By Michael Kleinemeier

Smartphones and tablets have become a fact of life at many companies nowadays. But mobile devices and processes don’t just open the door to greater operational efficiency and faster innovation – they’re also the key to simpler IT.

With mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets becoming more and more mainstream in our corporate culture, the boundaries between work and private life are blurring. According to a recent study by the German high-tech association BITKOM, one in three employees (32 percent) accesses their employer’s IT while on the go. One in three enterprises, meanwhile, sees the need for an integrated platform to manage devices, applications, and content.

If the forecasts of prestigious consultancy firm McKinsey are to be believed, companies will be using an average of 25 mobile business applications each come the end of 2014. This makes it all the more surprising to learn that around 60 percent of all European companies surveyed by consulting firm PAC don’t have a long-term mobility strategy in place, and that so far only 15 percent of all companies have looked into the safety/security-critical aspects of mobile applications and data.

Still, the mobility wave has long since swept the corporate world, no question about it. Not least because more and more employees are using their private mobile devices on the job – à la “Bring your Own Device” (BYOD) programs, a concept that reflects the increasing demand from users for mobile devices and apps that can help simplify their day-to-day lives, both at work and privately. Thanks to mobile technologies, companies can now manage even a six-figured number of devices reliably, as the example from Hewlett-Packard shows. With remarkable foresight, smartphones and other mobile devices are evolving into tools that enable completely new business scenarios. So for the corporate world, mobility also means innovation. Companies don’t just want to mobilize all of their existing business processes, they also want to develop new processes and business models that were previously unthinkable on stationary devices.

Apps are the key to mobility

Mobile apps play a key role here. They are what make mobile processes attractive. What’s more, innovative applications promote synergy among the different levels of an organization. Because every employee has access to the exact information he or she needs for their job – anytime, anywhere, on any device – mobility draws key players ever closer together, leading to closer collaboration within the company. Business process mobilization, however, is not about installing a plethora of street-savvy functions, nor should the main focus be on the device itself, however attractive and coveted smartphones and tablets may be.The aim, rather, is to achieve the maximum possible operational benefit for the company and its users.

Focus on core functions and usability

If anything, the overwhelming success of smartphones has shown us that users only accept potential gains in functionality if they can get the technology up and running quickly and intuitively. The name of the game, therefore, is to eliminate as many hurdles to mobile app acceptance as possible. In other words, the apps have to be easy to learn and quick to use. Only then can companies win over their employees – including those who tend to be more skeptical about innovation. SAP developed its new SAP Fiori apps to help address this challenge. The apps allow companies to run tried and true solutions, regardless of the mobile device platform, in a completely new way – process and task-oriented, in full alignment with the companies’ core business requirements in HR, financials, manufacturing, procurement, and sales. Companies can activate and test the solution in individual business areas and find out which mobile features are accepted or rejected by their employees. The individual applications in SAP Fiori were designed in such a way so as to allow the complete integration of proven processes and functions of popular consumer applications, without any loss in functionality. The result is a much smaller learning curve and a fresh new design.

Companies must also remember to keep a close eye on data security as well. The recent wiretapping scandal drove home this point very clearly, and yet data security is still often overshadowed by the excitement and appeal of mobile applications and devices. Bottom line: Data security needs to be intuitive, too. Otherwise user acceptance will dwindle – and so will your level of security.

Big Data via smartphone

It’s easy to imagine use scenarios for the solutions described above. Business managers can exchange information quickly and securely, and employees can take advantage of intuitive apps to run powerful solutions, without needing extensive training. Field sales staff, meanwhile, have real-time access to all of the information they need for their customer visits. Energy consultants, for example, can perform Big Data analyses directly on site to push simulations and demonstrate changes in energy consumption and the related cost effects.

One thing is clear: The potential offered by mobile systems is far from being exhausted. That being said, companies will only be able to maximize this potential when there is close cooperation between all involved departments. If IT decision makers and users go through potential scenarios together, they’ll be able to quickly identify where and how the mobile apps need to be adapted for optimum deployment.

One idea, many deployment possibilities

The fascinating thing is that a lot of apps function in many different industries and lines of business. All they usually need is some minor, industry-specific adaptation. Fashion apps, for example, could easily be used as a white label platform in other areas of the consumer segment. The same applies to warehouse management apps that facilitate mobile inventory control and stock replenishment. They can save you a lot of time and money, regardless whether you are a major food wholesaler, a commercial kitchen, a workshop, or part of the medical community. And thanks to business apps, employees can now process enterprise applications with the same comfort and ease they have come to expect from their private smartphones and tablets.

Apps for mobile customer loyalty programs, meanwhile, allow sales staff in the field to generate sales vouchers for promoting special offers at vending machines. The City of Montreal is a pioneer where this is concerned. And wouldn’t it be great if these vending machines could report malfunctions themselves or forward replenishment instructions directly to service technicians?!

Without question, companies that invest time and resources in innovating mobile solutions today will not only be able to collaborate more efficiently with their customers and staff in future, they’ll also get an incredible leg up on the competition and thus have more elbow room for further innovation. Clearly, “mobility” is becoming a strategic driver for business growth. Not only will mobilization of enterprise IT tap completely new user groups, it will drastically simplify increasingly complex IT. Of that I am certain. And let’s not forget: Mobile IT is more fun to use, too!

Michael Kleinemier is president of Middle and Eastern Europe at SAP.

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