My good friend, Brian Katz, posted a spirited piece yesterday regarding the redundancy of the idea of a mobile ecosystem. Katz writes that the goal isn’t to build a mobile ecosystem, “The goal is to get your mobile devices to play in the enterprise ecosystem that has been there the whole time.” Katz’s point is that you shouldn’t be bamboozled into spending lots of money on building something new, when perhaps you already have the infrastructure and functionality in place to accomplish your desired task. I think Katz’s reasoning is sound; however, I think it only considers one perspective in the value proposition of mobility.
Mobile enablement holds different value for different organizations. With each organization you have to ask, what value does mobility provide? If mobility represents the opportunity to extend existing services, infrastructure, and functionality then I think, as Katz suggests, there shouldn’t really be a distinction between the traditional enterprise ecosystem and a mobile ecosystem. For those instances, you just simply add to what’s already there. Mobility is taken as an add-on to business as usual; how do I access existing services and functionality through a mobile device. Again, this is a legitimate perspective, but only one of many possibilities.
If, however, the value of mobility for an organization is looking at new ways to conduct business, then the mobile ecosystem will break through the current notions of people, process, and collaboration. In this regard, enterprises are looking at mobility as a chance to diverge from business as usual; to re-envision how work can happen beyond the boundaries of the traditional network. To me, this is where the real power of an ecosystem comes in. This is where you put the pieces to work for you.
A mobile ecosystem represents the collection of services that a business can assemble for a tactical approach to functional gaps. Sometimes this may be simple additions to existing functionality, while other times it may be radical departure. You can’t assume a one-size-fits-all value proposition as you look at mobility from organization to organization. A mobile ecosystem will reflect the value-proposition of mobility for a given enterprise.
I also diverge with Katz’s conclusion that when it comes to decide if you should use a cloud service, such as Box or Dropbox, that “The better way to do this is to create a way to access the already existing Sharepoint systems, shared folders and personal folders that your users are comfortable with.” This may be true for some organizations, but I know of others that are looking to extricate themselves from the weight of this kind of network operation. They see leveraging Box as part of their mobile ecosystem as the path to do this.
The thought process behind this is that, for many enterprises, a data center is not part of their core-competency. Mobility creates the opportunity (excuse almost) to allow enterprise IT to hit the reset button and get out of the data center business. A mobile ecosystem of cloud services enables organizations the ability to ditch the private datacenter altogether and select just the functionality required to suit their needs. They don’t want to have to worry about updates, patches, and hardware. They want to concentrate on what makes money.
For other organizations mobility creates the opportunity to engage with non-traditional staff, such as client, volunteers, enthusiasts, etc. If current functionality can’t provide this then leveraging mobile apps and services is an excellent way to accomplish this. As well, many organizations take a non-functional view towards mobility. They see it as an avenue to being hip and relevant. They are not looking to build a mobile ecosystem that enables the existing but rather the latest and greatest.
In the long run I think Katz, as well as others, are correct in saying that the differentiation between mobile and enterprise ecosystems will disappear and the two will become synonymous. In creating ecosystems, some organizations will want to enable existing services, while other will look to mobility as a chance to pick and choose their way to a different operating paradigm. But on the road to singularity, mobility will hold a different value proposition for every organization. They will each have unique rational as to which pieces they want to leverage for their mobile ecosystem. Hopefully the pieces they assemble will allow them reach their vision.
Benjamin Robbins is a Principal at Palador, a consulting firm that focuses on providing strategic guidance to enterprises in the areas of mobile strategy, policy, apps, and data. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.