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Strategizing and Prioritizing of porting ERPs to Mobile Devices

In my earlier blog I had talked about why businesses will have to port ERP applications to mobile platform as smart phones populations and popularity increase and so will demand for mobile based ERP apps driven primarily by on-demand mobile workforce. However, once a business decides to go ahead with this initiative, it would be equally important to prioritize where to start and drawing up a roadmap. It would not be unusual to have conflicting perception of priority across various business units within the organization. In fact the biggest challenge could be to get buy in of senior executives including CXOs especially those who are answerable to the board.
I think the best way to get the buy in is to address needs of CXOs and senior executives themselves first. One of the primary IT tools this group uses are the business intelligence reports. Therefore porting BI reports to mobile and demonstrating how this could make job of this user group happier could be a good way to prioritize and make a start to the initiative.
Though this doesn't sound like a strategy on mobile, it could very well serve as a tactical move on the part of group within a business organization that is actually evangelizing to mobile-enable ERPs. At the same time this group of evangelizers needs to be cognizant of the fact that CXOs would always like to know the roadmap or strategy before going ahead with any initiative even if that serves their interest first. Which means there has to be a mobile strategy as well as roadmap that start with BI reports on mobile. This strategy might not be detailed, but at least should contain so-called next steps that could lead to a strategy.

Though any business unit could have power users who could be capable of evangelizing, the group that is in a better position do this is the IT organization as supposedly they are least likely to be partisan to any operating unit within the organization.

Resourcing is the next step that will need to be decided early on for this initiative. Since an IT organization is not operations-aware sufficiently to create powerful and compelling BI reports, they could or might even need to co-opt power users from other operational groups to come up with a tactical plan and business requirements of the proposed ERP solutions. Obviously, CIO or his/her trusted hands within the organization would be the best person to sponsor such initiative.

Once the right team has been assembled, the actual work would start to create strategy, roadmap, and tactical plans, which eventually will be followed by actually building the applications. Following are some of the questions that this group would need to answer for creating the strategy and plans:

  • Mobile Platform: Should the solution be platform agnostic or platform centric? Deciding this could not only be contentious but crucial for the program to succeed in the long term.
  • Platform Centric: If the solution is platform centric, the apps will be created for popular mobile platforms e.g. iPhone, Android etc.
    • The upside with this approach is that these applications could be made to look pretty and user friendly. Apps are the current trend in mobile phones and could be more readily acceptable by the user community who are already tuned to multitude of apps from Apple's Apps Store and Android marketplace.
    • The downside could be the need to select platform early on and stick to it. Even with iPhone's stellar lead, it is not given that it is going to be the leading mobile platform. In fact, Android has gained lot of market share and analysts highly rate its future success. Windows 7 is also out and its approach and layout has been widely praised by the critics.
    • Another question that arises is how to deal with Blackberries, which have been the stable of the executives over the years but are mediocre at best when it comes to their mobile apps in terms of availability and developer base. Blackberries, just because of the user base and their perceived superior security are likely not to go away that soon. Asking an executive to carry another mobile device for ERP apps in addition to their Blackberries might not be very tempting from the perspective of budget and convenience.
    • If more than one platform is chosen from amongst iPhone, Android, and Blackberry; it would increase TCO, as the solution will have to be re-written multiple times for each platform plus the attendant long term issue of software maintenance.
  • Platform Agnostic: apps will be mobile equivalent web based apps in PCs, unlike user interfaces that were created earlier using proprietary technologies such as Visual Basic, Oracle Forms etc.
  • The upside of this approach is that most applications will work across mobile platforms using their native browsers, albeit with few tweaks that might be browser specific, somewhat similar to PC landscape where apps working across Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari etc might sometimes need similar tweaks.
  • The biggest downside with this approach is that browser based apps on smaller screens are not that pretty and might not be user friendly. User community, which is used to platform centric apps might reject the solution.
  • Tablets: There is also another angle to platforms, which is the form factor that comes with semi-mobile (not pocket friendly) devices such as iPad and other tablets that are being planned to be rolled out starting 2011. While smart phones are already well entrenched in the corporate world, predominantly the Blackberries, for now, it is not sufficiently clear if an when corporates will embrace such devices.
  • Prioritizing the Reports: While platform is being debated, another group will have to work in parallel to come up the preliminary list of BI reports that could get the most brownie points once deployed from the target CXO user group. Prioritizing is a very importance point for the BI team to consider as it is prone contention depending on who owns it and whomever has a stake in its success (or even failure).
Once the above two steps are in place, the key task to get CXO buy-in would start.

In the next blog post, I will focus on creating newer model of BI reporting.

Comments

I agree on the point that the managerial reports are the ones which will enable a quick buy-in for the mobile platform from the CXO community. Another best place to start-off will be the Dashboards & the workflows of the ERP running in the mobile platform . This will enable the a easier buy-in of mobile platform ERP by the senior management.

Good point. Each organization probably would need to approach it differently depending on their internal team dynamics. The implementation team leads have to be really clued in as to who all matter when it comes to taking a decision and what matters to them to get off the ground sooner and to watch out for detractors who might not even think mobile solutions are the way to go.

Porting ERPs to Mobile Devices would have huge buy in from not only CXOs, but also from key decision makers throughout the organization. Just like Mobile phone revolution brought information at finger tips and revolutionized the connectivity for common man, porting ERPs to mobile (CoMInf: Corporate Mobile Information) will put information and decision making ability accessible anytime, anywhere.

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