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Mobility is everywhere, and it’s changing how business is conducted.

But business isn’t necessarily the change agent. Typically, individuals take the lead in adopting mobility, dragging their employers along. For that reason, business process professionals need to get ahead of the curve by devising mobile strategies for both for long-term growth—and for here and now.

Up to this point, mobility has been largely an extension of what organizations were already doing, says Stuart Chandler, head of the BPM practice at Virtusa, a consulting firm based in Westborough, Mass. But now that’s beginning to shift.

“We are starting to see change, whether in healthcare, insurance or utilities, where all the mid- and front-office activities are being considered for extension to the mobile platform,” Chandler says. “That’s because the representatives of the organization, wherever they are, want the ability to field questions and get answers.”

Extending the process requires rethinking the process, he continues. In some cases, that means determining how to incorporate mobile computing; in others, it may involve actually eliminating the process, or parts of it, rather than extending it.

Along the same lines, when business processes are moved to an iPhone, Android device or tablet computer, he says, “you must shrink them down and make it easier for users to navigate to what users want, rather than providing them exactly the same resources as in the traditional process.”

In Chandler’s view, that dynamic leads to another conundrum: defining what the enterprise is trying to achieve. In other words, the mobility opportunity begs for a strategic evaluation. “Organizations are just getting to the stage of what they need to do and how they ask questions and get them answered,” Chandler says. “I would set the stage for mobile from a BPM standpoint.”

RECOGNIZING MOBILE BPM’S CHALLENGES
Still, even with a good strategic vision, mobility can present challenges, notes Rohit Sharma, the leader of Virtusa's mobility practice. In particular, Sharma says keeping data secure presents many difficulties in a mobile world. You need to incorporate appropriate security and permissions, especially when financial transactions are involved, he notes. Along the same lines, analytical capabilities for including mobility in the broader processes “are a little bit behind -- not many solutions can help you get this single view,” he says.

In addition, Chandler says, overall BPM may also become more challenging with mobility, at least until processes are more optimized around mobility. To date, he says, “people have mostly considered mobility from a transaction point of view,” he says.

On the other hand, experts are seeing more convergence within the industry, which may have strategic repercussions. “In the case of a credit-card app, for example, there is a convergence of application developers working across various banks, so that suddenly the given process is starting to separate from the needs of just one company,” Chandler says. In general, organizations using BPM are starting to stretch processes across company boundaries. Mobility may help create the ability to mix and match pieces of processes, he says.

MOBILE BPM: THE HUMAN FACTOR
Making mobile BPM a reality also requires involving the right people. “A mobility initiative should be led by the business side,” declares Sharma. Then you can gather the appropriate technical talent to deliver results.

Mobility is fundamentally about change, says Paul Bailo, an adjunct professor of management at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn. “You must deal with the fear people have about how mobility will change their jobs,” he says. For one thing, mobility can bring about new kinds of pervasive supervision of formerly semi-independent workers.

At the same time, the approach’s benefits may offset those concerns. For instance, in the case of a sales force, mobility may imply more supervision—but it can also potentially liberate people from much of the work involved with filing time and expense reports. Those factors all underscore the importance of proposing, presenting and delivering mobility in the right way.

On the other hand, it’s a mistake to assume that mobility is always useful. “It might be cool, but be sure to make sure it really adds value,” Bailo says. He cites, as a point of comparison, General Motor’s expensive foray into social media, which turned out to have no real payback. “General Motors just pulled the whole thing because it didn’t work,” he says. “There is the potential for similar mismatches with mobile.”

MOBILE BPM: THE ORGANIZATIONAL FACTOR
Companies also need to rethink how they oversee, evaluate and provide incentives for large mobile workforces. “Many managers are poorly trained to lead in traditional work environments and when they can’t actually see what people are doing, that challenge will grow,” he says.

Beyond that, Bailo says many companies don’t take advantage of the mobile capability they already have: “Just look at all the commuters on the highways,” he says.

For his part, Chandler wonders whether companies are actually mature enough to substantially increase their use of mobility. “Today 70-80% of spending goes to back-office functions,” he says. “That will need to change to support mobility.”

READER FEEDBACK: Has your organization adopted a mobile strategy? If so, ebizQ editors would like to hear about your experience. Contact Site Editor Anne Stuart at editor@ebizq.net.



About the Author

Alan Earls, a journalist who specializes in writing about technology and business, is based in the Boston area.

More by Alan Earls, ebizQ Contributor

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