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Going Mobile

Improved employee productivity and customer satisfaction top reasons for deployment.

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Thanks to smartphones and tablets, the age of mobile computing has finally arrived. We’re not talking about simple back-end access from a laptop to server-side green-screen or graphical applications, whether written in RPG of whatever flavor, COBOL, CL, Java*, C/C++, PHP or CASE/4GL. No, instead companies are, in many cases, looking at dedicated apps for iPhones, iPads and Android devices.

In fact, the recent IBM Systems Magazine, Power Systems edition mobile survey garnered responses from more than 1,200 IBM i readers, 31 percent of whom work in IT management. It’s clear that mobile is no longer a wouldn’t-it-be-nice type of business-supporting technology. And despite some deployment concerns—including security and back-end integration and relatively meager budgets—many organizations are having success with mobile computing, as Bill Gravelle, an independent integration consultant for midrange systems, points out.

“Based on my experience, there are a lot of people who have had success. I think there are very few people that have really called it a full-out failure and rolled the effort back and gave up. I think everyone has success at a certain level,” he says.

The survey numbers support that. A net of 83 percent of respondents say they have deployed a mobile solution, with 18.4 percent saying the effort was very successful. Another 42.1 percent reported moderate success, 22.5 percent had slight success and 15.4 percent say it’s too soon to tell. In keeping with Gravelle’s thoughts on the matter, a paltry 1.9 percent report failures.

Despite these largely rosy numbers, some organizations are holding back on mobile-computing deployments. While 52.1 percent say their companies have deployed such solutions, 47.9 percent, haven’t deployed yet. But that number requires a little deeper analysis. For example, 3.8 percent indicate they’re taking the plunge within in the next three months, 7.3 in six months, 9.7 in 12 months and 12.9 percent in 18 months.

Perhaps the most startling number, though, involves organizations that haven’t deployed yet, with 14 percent having no plans to do so. “I wouldn’t have expected that number to be so high because, in the way I view the use of mobile tech, I can’t imagine any business in any scenario that would have no use for that. In fact, I can’t imagine anyone in any business that wouldn’t benefit from this,” Gravelle says.

The two top reasons cited for mobile deployment were improved employee productivity (67.6 percent) and better customer satisfaction (62.6 percent). Other motivators, as shown in Figure 1 (page 3), included competitive advantage (53.5 percent), business-process improvement (52.7 percent), greater customer retention (37.7 percent), lower operating costs (34.2 percent) and increased revenue (33.4 percent).

Regarding improving business processes, Gravelle says, “That’s what we need to focus on again. Developers have all of this knowledge of this business that they’ve been programming for years. It doesn’t really make sense to reprogram that. It makes more sense to capitalize on it, with the new devices interacting with systems processes more effectively. You can still feed the back-end system the way you always have but get real process improvements to save money or improve your competitiveness.”

Unfortunately, the real world often gets in the way of realizing those benefits. One of those intangibles—and not explicitly mentioned in the survey—is simply having enough time to develop a mobile-computing solution. Dave Gregory, Star Lumber & Supply’s IT director, falls into that category, saying, “We have a big, pent-up demand for software development, and we’re going to be rolling out some new software very soon. But that’s an inhibitor in some ways, as we jockey for that time along with wanting new mobile-type deployments. We have a relatively small development staff here, and we can only handle so much.”

That’s not to say, however, the Wichita, Kan.-based retailer and distributor of building and renovation products, doesn’t have mobile-app plans—unlike the 14 percent referenced in the survey. In fact, Gregory has received more than a few requests for smart-device interfaces. “In addition to selling building materials, we also sell flooring, and the flooring people are actually meeting with homeowners and not just contractors. They would like to be able to carry a tablet around with them and scan, for example, the back of a sample and load it into the app to make the process simpler than it is now. That’s just one example of what our employees want,” he explains.

Fortunately, Gregory says, he’s blessed with a budget in the range of $30,000 to $100,000. Other organizations aren’t so lucky. Of the study’s respondents, 18 percent have less than $25,000 to spend, with the percentages plummeting from there as dollar amounts increase. For example, only 9.2 percent have a budget between $25,000 and $50,000, 9.9 percent have a budget of $50,000 to less than $100,000, 5 percent have a budget of $100,000 to less than $150,000, 5.2 percent have a budget of $150,000 to less than $200,000 and 5.4 have a budget of $200,000 or more. Perhaps more telling is that 38.1 percent have no budget at all.

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at


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