Enterprise IT has undergone something of a shift in recent years. Driven by the proliferation of smartphones, mobility is no longer the preserve of executives with BlackBerrys and field workers in some vertical markets, and tablets are now gaining a significant foothold in the office.

Mobile applications have also started to have a transformative effect on enterprises, by providing easy access to corporate information, and with a number of “off the shelf” apps targeting business users. The growth of consumer apps has also made users more familiar with the possibilities on offer, making many keen to see this exploited in the workplace.

But together, the changing nature of mobile devices and the growth of apps presents a number of challenges for the corporate IT department. Christian Hunt, product manager for IBM Software Group Mobile Platform, told Mobile Apps Briefing: “the mobile landscape is still a very fragmented environment, and a lack of mature standards and industry best practices have previously forced enterprises to make challenging choices on where they will focus their development efforts.”

“CIOs want to leverage the opportunities that mobile introduces for increased productivity, but must balance this opportunity against the need to ensure that enterprise systems and data are protected,” he continued.

MAB: What do you see as the main challenge for an enterprise looking to capitalise on growth in mobile apps?
Prioritising their investments in apps and security. While there may be hundreds of thousands of apps in app stores and marketplaces, how many of them are truly useful in making our working lives more productive?

There are many good ones and the apps are evolving as people get more experience with mobile, but I think we’re still in the early phase of understanding which apps can be successfully used by tens of thousands of people for business. I do believe IBM is helping lead that evolution, particularly with products like Lotus Notes Traveler that give you secure access to your organisation’s email, calendar, and contacts.

As to security, we must protect access to our corporate systems, applications, and data. We must also ensure that any confidential data that is on the phone or tablet stays away from those who should not have it.

Are enterprises currently seeing mobile apps as a core productivity tool, or is adoption being driven by users?
Enterprises have differing levels of maturity with mobile based on industry and application. Field force enablement, warehouse management, and other verticals have realised considerable productivity gains from mobile over the last decade, but the revolutionary changes that mobile has introduced in the last few years have been driven largely by consumer adoption impacting the enterprise. All employees, including knowledge workers, are demanding mobile access to tools and information.

What types of mobile apps are enterprises and users focused on?
Mobile innovation is taking place in almost every area of enterprises today. Employees are demanding mobile access to critical information that helps them better do their jobs and respond to their customers. This includes sales and business intelligence applications, as well as productivity applications such as time keeping and expense tracking.

Social networking and collaboration capabilities are also improving employees’ responsiveness and productivity. Enterprises are also focused on leveraging mobile to engage their customers directly in new ways and using this new form of engagement to differentiate from their competitors.

How has the growth of bring your own device, and fragmentation of platforms, made it difficult for corporate IT departments to manage mobile app deployments?
The bring your own device (BYOD) movement, where consumers purchase smartphones and tablets and then want to use them in their work environments, opens up opportunities for cost savings and efficiency for CIOs, but can be scary because of the security concerns.

Enterprise data is now accessible or resident on devices that can be easily lost or stolen. Implementing management systems to guard against these vulnerabilities is required, but fragmentation means that a simple management system for one device type is not possible.  Apple is different from Android which is different from BlackBerry which is different from Windows Phone. Android? Which version of Android?

One needs a mobile management platform that can handle mobile devices that exist today and will be introduced in the next few years. IBM’s Endpoint Manager for Mobile Devices offering addresses this need for a comprehensive approach that will be effective for devices today and in the future.

Will adoption of HTML5 impact the enterprise app market?
The best way to make a heterogeneous collection of phones and tablets look more homogeneous is to use standards. We’ve all proven the value of open standards with the web, and the huge societal and commercial value it has brought.

HTML5 is a very promising set of standards that will help enable the next generation of mobile web applications. Other applications may be of the hybrid variety, though those will still use HTML5 standards. Even if a developer creates a native mobile app to take complete and full advantage of all the device features, standards like XML and those for security play a critical role.

IBM has been an industry leader in driving open standards since the mid-1990s, and currently co-chairs the W3C HTML5 working group.

What is IBM’s focus with its own mobile apps?
IBM already has a significant presence in today’s mobile app store ecosystems. IBM has extended its offerings to mobile across communication, collaboration, analytics, commerce, and solution areas including logistics. Mobile will continue to be a priority for IBM’s development investments, and the Worklight offering will provide a foundation for developing and deploying these apps that is scalable and leverages a standards-based approach wherever possible.

How does IBM differentiate itself from its competitors in this market?
IBM is uniquely positioned to deliver the full spectrum of our customers’ needs in mobile. These needs span the ability to build, run, and connect mobile applications in a scalable way across the mobile device ecosystems. IBM is also able to deliver leading management and security capabilities to enable our customers to deal with the challenges of BYOD initiatives. 

IBM also delivers the capabilities and consulting services that enable our customers to extend and transform their business based on the new opportunities that mobile presents. Finally IBM’s approach is standards-based, preventing customers from being locked into proprietary solutions and development styles.