We often hear about how important enterprise mobility is to businesses. For years ICT events companies have been holding events about “enterprise mobility” and “the future of wireless” etc – and they have filled halls with attendees and sponsors/exhibitors.

But really – is mobility really that important to businesses? Weren’t the people with “mobile” in their title the first to go when the global financial crisis hit? And point me to more than a handful of businesses whose business relies on their mobility capabilities.

I am constantly looking for good case studies of enterprise mobility implementations – where companies that have done something truly interesting – where the mobility element really added to the solution (as opposed to porting an existing capability or application to a mobile device or platform). And I am regularly told by the telco operators and handset manufacturers that they don’t really have that many case studies… So I have to ask the question – has mobility in the enterprise lived up to the hype or the promise? And the answer appears to be a resounding NO.

I do agree that BlackBerries and iPhones have made huge inroads into businesses. I do not know that many companies that do NOT support one or another mobile device for e-mail and calendaring applications. And the ability to send and receive e-mails from the airport, kitchen or bathroom (!) has helped to increase the productivity levels of many people – and in some cases, has changed the way we work. But even then, I would question whether these services truly enterprise services?

I define an enterprise capability as one that the business cannot do without. PCs and laptops are an enterprise-level requirement for information workers – if their PC breaks they cannot do their job – hence the IT department has a system in place to replace or repair people’s PCs if there is a problem – ensuring they can continue with their job.

Contrast that with an organisation that has deployed BlackBerries or iPhones or other smartphone devices. Most of these companies source their devices through mobile operators – and if something goes wrong with the device, they are treated in the same way as an consumer who has a broken phone: the device is sent for repair and the owner is told it will be back within 5-10 working days. If they are lucky they might be given some god-awful “dumb” phone as a replacement for the time the smartphone is being serviced.

So I ask – how important to the business is the “enterprise mobility” service if users are expected to go for two weeks without their device?

There are exceptions to this – I know of at least 2 major global organisations that buy their smartphones in bulk directly from resellers or distributors – and if there is a problem with a device they replace them on the spot. Some businesses have also negotiated preferential service contracts with their telecoms supplier to ensure fast turnarounds in device repairs and replacements.

So if your smartphones really are key to your business – if you truly cannot do without them – you will need a new way of sourcing and managing these devices. Perhaps treating them in the same way as you treat desktop and laptop PCs might be a good option. If this won’t work for your business (i.e. you LIKE the fact that the operator subsidises the devices!) then perhaps organising a better servicing agreement with them would work for you. If, however, they are not truly enterprise mobility devices, then perhaps you should focus less on these smartphones, and more of your attention on areas that are key to your businesses success. And if this means politely telling the senior executive who has just read the “executive technology” section of the latest in-flight magazine that their requirements are not really that important, then so be it!

Do you have any thoughts, feedback, or comments? Feel free to post them below – or otherwise e-mail me direct here.

Tim Sheedy, Senior Analyst

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