How enterprise IT can achieve mobile first

Group of young friends using smartphone with mutual disinterest towards each other

We have come to understand “mobile first” as a way to prioritise mobile device design over desktop design. However, what an effective “mobile first” design strategy should really do is equalise the user experience (UX) — allowing mobile devices to be as useful as desktops (especially in the conversion of sales). So, what does “mobile first” mean for enterprise IT? It comes down to one simple, but critical question: “Is this application, when used on a mobile device, meaningful to our employees?

Historically websites didn’t render well on tiny mobile screens and we had to constantly scroll to see content. Eventually web sites could present adaptive designs that scaled to suit the screen size, but the applications were still stripped back versions of what we would find on a desktop.

It was assumed that mobile users needed less than their desktop-using colleagues. But as it turns out, mobile users didn’t want hobbled versions of desktop apps, they wanted the appropriate tool for the job, which in many instances meant the application’s full capabilities.

Eventually designers realised mobile users wanted content rich responsive designs that allow the road warrior to have the right content and capability right there on their mobile device. Everything the user needs to do their job should be available in a mobile device format.  Well, we are not quite there yet.

Both applications and enterprises are certainly more mobile friendly than they used to be, but they are not always ‘mobile first’.

So, what should “mobile first” mean in the enterprise in 2018 and what are the advantages?

  1. Mobile first is an overall approach: It doesn’t only mean that the UX designer can provide responsive application designs for mobile devices. It means that that the entire IT ecosystem supports mobile devices in every situation that they are needed. It will not always be appropriate for applications to be available on mobile devices, but that should be a business decision. For the most part, enterprise applications are now available in a mobile format but there is a lot of work to do to provide them to the end-user.
  2. Platform of Choice: For the millennials and beyond, mobile devices are the platform of choice. These employees feel as comfortable working on a tablet whilst sitting on the lounge, as they are using a computer whilst sitting at a desk. They may even prefer mobile devices, especially if it is on their mobile platform of choice. Delivering a pleasurable experience to users makes for happy users and happy users stay longer and work better.
  3. Efficiency: If organisations want the most efficiency out of employees then they will want to enable employees to use their mobile devices during downtime — such as when travelling — for everything from training to everyday business tasks.
  4. Future Proofing: The uptake of mobile devices is increasing year-on-year. If you want your IT investment to be useful for longer, then it had better be mobile first.
  5. Mobile first is content first: Content is king. Content is the output of our labour. If you can’t get content onto your device, or from your device, then you probably haven’t achieved your goals.
  6. Mobile first supports cloud first: If your organisation is cloud first (it’s probably just a matter of time if it isn’t) then a mobile first approach will compliment cloud.

Mobile IT will not be a thing in a few years, it will just be IT. Almost all business application functions are now required to be available on desktop AND mobile devices. So, how can we achieve this in the enterprise?

First, we address the needs of the business. What tasks need to be done on mobile devices? Hint: it’s probably a lot more than reading emails on your phone.

Once we can see where mobile advantages apply in our business we need to make it happen. Concept to implementation is not yet a simple job, and convergence of mobile systems is a long way off. We need to manage a number of things carefully if we are to provide all the functionality that our business needs on mobile devices. Essentially ,we need to manage content, applications and devices:

Content Management is the end goal since it is the output of our efforts. For example, a secure email system is not much use if the email arrives without any text. We want the right content in the right hands at the right time. We want the content to be secure while at rest, while in transit, and while in use. In 2018 this may mean cloud storage with synchronised secure storage on the device. In a mobile first organisation, it is assumed that data will be made accessible to a mobile device unless otherwise specified, so we need to have methods in place to securely manage content on mobile devices.

Application Management addresses how we work. We need personas that define the roles of employees so we can provide the right applications for those roles. In a mobile first organisation, this means mobile workers have access to a mobile version of every application they need and that these applications are applied to their persona.

Device Management is about the configuration (security) of the device. In a mobile first organisation, the device security needs to be able to handle context. For example, the risks associated with a device while onsite at the office are not the same as when on public Wi-Fi in the coffee shop. Device management needs to work closely with content management and application management to ensure that risk is managed in each context.

Mobility is big business and front and center for most organisations. The Australian enterprise mobility market will approach $5.5B by 2020, up from $3.3B in 2016, according to a Telsyte report. “Furthermore, mobility is becoming more strategic for corporations, with C-Suite executives now in charge of mobility in 80 per cent of organisations, up from 62 per cent in 2014,” Telsyte reported.

Think of “mobile friendly” as the bare minimum for mobility in 2018. Now think of “mobile first” as a step beyond that bare minimum. An organisation that is mobile first operates specifically with the consideration of mobile devices as the default. This results in an organisation that is always mobile ready, and therefore able to reap the rewards of a responsive workforce.


Anthony WillingAnthony Willing is an Associate Partner at DXC Consulting ANZ. He has been deeply engaged within the ICT and Space industry for the last 30 years. Throughout his career, Anthony has contributed to the success of diverse projects such as diagnostic medical imaging, satellite laser ranging for NASA, introduction of mobile tablets into the banking industry, security incident event management (SIEM) and development of mobile apps for Australian soldiers. Anthony’s in-depth analytical and consulting skills are used to provide high-level solutions that incorporate multiple, interdependent, technologies.

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