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May 28 2012   12:30PM GMT

2012 MIT CIO Symposium – The surprisingly tethered untethered enterprise

Beth Cohen Beth Cohen Profile: Beth Cohen

Question:  What is the leading edge thinking about the emerging role of mobile in the modern enterprise?

The 2012 MIT CIO symposium purported theme was the untethered enterprise.  Ironically for all the recent media buzz, there was little discussion of untethered enterprises, or even much mention of mobile at all.  Only one panel was slated to cover the topic, but that discussion quickly devolved into a tactical discussion of IT/vendor relationships and SLA’s.  That doesn’t mean that there was no discussion of mobile devices, just few of the in-depth conversations about how the enterprise can best incorporate emerging technologies that I expect from this usually forward thinking and informative conference. Reading between the lines, the enterprise is not quite ready to tackle these difficult considerations.

Very few companies are creating the holistic enterprise mobility strategy that is needed to drive real business advantage.  To put this all into perspective, an informal conference survey revealed that less than a third of the attendees had an enterprise BYOD policy in place today.  Some simply were letting their employees set the standards.  For one company this has resulted in far too many employees with two devices on their desks (one company issued and the other a BYOD of their own choice), and 11K unsupported iPads on their network.  That CIO wryly admitted that maybe it was time for their IT department to address the issue, if for no other reason than they were wasting millions on underused computer resources.

The push to add mobility is coming from both the top and the bottom of the organizations.  For every executive with their hot smartphone, there are 10 employees with three tablets.  However, IT is responding by pushing mobile apps out the door without a good understanding that mobile is a game changing strategy that takes the organization from the traditional top-down IT approach that has been fashionable in recent years back to a bottom up consumer driven initiative. Of course, this is completely runs counter to the traditional IT mindset.  As long as there is a disconnect between the demands of the workers and the services provided by IT, shadow IT will continue to remain a strong force in the enterprise.

From the technology perspective, while enterprise mobility has been around for 20 years in some form or another, the underlying technology to support the mobile apps is still quite brittle.  We are relying on a telecom infrastructure that isn’t fully capable of supporting millions of mobile endpoints.  Because mobility is primarily a device driven technology, it is completely dependent on the infrastructure.  The IT organization is better off getting into the way-back machine and treating them as dumb terminals.  The good news is that mobility security is finally being taken seriously.  Clearly there are some continuing issues that need to be addressed, but the technology and standards are there to make smartphones and tablet secure enough for even government standards.

Several times during the conference, the downsides of hyper-connectivity came up.  One panelist noted an interesting recent trend where formerly plugged-in 20-somethings were choosing to disconnect as they ramped up their careers and realized that separating their private and work lives was a sensible idea.  Several others commented on the need to provide a work environment that is attractive to the tech savvy worker, but old expectations of 100% worker availability is wearing thin.  Many American companies are realizing what the rest of the world has known forever, just because you can touch your workers 24 hours a day, doesn’t mean that you should.  There is an increasing awareness that for sanity if nothing else, you need to apply reasonable business etiquette for worker communications.  My only comment is that after living the 7/24 IT worker life for 20 years this revelation couldn’t come any sooner for me.

What I realized at the end of the day was that mobile and untethered is just a red herring.  The new generation of users sees it for what it really is, shared ubiquitous access to data in the cloud.   For that to succeed It has to be dirt simple and it has to be a thin client service that delivers the functionality that the users need.   That is not so hard, is it?

About the Author

Beth Cohen, Cloud Technology Partners, Inc.  Transforming Businesses with Cloud Solutions

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