'Mobile' for laptops is not the same as 'mobile' for smartphones and tablets

Smartphones and tablets get an inordinate amount of attention in the enterprise mobility market. In reality, devices should be one of the last things we're concerned with.

Smartphones and tablets get an inordinate amount of attention in the enterprise mobility market. In reality, devices should be one of the last things we're concerned with.

I was a guest on the latest edition of The Mobilecast podcast, where the question of creating a "chief mobility officer" position came up. Benjamin Robbins, a principal at mobile consulting firm Palador, said organizations don't need a chief mobility officer, because that would be like hiring a chief laptop officer, and really, who in their right mind would do that? I argued against that analogy, and I'd like to expand upon my point here.

The way in which a laptop is mobile and the way in which a smartphone or tablet is mobile are completely different. A laptop is merely an extension of traditional desktop computing. It runs Windows and big enterprise software suites. It connects to the corporate network, either in the office or through a VPN. It's locked down, and IT controls what you can and can't do with it.

A smartphone or tablet is not an extension of traditional desktop computing. It represents a new way of doing things. It runs new kinds of operating systems and agile, user-friendly apps. It connects to the public cloud through carrier networks and Wi-Fi. And if we're talking BYOD, IT has little to no control over what you can and can't do with it.

"Mobile" in the laptop context did not fundamentally change enterprise computing. Sure, it gave people more options in terms of when and where they could work, but the actual work they were doing remained the same. "Mobile" in the smartphone and tablet context is changing everything.

As I wrote in a story this week about developing mobile applications, "The rise of easy-to-use, consumer-focused apps for smartphones and tablets have changed users' expectations about the kind of software they should have at work." If organizations don't give these tools to employees -- either by building their own or deploying third-party enterprise apps -- users will go around IT and find alternatives on their own.

The infrastructure needed to support these new kinds of apps will also be different. Accessing corporate email on smartphones and tablets is super easy, thanks to Exchange ActiveSync. Accessing other corporate systems? Not so much. If you're lucky, some of the vendors you already work with will have mobilized their software and built in some connections to your back-end systems. But if not, turning your data center into a mobile service provider is a tall order. Enter the cloud, which can do most of that heavy lifting. As the use cases for smartphones and tablets increase, fewer and fewer organizations will be able to ignore cloud computing as a serious option.

All of the major smartphones and tablets contribute to these changes, albeit in different ways. And there's no guarantee today's hot device will be popular tomorrow. So it doesn't make a ton of sense to spend too much time worrying about them. Focus instead on providing secure access to corporate systems in an easy-to-use way, and you'll really get the most out of enterprise mobility's potential.

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I think that might be where we're going wrong.  The PC could learn a lot from the smartphone in terms of manageability.  The Appstores in Windows 8 and iOS are a great step in that direction.  Why can't 'mobility' be a word we associate with the laptop, or even the desktop?


@Christopher, I think you have that backwards.  EMM has an awful long way to go before it reaches feature parity with traditional PC management suites such as AD GPOs and SCCM.  PC's might have a lot to learn from mobile devices in terms of usability, but not manageability.


I think there's a difference in the manageability that Zach is talking about vs. what Christopher mentioned. I agree with Christopher that some of the new principles of mobile computing, such as enterprise app stores, would have a lot of value if applied to the PC world. But that's more about user enablement and not really IT management.


I apologize, when I read your article it set me off on a tangent and got me thinking ;-)

Back on topic - playing devils advocate here, to me, the analogy offered by Benjamin Robbins does make sense, but it depends on how you look at it.  You could say, if your definition of mobility is "phones", then having a head of "mobility" strategy in your IT dept is exactly like having a head of laptops, and of course that is crazy. It would mean that we are effectively splitting fragmenting the IT strategy.

As you said, devices shouldn't matter.  It's providing access to line of business apps that should be our core focus, so it doesn't make sense to consider "mobility" separately from the rest of IT.  But I totally get your point about smartphones changing the way we work and opening up different use cases which were previously unavailable.  Does that justify the role of Chief Mobility Officer?


I (and other people on the Mobilecast podcast) think Chief Mobility Officer is a good short-term role to have, especially in organizations that are hesitant or resistant to adopting mobility. Mobile computing needs an advocate in these shops, and that's the role this position would fill.


Fair point!