Wanted: Business Mobility Strategies

 An ever-mobile workforce, the consumerization of technology and resource-constrained IT departments are creating the perfect storm for channel partners to assist businesses in developing and implementing focused mobility plans.

Customers are gradually waking up to the idea that a mobility strategy is something they need; historically there has not been a pervasive understanding that mobility is something companies need to develop a strategy around,” said Chris Kozup, marketing director for Mobility at Cisco Systems Inc. A lot of companies are now being forced [to develop a strategy] because of the influx of mobile devices from their employees. That is the push point. The floodgates have opened and the IT departments are being besieged to support new devices and they are struggling to do that.”

But rather than bury their heads in the sand  or, in this case, the IT closet  a growing number of companies are recognizing the importance of mobility as a productivity enhancer and embracing the technology.

According to the iPass Mobile Workforce Report, smartphone penetration among mobile employees has outpaced the consumer market, with 69 percent now using those devices for work. Results of The Cisco Connected World Report, likewise, show that 66 percent of employees surveyed expect IT to allow them to use any device personal or company-issued to access corporate networks, applications and information anywhere at any time.

Business Drivers. Market indicators demonstrate a desire by employees and a need for IT departments to harness the power of mobility. And the reasons for having the ability to go mobile are many, from achieving work-life balance to having access to critical information while on the road. All point to the meaningful benefit of enhanced productivity.

However, just adding mobile devices to the network and installing a VPN on employees laptops do not constitute a mobility strategy IT departments first must lay the groundwork for defining the need and develop the strategy from there. And thats where channel partners can help.

For most enterprises, mobility is defined as the use of any mobile device  be it a smartphone, laptop, notebook, tablet or other device that uses a wireless connection  both inside and outside a company’s network. Such a strategy should include not only the hardware to build out a robust enough wireless network but also the devices and the rules for using the devices outside the company network or connecting to the company network from an outside location.

The first step in helping clients develop a mobility strategy is education, said Mike Zozaya, mobility practice manager at Nexus IS, a solution provider based in Murrieta, Calif. Educate your customer on the three anys  anytime, anywhere, any device  with an emphasis on security,” he said. And its not just wireless (LANs) mobility is also being able to integrate with service providers. From that point the partner and the customer can come up with a phased plan.”

Indeed. Greg Cernosek, senior director of strategic alliances at Houston-based solutions provider INX, said his company uses a multiphase approach. One of the most valuable parts of that process is that first envisioning phase,” he said. We focus on making sure INX and the customer both know the problem that needs to be solved. Its more about solving a problem than it is about implementing a technology. You dont install wireless for the sake of having wireless both parties first need to define the problem and the expected business results. That happens before we look at any product.”

Indeed, defining the problem that mobility can solve is quite possibly the most important step in developing and implementing a strategy, Ciscos Kozup said.

More are looking at mobility from the perspective of, what is the right approach and what is the right strategy?” he said. Its not just about what mobile device to allow [companies are now asking,] Should we allow teleworking? Should we allow access to hotspots? What is our preferred application platform? There is a broad spectrum of topics companies need to consider besides just what devices to allow.”

Infrastructure Issues. Channel partners need to ensure their customers understand the multitude of factors in developing and implementing their mobile strategy. Besides the issues Kozup noted, infrastructure issues the increased performance of wireless networks, the number of devices accessing those networks, the enhanced capability of Wi-Fi and even the computing power of the devices all are important considerations.

Even the advent of social networking and the idea of location and context all are working together to drive mobility,” he said.

Once customers understand the business driver for implementing mobility, the conversation about infrastructure becomes much easier, Nexus IS Zozaya said. A good majority actually already has the infrastructure in place, they just need the right licenses to implement, or they have a certain amount of wireless but it was purchased as part of reactive approach,” he noted. Many times we show them what they have and build a vision for mobility around it.”

For some engagements, however, the infrastructure discussion can be painful, especially for companies that recognize they need help but dont have the budget for a full-scale rip and replace. The trick, Zozaya said, is to help them understand how mobility can actually save them money through enhanced productivity. I feel more now than ever customers are more receptive and more open to the idea on how to reduce operating costs,” he said. There may be some upfront capital expenditures, but the priority is reducing IT costs and opex costs, and if we can show that, companies are open to that. It all boils down to them understanding the vision and how we can make mobility financially beneficial for them,” Zozaya said.

Ciscos Kozup added that infrastructure integration is a key opportunity for channel partners due to its complexity. There is a large demand for integration, ensuring it all works effectively together. That is where the role of the partner becomes a lot more important,” he said.

Security Concerns. Security is also a major factor in developing and implementing a mobility strategy, no matter how robust the company infrastructure is. One of the biggest challenges for IT departments is securing those mobile devices,” Kozup said. Its great if I can make sure the right person is accessing the right device, but there are many other important features available such as remote lock or remote wipe in case the device is lost or stolen. The challenge for the customers is the mobile device management space is highly fragmented, so its a perfect opportunity for a channel partner to come in and make recommendations or build a custom solution or offer a combination of solutions based on devices, threshold of risk, etc. Thats a huge area of opportunity to really be that trusted adviser.”

Security doesnt just encompass the physical state of the device it also refers to the security of the corporate network and corporate data being accessed by the devices. Because of that, a sound, enforceable and enforced policy on mobility should also be an important element of a companys mobility strategy and again, another area where channel partners can lend their expertise.

If you dont set up your customer to have a proper wireless policy, you set them up to fail from the beginning,” said Josh Close, senior consulting engineer at INX. There has to be some standard for what, when, where and how.”

Kozup suggests the best method for helping customers determine their policies is to hold their hands as they test the waters with a small group. From there, based on feedback from the group as well as evidence of what works and doesnt work in the organization, establishing policies can be a relatively easy task.

Help those customers walk the line between open and controlled networks to see what works best for them,” he said. Also, the influx of consumer-oriented technology is a major consideration the iPhone is at heart a consumer device so to what degree does the company allow full access to devices features, and to what degree do they control it and lock it down? Providing that guidance can be a major help.”

At the end of the day, channel partners can mean the difference between a successful, meaningful mobility strategy and one that can actually do more harm than good.

Mobility is definitely now a need-to-have technology,” Zozaya said. Look at the commoditization of IT in the next two years, there will be 3 billion-plus devices on the network. People see them as an extension of themselves. Its a part of your personality, who you are. Corporations are finding its more productive and less expensive for employees to use the devices and applications they want to use and manage those applications than to try and stop it from happening. But there has to be a paradigm shift in how they view those devices.”

Charlene OHanlon is a freelance writer specializing in the technology channel.

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