When the best mobile strategy is to throw away your mobile strategy

The pace of change in the mobile segment is unprecedented. So with such incredibly fast change, how do organizations keep up? The fact is, many can't, which means many organizations have fallen behind. And if this is the case, what should they do? Throwing out an old mobile development strategy that doesn't work is probably a good start.

This year, the current market for mobile applications will exceed the entire total dollar amount spent to date on business intelligence software. By 2015, analysts expect users to have downloaded over 100 billion mobile apps. By the end of 2013, there will be more smart phones and tablets in the world than PCs. And it’s these types of realities that are changing the way enterprise corporations are approaching their mobile application strategy.

Ian Finley, Gartner research VP and Agenda Manager for application development, shared his insights into the future of mobile application development at the Gartner Summit over the course of an informative, fast paced, hour-long presentation. The take away for the enterprise was this: hold onto your hats, because this is going to be one wild ride, as this roller coaster journey is one that won’t end for the foreseeable future. The technological tipping point has arrived and everything is going to change, and continue to change, faster than we can currently imagine. Old ideas about how to plan strategically no longer apply. If you think you have a viable mobile strategy in place just because your organization has developed or deployed maybe one or two mobile apps, then it's time to think again.

What will a mobile application look like in five years?

The reality is that no architect or designer really knows what their mobile apps will need to do 5 years down the line. The days when an enterprise could invest in an application and expect it to be relevant for a decade or more are over. According to Ian, organizations are going to have to get comfortable with the idea of disposable app development, where what is build today may have a very limited useful life span. Mobile platforms are changing every year while operating systems are changing every three to six months. Deployment of new iterations for some apps takes place every week. The pace of development isn’t just agile these days, it’s downright reckless, going against the grain of the careful planning process stakeholders want IT to adhere to.

Of course, this doesn’t mean organizations shouldn’t have a strategy at all. It simply means that organizations need to adjust their expectations around what that term ‘strategy’ means when it comes to mobile. Development of mobile apps can’t be viewed as a discrete event. Instead, it must be seen as a product that the enterprise supports over the long term to enhance business value. Organizations can’t plan for what apps will look like 10 years from now. But organizations can plan for ways to ensure that the business can and will build and deploy the right apps at the right time.

Finley’s mobile strategy recommendations

Ian Finley did have a number of recommendations for organizations looking to adopt or redefine their mobile strategy. One major suggestion was that if you don’t currently have an innovation team, you need to build one now. This is where organizations can get the high value that powers important initiatives. Of course, this will likely mean that organizations will have to train and develop internally rather than hire directly for most positions since skilled developers are scarce in the mobile arena.

Another recommendation of Ian’s? He suggests that organizations determine what they are not going to do. A large enterprise often has hundreds of applications, so it can’t possibly be expected to re-purpose them all for mobile; more to the point, they don’t have to. And for that matter, many commodity apps can be resupplied in a mobile format ,out of the box, by a vendor, when the need arises. But it's important to wait for that need to arise to avoid unnecessary costs and headaches. And as far as in-house development goes, organizations should only plan to invest heavily and spend time with hands on development for those game-changer mobile apps that will make the business succeed or fail.

And along with suggesting that organizations “get strategic”, Finley also urged enterprises to “get tactical”. That means limiting the number of technologies they use by heading off the proliferation of rogue apps and choosing strategically which mobile platforms will be supported. When choosing the types of mobile applications to be built and supported, the focus should be on the end users, focusing on what end users need to access and where they will be when they do.

In the end, the fact of the matter is that the mobile market is changing so quickly that no single strategy is going to remain unchanged for any extended period of time. Mobile strategies need to be rethought and reevaluated as the mobile landscape continues to change. And if organizations can be flexible and agile enough to adjust to the changes happening in the industry, they’ll be less likely to partake in wasteful endeavors, and be more likely to succeed over the long term.


Follow Cameron McKenzie on Twitter (@potemcam)

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