Beyond 'mobile for mobile's sake:' Deciding which processes to tackle first

Throughout 2012, mobile seemed to eclipse social and cloud as the most influential trend in many technology areas. David Cearley, vice president and fellow at Gartner Inc., put it this way at the company's ITxpo conference in late 2012: "Mobile has outweighed impact in terms of disruption."

Not surprisingly, more companies are reformatting themselves to leverage mobility—and that includes mobilizing the business processes that run their companies. Analyst firm Forrester Research Inc. predicts that by 2015, organizations will be spending $7.6 billion to make their business processes more portable.

One key to mastering the mobile-process trends, experts say: Setting the right priorities. Otherwise, businesses risk mobilizing the wrong processes first—or even tackling processes that won’t necessarily benefit from mobilization.

The top priority of any process-mobilization effort is using mobile capability for the right reasons, says Steve Weissman, principal analyst at the Holly Group, a technology consulting firm. He describes one common pitfall: implementing mobility for mobility's sake.

"A lot of organizations start from the mobile device, like they're chasing a shiny object," Weissman says. "They design their [process] work around the tool, rather than the other way around. That can be costly, at best. At worst, they end up leaving value on the table—oftentimes, the entire initiative."

Instead, he and other experts say, companies should take time to determine which—if any—processes will benefit from mobilization. That may seem obvious, but it's not as easy as it sounds, according to Clay Richardson, senior analyst at Forrester. "A lot of people don't have a clue about where to begin," he says.

To decide whether a process should be mobilized, Richardson suggests looking at two dimensions: the level of urgency and the need for context. For example, the following factors indicate that mobile would help improve a business process:

— The process is urgent, meaning it would benefit from getting done faster, or
— Real-time access to information, or other forms of context, would improve the outcome of the process.

If people are involved in the process, too, then mobile is usually a shoo-in. "Anything that requires a lot of human interaction is important to mobilize," says Jim Sinur, research vice president at Gartner. "If you need authority or approvals, those are ideal mobile situations."

On the other hand, long-lived processes, or those that require collaboration or data analysis, don't lend themselves well to mobile. "Mobile doesn't really support real-time collaboration across devices," Richardson explains. "And mobile doesn't make a big difference if I have to analyze a piece of data over a period of time. That requires human intuition."

Besides choosing the right processes to mobilize, companies must consider the logistics of having mobile processes. Security is a natural high priority, given the openness of mobile devices.

"By design, the mobile device is supposed to move around," says Weissman. "You have to think about security extra deeply. Another layer that's often overlooked is the need to protect the actual connection between the content and the device."

Weissman suggests educating mobile workers on securing their devices, encrypting data transfers and setting up a system to track lost devices—or wipe them clean, should they fall into the wrong hands.

Another key consideration is how mobile processes are affected by legacy policies. Building a quality mobile experience is often at odds with long-held procedures in a company. "You need to think through what policy changes need to take place," advises Richardson. "It's not going to make sense to build a great mobile interface if the policies lead to a horrible experience. If you don't have the right policies to support a streamlined way of business, it's a waste of money."

Likewise, mobilized processes demand attention to the user experience.

Ensuring that various mobile processes are consistent—both visually and functionally—is important for ease of use and customer satisfaction.

"It's important to have a set of standards by form factor: What's the expected look and feel [of your mobile processes]?" says Sinur. "You don't want to confuse people on their mobile devices."

Several industries have already taken the lead with process mobilization. Service, utility, hospitality, insurance and retail companies are out in front when it comes to adapting their business processes for mobile employees. "These industries involve workers who aren't in the office all the time," explains Weissman. "Their processes require the involvement of somebody who isn't tethered to a desk."

But while some companies have caught on quickly to the mobile trend, the task of mobilizing processes remains daunting to many BPM professionals. There's a lot of buzz around mobile, after all, and it represents a departure from traditional process work.

Weissman has this advice for process teams looking to move past the mobile hype: Concentrate on what you already know: process. "The first step is to take a black pen and cross off the word 'mobile,'" he says. "The thing that gets lost most often is the fact that you're still talking about business processes. Whether or not you've got mobile participants, you need to start by thinking about how to run that process better. Only then should you factor in the mobility piece."

READER FEEDBACK: If you’re mobilizing processes in your organization, how did you decide which ones to tackle first--and which to leave alone? ebizQ’s editors would love to hear your story and your advice. Contact

About the Author

Stephanie Mann is the former assistant editor for ebizQ and its sister TechTarget site, SearchSOA. Before joining TechTarget, Stephanie was a contributing reporter and proofreader for a Boston-area weekly newspaper and an editorial intern at a Cambridge, Mass.-based publishing company. She has also worked for several nonprofits and as a freelance editor.

More by Stephanie Mann, Assistant Site Editor, ebizQ