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Taking the risk out of enterprise mobility

Taking the risk out of enterprise mobility

The mobile enterprise is emerging quickly, driven by consumer passion for smartphones and tablets and the understanding -- from workers and employers alike -- that mobile devices let workers get more done in less time.

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Additional enticements to mobilize aren't needed but they are emerging nonetheless: improved customer engagement, unparalleled customer service, improved supply chain operations and partner/supplier collaboration as well as faster, more effective business decision-making. Thereby transforming mobile from 'nice-to-have' into something necessary and core to long-term business strategy.

High Stakes, High Anxiety

With so much more riding on enterprise mobile solutions, companies need to exert proactive measures to maintain control over spiraling complexity amid fast-paced change. Mobile applications must be as effective as their desktop and notebook counterparts, even while a whole assortment of new security, integration and manageability hassles complicate every small undertaking. Getting mobile right requires a broad range of device support, a central point of control, a wide security net that ensures corporate data is never compromised, and the ability to shield end users from integration complexities.

Fortunately, these themes should seem familiar; IT has been through similar challenges in the past. Experienced IT executives know they must have an end-game in mind to scale their mobile operations effectively in a standards-based, platform-neutral way. Do it right, and the benefits are swift and plentiful. Do it haphazardly, and the company will be vulnerable to numerous, costly risks, including:

• Disruption of business processes: The functional failure of any part of the mission-critical IT systems -- of which mobile apps are now solidly included -- can grind productivity to a halt and threaten service levels and revenue projections.

• High cost: An ad hoc approach to building out the mobile application architecture will eventually result in time-consuming, manual intervention to maintain.

• Lack of business agility: A poorly planned mobile architecture that cannot support dynamic business strategy shifts can hold the entire business back.

These risks are amplified by the inherent instability of the mobile marketplace, which, for the foreseeable future, promises continued upheaval in OS and platform dominance, lack of standardization and new security vectors.

Point Solutions: Building Silos

Point solutions are a natural way for enterprises to respond to new mobile management requirements in the absence of a holistic mobile strategy. Point solutions are generally adopted to perform a specialized operation for a particular line of business or workgroup, and they come with their own proprietary tools for managing the application (see Figure 1). In short, a point solution is an easy -- and relatively inexpensive -- way to accomplish a mobile deployment with insular, short-term objectives.

What's great about point solutions lies in direct contrast to the mobile strategy challenge facing today's enterprises. At a time when companies require long-term vision and a comprehensive plan to manage mobile growth and complexity, point solutions increasingly look like artifacts of a bygone era of mobile myopia.

Point solutions don't scale. As additional mobile application servers are deployed, management costs skyrocket and data reuse becomes impossible due to lack of integration. Each point solution is a silo, with its own middleware and technology stack, and is inherently change intolerant.

There is a better way. In fact, the model for today's best-in-class mobility strategies should be a familiar one: a tiered architecture that isolates integration issues and platform complexity in a middleware layer.

Mobile Middleware

Middleware has long been used in enterprise software architecture to manage complexity. Residing between the applications and the client devices, a middleware platform facilitates communication between multiple applications on the back end with multiple operating systems on the front end. Management is centralized; application customizations are isolated and reusable; and data can be shared among multiple applications.

The industry has coined a term for mobile middleware: a mobile enterprise application platform (MEAP). With a MEAP approach, your mobile infrastructure scales easily with your mobile business needs. Applications, devices, databases, workflows and user groups can be added or changed with minimal effort.

Most importantly, the infrastructure is agile, which means it is less expensive to operate, and changes and additions can be deployed more quickly, which means business advantages can be reaped faster.

Organizations that adopt a platform approach can expect these benefits:

• Lower administrative, maintenance and support costs; over-the-air device access.

• No platform or OS lock-in; end user preference is possible.

• Greater flexibility in data sharing across applications and workflows.

• Faster time-to-market for new mobility deployments.

• Simplified management of all devices, applications and security using a single console.

Gartner has recognized these significant benefits of the platform approach. It recommends a MEAP for any organization that is supporting three or more mobile operating systems, three or more mobile applications or three or more back-end data sources.

The MEAP approach offers financial incentives as well. According to a December 2009 study by the Aberdeen Group, best-in-class mobility strategies result in substantially higher adoption rates and a 71 percent lower total cost of ownership (TCO) when compared to poorly implemented solutions. By controlling the risk of security mishaps and providing a centralized, over-the-air management framework for client devices, organizations with a MEAP in place can rest assured their TCO for enterprise mobility is low.

Planning for Mobile Success

The threats to a successful mobile enterprise exist. But forethought and a willingness to invest upfront in a mobile architecture based on best practices are powerful remedies to mobile risk factors.

As a Sybase vice president and the company's chief technology officer, Irfan Khan oversees all the technology offices. Together with the architects in these technology offices, he is chartered with ensuring the voice of Sybase's customers and the needs of the market are reflected within the company's innovation and product development.

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