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2012 key trends: Mobile devices

Smart phones and tablets are about to transform the way that you do business, says Javier A Baldor

There is a seismic shift coming in business computing, which will transform the way architects work. We have seen this before: first with the introduction of computing and automation of core processes in the 1960s, then with the rise of personal computing in the 1980s, followed by the emergence of the internet in the 1990s.

But the next big shift is mobility, and it is unfolding right now. According to Susan Nunziata, editor in chief of CIO Insight, ‘Mobility is the future of enterprise computing’. Mobile phones will also overtake PCs for internet access in 2013, according to industry analyst Gartner. The number of PCs in 2013 will reach 1.78 billion, while the number of internet-compatible mobile phones will be 1.82 billion, of which 1.32 billion will be smart phones. 

Social drivers

There are a numbers of drivers behind this move. Foremost is the 21st century lifestyle: today mobile devices connect people at work, home and everywhere in the world. In addition, the rise of social networking means that entire new businesses like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have leveraged mobility with their user friendliness, fun and focus on accessibility. Facebook mobile chief Erick Tseng says: ‘The countries we’re getting into now are ones that don’t really use computers. The predominant ways people are connecting in Africa, in India, is through mobile devices.’

There is huge competition in this massive marketplace. The four main players in today’s mobile marketplace have become the front line in the technology industry’s war zone. Who is winning? According to recent Gartner research, Android has 43 per cent of global market share of smart phone operating systems, with Apple’s iOS at 18 per cent and RIM (Blackberry) at 12 per cent. Compare this to data released a year earlier, and Blackberry has fallen by 37 per cent, Apple is up 29 per cent, Symbian is down 46 per cent and Android is up 153 per cent. Gartner predicts that in 2015 Android will take almost half of the percentage global market share. Microsoft will overtake Apple, with a 20 per cent share, compared with 17 per cent for iOS. Nokia’s Symbian platform will fade, while Blackberry will decline again.

The emergence of tablet devices is also pushing mobility. Apple is expected to sell 138 million iPadsworldwide in 2015, up 838 per cent from 2010. Android is expected to sell a remarkable 113 million tablets, an increase of 4,435 per cent.

Who needs a mobile device?

How should architects take advantage of the emerging culture of mobility? The first step is to identify key roles and processes that would benefit from a mobile solution.

A few questions to ask might be:

  • What are the management and staff rolls that work consistently out of the office? Being consistently out of the office means these individuals are likely bottlenecks.
  • What roles are required to review and approve project and resource activities? Review and approval managers are the ones most apt to need mobile devices.
  • Which processes necessitate time-critical input and response? Time criticality infers that it is hard for you to wait for necessary input to make your decision.
  • Are there simple processes that lend themselves to mobility? Processes not requiring heavy data entry, time sheet entry, for example, are best for a mobile platform.
  • What processes simply need review or approval actions? Approval processes are ideal for a mobile platform, whereby you can review something, such as a resource request and, if you can see availability, you could also affirm that request. 

Strategic choices

Each of the leading mobile companies has its own R&D department and is actively trying to differentiate itself. The result is a fork in the road. Do you buy or develop device-specific applications, or cross-platform applications?

Device-specific applications can provide a richer user experience but require separate investment for each device and are more susceptible to hardware and operating system changes. Cross-platform applications require a web-based approach and provide support across multiple platforms but do not have as rich a user experience.

Whatever path your firm takes, it is paramount that you develop a strategy around mobility. This should clearly align the right roles in your organisation with key business processes on the optimal technology platform approach for your firm. If you do this successfully, you have a unique opportunity to drive significant efficiencies and staff satisfaction improvements in your practice.

Javier A Baldor is EVP at BST Global, a worldwide business management software and mobile solutions provider for architects and engineers

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