Mobile apps up biz's customer engagement, productivity

More companies accepting mobility, and deploying mobile apps top their to-do lists, as these help improve customer engagement and employee productivity, observers say.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

The deployment of mobile apps will top many companies' mobility strategies in the coming months, and observers point out that these apps such as e-mail, customer relationship management (CRM) and sales force enablement will boost customer engagement and workplace productivity.

According to Daniel-Zoe Jimenez, program manager for enterprise applications & information management software at IDC Asia-Pacific, enterprise mobility has been on the minds of CIOs for a long time, but many only explored possibilities in the areas of voice, messaging and e-mail.

However, the increased adoption of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, which are capable of running almost fully functional versions of enterprise software, has increased the attention by businesses on their mobility strategies, he noted. Citing a recent IDC CIO survey, he said over 80 percent of the organizations had plans to deploy more mobile apps, typically from the cloud.

Christopher Blake, Lotus collaboration executive at IBM Asean, concurred, saying the ubiquitous nature of Web technologies and mobile devices were driving the desire for connectivity from almost anywhere.

"For many, work is no longer being considered just a place, an office or a desk. Work is becoming an activity that people undertake irrespective of physical location. Traditional hierarchies are being changed and flatter corporate power structures are developing," he stated.

Both their observations were corroborated by a ZDNet Asia survey, which showed 14.6 percent of respondents indicating that their companies intended to deploy mobile applications within the next six months. The survey, conducted between August and October last year, was sent electronically to ZDNet Asia's Southeast Asia audience. It garnered a total of 378 respondents across 16 industry verticals, including IT and technology, education, government and manufacturing.

Apps to up productivity, engagement
As for what types of applications companies were looking to deploy, Jimenez said there has been an evolution from mobile apps that focused solely on employee productivity, to a new level that included customer engagement.

Elaborating, the analyst said organizations were mostly planning to deploy apps including sales force enablement, conferencing, enterprise resource management and location-based apps. Additionally, they were also focusing on emerging mobile offerings focusing on productivity, such as customer analytics, customer engagement and social media, he added.

Another analyst, Song Chuang, also pointed out that beyond the horizontal apps such as e-mail and personal information messenger (PIM) and vertical apps such as field service management, business intelligence (BI) and customer relationship management (CRM), companies are becoming more open to other interest areas.

"Many clients are interested in building all kinds of mobile apps, whether for business-to-employee (B2E), business-to-consumer (B2C) or business-to-business (B2B)," the Gartner research director said. "And they are really looking carefully at what HTML 5 can do for them, and which MEAP (mobile enterprise application platform) and MCAP (multichannel application platform) they should use."

Have clear roadmap, address compliance issues
Companies should avoid the common pitfalls in executing their enterprise mobility strategy though, which include implementing mobility without a policy or strategy, securing all laptops but ignoring smartphones, and users circumventing smartphone controls instituted by the company by "hard resetting" their devices, said Adrian Crowther, portfolio lead of Microsoft & client infrastructure solutions at Hewlett-Packard (HP) Asia-Pacific and Japan's technology consulting group.

He added that the areas that CIOs needed to pay attention to were connectivity, data storage and governance. With regard to connectivity, IT chiefs will need to find a way to centralize and funnel these connections to serve all mobile apps via one central location.

A balance also needs to be struck between easy access to mobile apps and maintaining the necessary compliance and security of data, the HP executive said.

"CIOs need to maintain a strong focus on business, not personal, apps while accommodating the need for employees to user their personal mobile devices for work," Crowther stated.

Adding on to the compliance challenge, Jimenez urged CIOs and IT managers to revise their ICT policies around governance, risk and compliance. The IT department will need to grapple with multiple operating systems, security and device management issues, too.

"In parallel, CIOs will need to optimize the server infrastructure as well as deploy capabilities to deploy capabilities to ensure WAN or apps acceleration," he added.

Interests in unified communications remain
The ZDNet Asia survey also highlighted unified communications (UC) as top of companies' to-do list within a 12-month timeframe, with 29.7 percent of respondents stating that the technology will be implemented then.

Commenting on this, Song said mobile UC offerings have been available for some time now, with adoption still slow but interest among companies growing. The increasing smartphone penetration within the enterprise arena will also make it easier for enterprises to put these devices on the corporate voice network and, as companies move to a more unified telephony system, this will help drive support and adoption, he added.

"There is significant value in integrating mobile phones to the corporate network, and companies should consider this in next-generation Internet Protocol (IP) telephony projects--with the goal of extending enterprise voice system functionality to mobile devices. This will consolidate wired and wireless services, thus eliminating desk phones," the Gartner analyst stated.

Sherrie Huang, research manager of communications & collaboration at IDC Asia-Pacific, pointed out that as collaboration becomes more important, the industry is more aptly referred to as UC and collaboration (UC&C). She added in her e-mail that enterprise mobility was part of UC&C and it will be a "key" investment area for companies in Asia-Pacific, as more of them realize its benefits.

Overall, UC&C vendor revenue for the region, excluding Japan, is forecast to reach US$3.23 billion by end-2012, the analyst said.

Editorial standards