In 2014, the number of smartphones sold worldwide topped 1.3 billion. That’s more than 3.5 million per day; 41 every second. Indeed, phones have become as much a fashion accessory as communication device, with many consumers upgrading their models every two years or less.
Clearly mobility is here to stay, both in our personal and professional lives, and the enterprise needs to open up to mobile both as a means to connect employees and reach customers. The cloud can be of tremendous help in this effort but the enterprise needs to integrate the two carefully to avoid traffic tie-ups, miscommunication and security vulnerabilities.
Indeed, it’s getting hard to distinguish mobile from the cloud, so closely do the technologies complement each other. According to market analyst Maribel Lopez, going mobile in the enterprise is about more than phones and operating systems. It also requires applications development, data and services portability and continuity across multiple platforms. Fortunately, the cloud is nothing if not adept at enabling new services and fostering innovation, and many key mobile applications, such as data streaming and file sync and share, would not exist without the cloud.
The biggest hurdle in merging cloud with mobile is ensuring that content is accessible on a variety of devices. In AIIM’s 2015 report on mobile and cloud deployment, about two-thirds of enterprises are either live with BYOD programs or are planning to launch within the year. However, 39 percent say they have no access to on-premises enterprise content management data, while another 28 percent support browser-based viewing only. Only 15 percent have a dedicated app that provides offline access and supports comment, edit and approval functions. If mobile is expected to amplify business processes and foster higher performance levels among the knowledge workforce, organizations will have to loosen up on their content, although not at the expense of weaker security.
One way to do this is by placing an API between mobile and cloud infrastructure, says MuleSoft’s Chris Purpura. In this way, mobile apps gain access to all manner of backend services – everything from identity management and customer relationship management to customer data and market info – without having to rework the entire data stack every time a new phone model or operating platform is introduced. The cloud also allows you to easily spin up a testbed for new mobile services before launching them into full production environments, says HP’s Terence Ngai.
Once the details have been worked out, however, what’s the best way to optimize both your cloud and mobile environments? According to ManageEngine’s David Howell, many organizations are turning to mobile device management (MDM) platforms, the latest of which are extending into the cloud to provide end-to-end coverage of the data environment. To be truly effective, MDM solutions should track device inventories and compliance, restrict non-productive or unauthorized apps and provide secure Wi-Fi or VPN service. As well, the platform should exhibit robust scalability, which comes natural to cloud-hosted solutions, while providing a user-friendly dashboard to track app and device activity.
On an operational level, the biggest difference between linking the cloud to a wired environment versus a wireless one is stability. Wired networks, especially long-distance ones, feature relatively stable pathways and topologies, while wireless feeds are routinely bounced across multiple transmission points, depending on user location, traffic flows and other factors. This distinction is starting to erode, however, as wired networks become increasingly virtualized and software-defined.
Both the cloud and mobile infrastructure have long passed the point at which they are considered simple add-ons to the enterprise data footprint. These days, when mobile apps and broad scalability are turning long-standing business models, and even entire industries, on their heads, the enterprise that can leverage the strengths of both will be in position to excel in the new digital economy.
But it’s important to lay the groundwork for a highly integrated cloud/mobile footprint now, or you’ll forever be playing catch-up to increasingly fast and agile competitors.