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Drowning in the Sea of Choices in Enterprise Mobility? Here's a Lifeline

Mobile may be new to your enterprise, but don't use that as an excuse to flit from one tactic to another. Start thinking strategically now.

The enterprise mobility market is young and growing fast. The upside? An excitingly huge selection of mobile device management software, mobile enterprise app platforms and enterprise apps. The downside? Many won't be around in 5 years.

I was reminded of this while attending the AppNation conference in San Francisco last month. In one room was a small exhibition space for vendors. Nearly every one of them had a cool-sounding-albeit-totally-made-up word for a company name, and an even cooler-sounding pitch for why their software was faster, cheaper, more feature-rich, or more transformative than the next guy's.

Does that remind you of anything? For me, I felt like I had suddenly traveled back in time to the dot-com era, with its startups sporting silly names and no-hope products.

It was an uncomfortable feeling. And I'm not even an IT manager or CIO who actually has to vet these hundreds, nay, thousands of vendors to figure out what to buy and from whom.

Sure, if your company is just starting to get serious about mobility, that MDM software with the low license fee must be awfully tempting. Ditto for the visual developer platform that promises Apps Will Practically Write Themselves. Or the mobile BI app that promises your employees will compete to become the Mayor of Spreadsheetville.

I'm sure these products, in isolation and under ideal conditions, can do its job well. A greenfield deployment at a young, rising company with money to burn would be a good example.

But such enterprises represent 1% of the market at most. For the other 99%, they have legacy gear that may not be cutting-edge anymore but still works fine. They have established processes they don't want to overhaul. They have finite budgets, IT manpower and time that they can devote to buying, integrating and deploying new technology.

What's my point? It is, simply, that many freemium or point solutions can sound great in theory. But when deadlines loom, when startups go out of business, when resources are constrained, when processes need to be re-created or re-engineered, the cost and risk of such solutions often greatly outweigh their potential benefits. And that could create holes in your mobile infrastructure that sink your enterprise.

A Lifeline

Sometimes the better choice is choosing an integrated platform that gets you 90% of the way there while preventing 90% of the potential pain, cost and time before they arise.

This integrated mobile platform should not be constricting. We are no longer in the command-and-control era of IT, after all. IT needs to be just as Agile as their developer brothers and sisters.

Rather, this integrated platform needs to offer the choices that your employees and users want. That would include choice in mobile platforms (iOS, Android, RIM, Windows Mobile, and more) and choice in the type of app (native, Web, and hybrid).

How is an integrated platform different than the closed stack that some vendors push? For one, you should be able to choose whatever mobile devices you want. You should also be able to use whatever back-end server hardware you want. Finally, you should be able to pull from whatever data sources you need, using industry standard protocols.

Good CIOs think strategically, not tactically. They plan for the 5-year-cycle as well as the one-year cycle. They realize that penny-pinching or chasing trendy features can result in higher costs later when needs change (and they always do).

So an integrated platform may have a higher initial cost, but it should be able to scale and grow with you, rather than requiring constant expensive upgrades or migrations. And it should save you time and money over the long haul.

Do SAP and Sybase have a stake in this argument? Admittedly, we do. Together, we are striving to build just such an integrated mobile platform. We are knitting our Afaria MDM software together with the Sybase Unwired Platform for developers along with the many apps that SAP and SAP's partners are building.

The benefits of integrated platforms, we believe, will be huge for most enterprises. Apps and services become much easier to roll out. Risks of failed or delayed deployments also drop. Chances that your vendors will halt innovation due to bankruptcy or acquisition also fall dramatically.

The SAP mobile platform isn't for every enterprise. If your company restricts employees to one device type, for instance. Or if your CIO has no plans to evolve beyond letting employees check their e-mail and contacts on their smartphones or tablets.

But over time, such enterprises will represent 1% of the market at most. For the other 99%, an integrated platform may be the better choice.


Last-minute notification: on Wednesday Feb 22nd, SAP is hosting a webcast with Kate Delimitros, a principal in SAP's Value Engineering team and an expert in retail and mobile. Value Engineering takes a numbers and TCO based approach to helping you decide what parts of mobile may work for your enterprise. Sign up for the webcast here. Or listen to the recording and download the slides at the same location.