Lack of integration, apt strategies slow mobile collaboration uptake

Myriad tools tapping different platforms and immature deployment strategies add complexity and costs in implementation of enterprise-wide, real-time mobile collaboration, insiders say.

The rising number of mobile collaboration tools and the lack of a clear strategy for employees to access such tools on the go is hindering adoption, noted industry experts.

According to Stefan Haas, director for consulting in the Asia-Pacific region at AMI-Partners, the growing number of highly virtualized work teams across geographic boundaries together with increasing employee empowerment and consumerization of IT are trends shaping the current mobile enterprise collaboration market.

As a result, such tools are either developed as an extension to companies' traditional enterprise collaboration tools or as standalone, mobile-based apps, he said in his e-mail. For instance, vendors with existing collaborations tools in the market would focus on driving integration of these software with end-users' mobile devices.

At the same time, there are also collaboration apps that are designed solely for mobile platforms, Haas noted. Both large enterprises and small and midsize businesses (SMBs), he added, are "seeing the need" to establish a centralized collaboration platform that offers access and real-time interaction capabilities from any device in the world.

CIOs and IT managers, in particular, have to figure out a way to develop a scalable communications platform "facilitating not only voice, video and media interaction but also real-time decision-making and collaboration to reduce their total costs of communications", he said.

"As a result, integration with mobile devices has evolved to be a critical evaluation criterion when it comes to selecting enterprise-wide collaboration and communications solutions," the AMI-Partners analyst pointed out.

Ray Teske, regional director at Avaya Asean, concurred. He told ZDNet Asia via e-mail that companies are incorporating more social media and mobile elements into collaboration tools, driven by a new generation of "mobile, new media-savvy and dynamic employees and customers".

"In order to realize the true benefits of effective real-time collaboration, companies are looking for a solution that combines everything--a seamless, multi-device, multi-modal collaboration experience that puts the user first and brings the right solution at the right time to his or her device of choice," Teske said.

Complexity begets inefficiencies
However, Richard Edwards, principal analyst at Ovum, said corporate mobile device management strategies are "still immature" with most enterprises defaulting to a "connect-your-own-device" reality as a result. This means that vendors have to "sell" to the end-user rather than the IT department, he explained.

Furthermore, most enterprise collaboration tools are still obscured by the corporate firewall and therefore inaccessible to the mobile corporate user, the analyst said.

Haas of AMI-Partners added that the variety of mobile enterprise tools available in the market today use different platforms for enterprise-wide collaboration. This means that business users will have to contend with multiple systems for e-mail, Web and video conferencing, document sharing and hosted project management, when they previously had to only familiarize themselves with a single ERP (enterprise resource planning) or office productivity tool.

"While all these tools are currently necessary along the lifecycle of a project, [they] increase interaction complexity, administration requirements and, therefore [the] overall cost of communications," he explained.

Teske, too, said interoperability concerns are becoming more commonplace. Elaborating, he noted that insufficient standardization across the many platforms has created inefficiencies which could obstruct businesses and their operations.

To mitigate this challenge, the enterprise communications specialist has adopted a "wrap-and-embrace" approach that provides open source offerings which are integrated with commonly used applications to provide the "technology alignment and interoperability required" to deliver mobile enterprise collaboration tools".

Treat mobiles like desktops
Companies should also recognize that the transition from desktops to mobile devices is underway even though desktops will not disappear overnight, Edwards suggested.

As such, mobile devices should be treated in much the same way as desktops in terms of the associated policies and governance, he noted.

"The clamor for mobile access to collaborative applications could put significant pressure on IT departments that do not have 'coping strategies' or policies in place. We advocate the need for a corporate policy on the use of mobile devices and a fully comprehensible mechanism for securing corporate data, should a device be lost or stolen," the Ovum analyst urged.

Edwards also warned the small screens and keyboards on some of the mobile devices are "unsuitable for extended use", so companies should "beware" of correlated health and safety issues.

"Ovum expects a backlash from those concerned with health and safety at work as employees complain of issues related to extended use of these devices," he said.