Smartphones play a bigger part in our lives than ever before, and we Europeans are among the keenest users of these devices.
According to eMarketer, Western Europe has the second-largest number of smartphone users in the world. Another eMarketer report says that, by 2017, seven of the top 10 countries by smartphone adoption will be in Europe – the only ones that aren't being South Korea, Australia and Japan. This means big things not only for consumers, but for IT professionals too. Nick McQuire, VP of enterprise research at market research company CCS Insight, has identified two big trends that impact the overall direction of the enterprise mobility market. And they're both due to our increasing reliance on our smartphones. The first is that more workflow, organisational data and business processes are flowing on to mobile devices. As McQuire puts it: “Effectively, mobility is emerging much more as a mission critical platform for organisations at the heart of technology and business operations.” This has been going on for a while, but now longer-tail enterprises are becoming more comfortable with mobile applications. This means they're opening up access to their back-end data, and starting to distribute that data to a wider range of employees within their organisations.
The other major trend is what he describes as the “multi-screen continuum of experience”. Again, this has been going on for a few years, but only recently has it started to impact directly on the very organisation of a company. According to CCS Insight, the average European user uses more than 4.2 connected devices. Increasingly, we're spreading out our screen time across our smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops and e-readers. It might seem like a consumer trend, but this has big repercussions for businesses. “We see the future direction of enterprise computing being very much dictated by this trend in the consumer computing environment,” says McQuire. This mix of devices involves work phones and tablets alongside ones for personal use. In some cases, employees use the same phone for work and personal communication. “Whether they're consumers or employees, there's an increasing blurring of private and personal in business in terms of usability in devices,” McQuire explains. “Users are preferring to compute not necessarily across an individual device, but often a nuanced mix of devices. And that's very much carrying through into the enterprise.”
This means a shift of focus for many companies. “Therefore enterprises now have to grapple less with managing the endpoint and the increasing array and number of endpoints that are proliferating across enterprise,” McQuire pursues. “They have to concentrate much more on how they manage their data, how they distribute content and provide accessibility to data – but also secure that data and content much more effectively.” This is already starting to happen. Last year saw an explosion in the number of mobile enterprise apps. Indeed, according to Kevin Spain from Emergence Capital, mobile enterprise apps are poised to become a $100 billion (€90 billion) market. McQuire says 46 per cent of employees surveyed by CCS Insight say these applications already impact on how they do business on a regular basis, so it's obvious these apps are beneficial to the workforce. This means fresh challenges for organisations. If they want to stay competitive, they have to learn to deploy third-party apps as well as build their own custom ones. But the bigger trend on the horizon is how organisations interact, scale and mobile-optimise their back-end systems. Many firms are only just starting to face this challenge. The proliferation of mobile devices also raises big security questions. We've seen an increase in targeted attacks over the last 12 months, with big-name victims including Sony and the US Office of Personnel Management. How do companies ensure that every device their employees use to access sensitive information is completely secure? All these challenges mean one thing: in future, a company's IT organisation has to be much more closely aligned to the frontline strategy of the firm as a whole. Some companies are already implementing this policy, and they're using mobility to drive that interaction. But many companies aren't mature enough to make these strategic changes yet.
So what does the future hold? McQuire predicts a “broadening out of the computing environment”. This, combined with the increased analytics and big data of wearable devices and IoT, will “drive a much more integrated capability for enterprises across their organisation”. All of which will help decision-making; it will also help companies to be more competitive. But, as we've seen, there are plenty of challenges to be met before then.