History's lessons for the mobile enterprise

What the evolution of the business PC can tell us to expect from this new technology phase
Tools

Industry Insider

By David Lavenda

The buzz continues unabated about "Bring Your Own (BYO)" programs. But complications have limited organizations' payback from these initiatives so far.

Why the problems? Security and privacy issues certainly top the list, but to derive full value from BYO and give rise to a true mobile enterprise, it is critical to understand its prospective evolution.

Business technologies--including computing platforms like mobile devices--operate in cycles. The last computing platform cycle began in the 1980s with the availability of the buisness personal computer, or PC, which eventually created the global, networked workplace.

The current mobile device cycle began in the 2000s with the first use of tablets and smartphones for doing business. These devices are now enabling a 24/7, anytime, anywhere workplace and driving the BYO push.

But we are nowhere near the mobile enterprise nirvana. So what should we expect? First, we need to look at where we have been.

The computing platform cycle

The computing platform cycle has six stages, starting with the emergence of a new platform and ending when use of the platform stabilizes.

Figure 1: The computing platform cycle. For full-sized graphic, click here.

By following the evolution of the previous PC cycle, we are be able to make some pretty good predictions about how the current mobile device cycle will shape up and how it will forever change the business dynamic, far beyond BYO.

Where we have been

Stage 1: A new computing platform emerges

When IBM launched the business PC cycle in 1981, pundits sang the virtues of the PC and how it was going to transform the way business got done, while investors and entrepreneurs rushed to cash in on the new market.

The emergence of tablets and smartphones in the 2000s largely mirrored the PC experience. However, both PC and tablets/smartphones were initially computing islands, operating largely as stand-alone devices. The business value of both early platforms was therefore limited to improving personal productivity.

Stage 2: No platform is an island

Vendors quickly learned the value of connecting individual computers together to create information networks. During the early PC era, email was new and underwent a lengthy development and standardization period, while email was already a well-established service by the time smartphones and tablets hit the market.

But email was not nearly enough--giving a worker the ability to store and share files are what changed the way business got done during the PC era. Now Box, Dropbox, Google, Hightail, Microsoft and many other cloud service vendors power mobile file sharing with colleagues through file sync and share, or FSS, cloud technologies. On-the-go file sharing defines today's anytime, anywhere workplace.

Stage 3: Management and security

Next, organizations realized they needed to control PCs and mobile devices to prevent the leakage of important documents and competitive information as employee usage grew. So a new breed of management and security products appeared on the market for both PCs and mobile devices to help organizations provision applications, deploy software, and manage hardware inventory and configuration.

In the PC era, this product genre was called systems management, while in the mobile era, it is known as Mobile Device Management, or MDM. Interestingly, both PC FSS and systems management, and mobile and MDM markets developed as parallel universes with almost no overlap between the vendors operating in each market.

Where we are today

Stage 4: Consolidation of infrastructure

At this stage of technology cycles, two things become clear; first, there isn't enough business for all the players, and second, it costs a lot of money to survive the market shakeout. This is the here and now.

As competition heats up, there is a massive market share land grab. Vendors either buy market share by offering free--or almost free--services or differentiate their offering and continue to command a premium price.

During the PC era the systems management market underwent massive consolidation leaving few players in the space. The MDM market will undergo a similar transformation. Eventually, much of what they offer will become part of commoditized infrastructure provided by mobile device OS vendors, but the collapse of this market is still in the future.

Today, both the FSS and MDM markets are experiencing consolidation. During this stage, some vendors will go out of business, some will get acquired and yet others will try to make it to the next stage.

Some recent examples of shakeout include the fact that Symantec exited the FSS market, while Airwatch, Boxtone, Fiberlink, ShareFile, Syncplicity and XenMobile were all acquired.

Stage 5: Business applications appear

With infrastructure commoditized, cheap and widely available, organizations are able to advance to the next stage in the technology cycle during which they go beyond collaboration to focus on the business applications that directly impact their bottom line.

During this stage of the PC era, many enterprise application vendors entered the market and many remain today. However, only a small number of mega-vendors have emerged. These are the vendors upon whose software platforms companies depend to run their businesses--the largest today being IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP. The PC cycle has long ago reached a stage of vendor lock-in, where these vendors dominate.

The same progression will happen in the mobile device cycle, and FSS and MDM vendors are racing to become the next generation of software vendors upon which organizations depend to run their businesses.

Where we will go

Cloud to the rescue

Here is where cloud services become important. The ability of mobile devices to work anytime, anywhere dovetails perfectly with cloud software's proposition of ubiquitous, easy access to important corporate services.

This emergence of enterprise cloud software is precisely the paradigm shift that is affording new mobile platform vendors the ability to break through the previous generation of vendor lock-in--this will shape a future mobile enterprise application platform.

Stage 6: The platform stabilizes

When the dust settles, the MDM and FSS markets will morph and merge into a variety of enterprise application platforms that organizations will rely upon to get their work done from any device at any time. This market will include today's large application vendors, but it might also include a few new players--all with the sole focus of delivering widespread access to enterprise services via apps.

At the end of the day, people and organizations don't really care about devices, management, security or file storage, per se. What they really want is to do their business better, faster, cheaper and with fewer mistakes--in the office or on the go.

So you are not alone if you don't feel like you have all of the pieces of your BYO puzzle put together yet. The mobile enterprise certainly won't be built in a day, but we are on track and ready to move beyond the limitations of simple file sharing.

The next cycle begins

A never-ending cycle, the stage of mobile enterprise platform vendor lock-in will be next. Luckily, it will only last until the next computing platform cycle disruption breaks its stronghold--and that shouldn't be too far ahead.

As we enter the next stage in the mobile evolution, where enterprises will need to manage the information overload and try to simplify the mobile user experience, the emergence of the Internet of Things will introduce incredibly cheap and ubiquitous nano-computing platforms. It is definitely about to get more exciting than BYO.

About the author: David Lavenda is a technology strategist at harmon.ie. He also does academic research on information overload and he is an international scholar for the Society for the History of Technology. He tweets from @dlavenda.

Related Articles:

IT managers want mobility management handled by someone else [FierceMobileIT]
BYOD complicates data discovery process for companies [FierceMobileIT]

Filed Under