancy and yet to mature into a safe and stable solution. Overall EMA is an exciting evolutionary development of information systems, having the potential to provide signiﬁcant beneﬁts to corporate infrastructure and provide the competitive advantage necessary to succeed.
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