Thursday, June 21, 2012

With tablets, do you 'pave the cow path' or rethink IT?

I just saw a nice think piece by Dion Hinchcliffe posted at ZDNet talking about the profound impact of tablets on IT. His premise is that these devices are so revolutionary that IT shouldn’t keep doing things the same way.

In fact, he believes that the rise of the tablet means that we actually can’t, even if we tried.

It’s an interesting thought, for sure. I think the real question that Hinchcliffe’s commentary brings up, though, is whether or not there’s room for doing something fundamentally different while also solving some immediate issues. For example? Like finding a way to make tablets immediately useful in an enterprise.

For starters: making enterprise IT “tablet-ready”
Hinchcliffe talks through the many ways that IT must think about making their capabilities “tablet ready,” especially since “employees are using their tablets for work now.” On the list: requiring a way to handle different OSes and devices, how to service-enable existing IT for tablets, demanding certain enterprise-class features like policy control over apps, cloud-resident data, and location-based services. Not to mention plans for which things to deliver using your inside IT staff v. outsourcing – and how you should take a very close look at security.

The list is definitely complicated and painful to implement. And the suggestions are similar to some we’ve mentioned in discussing BYOD issues we’ve discussed here previously.

Are incremental IT changes enough?
However, in thinking through all this, Hinchliffe comes to the conclusion that simply enabling tablets isn’t going to be enough. Instead of “paving the old cow path” that IT has already been following (I love his bucolic visual), tablets require us to rethink IT.

“Tablets are fundamentally different computing devices with entirely new capabilities,” says Hinhcliffe in his post. “To get the real competitive advantage of the next-generation of end-user computing will require rethinking how tablets and their innate capabilities and strengths can be used to transform business processes. Location-awareness, always-connectedness, augmented reality, pervasive video/audio, and more can create highly situational and context-aware apps that hold the potential to provide hard business benefits.”

All true statements. However, their truth doesn’t negate an immediate-term need that we here at Framehawk are seeing right now. That immediate need is all about enabling those employees that are indeed “using their tablets for work now.”

We have very forward-thinking customers like UBS that are building applications and an IT world that is all about mobility and tablets. But we also have talked to many, many others who need something much simpler. Something like: “I want my employees to be able to use our current apps from their iPad.”

It’s not as revolutionary, but hey, it’s useful.

A bit of a continuum
So it seems like there’s a continuum of mobile needs when it comes to enterprise applications. We’ve started to describe it as a bit of a mobile maturity curve (sounds like a great blog topic to come back to, in fact).

Step one is to get your folks the access they need to do their jobs, with the security and performance required, making use of their mobile devices. The next couple steps after that would include more native-influenced look, feel, and gestures for particular applications. And beyond that: more complex mash-ups as experience warrants – and business demands.

I’m betting that no matter how forward-thinking and revolutionary tablets should enable us to be, there’s a smart way to navigate through the normal incrementalism that comes with enterprise IT, while also preparing yourself for the brave new world where iPads and Android tablets are part of the every-day picture inside a major corporation.

The trick, then, is to find a “step one” approach that lets you also take a “step two” and a “step three” toward the world that Hinchcliffe is a proposing – one where tablets are the inspiration and driver for a new way of doing IT.
And to switch metaphors from cows to hawks for a moment, we think we’re a pretty good example of this. Our customers are beginning to use us as a way to take those incremental steps. We’ll share examples as more customers are able to talk publicly.

In the meantime, pay attention to where those IT cow paths lead: they’re the telltale signs of what’s useful today inside the enterprise. And they’re a great place to start.

This blog is also posted on the Framehawk blog.

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