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Monolithic Mobile, Will You Buy In?

Chris Silva

My colleague Brian's blog is abuzz with comments about mobile strategy, so key to success he urges readers to "[f]orget about social media," at least for a moment. Brian's comparison of social to mobile is apt, both began as fragmented, bootstrapped efforts, then social got the attention of the CMO. Now, it's mobile's turn; it's unfortunately common to come across companies with solid customer mobile initiatives and little happening to serve internal constituents or vice versa. It's still the exception to see an organization winning in mobile inside and out, and big software vendors see this as their golden opportunity. Enter IBM...

Back in December, after getting an advanced look at IBM's new mobile suite, I wrote a post entitled “Can Watson Save Siri?” that contemplated the idea that IBM and other large, enterprise software vendors could lend some serious muscle to enterprise mobile application efforts. These vendors, with their expansive mix of “big iron” servers, services to reach customers on the web and systems to run the innards of business take a “cradle to grave” approach to mobile. In press coverage of the announcement, executives at Big Blue were quick to point out the need for more integrated mobile solutions to drive true productivity and business benefit. Their tone implies that efforts to-date have either been tactical, one-off solutions to enable a single business goal - like collaboration - or disconnected from enterprise systems that contain business processes and data. This is true in some cases, but I think enterprises are getting a lot more savvy about how to either adapt processes to harness mobile tools or add mobile-first tools like mobile BI vendor Roambi into the mix to unlock enterprise intelligence.

IBM Old Logo

IBM, Oracle, SAP and their competition have been building mobile into their corporate offerings for some time making acquisitions in mobile application development, mobile device management and overall data and business intelligence tools. IBM's MobileFirst announcement, is less a product launch and more re-branding the many existing pieces IBM has had in place for some time. It's also designed to highlight the integration the vendor offers across the whole compliment of mobile services, creating an holistic offering from application design to mobile data analytics integration. Here’s the thing; now that IBM formally launched their mobile competency what sort of companies will bite?

"The question that customers ask themselves is, Can I bet the farm on this platform?"

- Peter Graf, EVP Product Marketing, SAP 2006

There seem to be two types of mobile strategies afoot inside of organizations. These are the common organic approach with multiple vendors creating an enterprise-wide mobile strategy approaches and a monolithic, single-vendor approach. IBM's play is the latter and, while promising, I've not seen anyone embrace this route fully to-date. There's no question that a monolithic mobile approach all coming from one vendor will work extremely well for getting more out of mobile applications and allowing mobile apps to feed the rest of the business with big data. However, for many, choosing this path requires a rip-and-replace of existing mobile tools that work well and - in many cases - are not all "owned" by the same entity within the organization.

Making a bet on a single vendor to create all aspects of a mobile program in these instances can have significant drawbacks and my clients are right to be circumspect about the potential cost and complexity of taking the big leap to a single vendor. The most common concerns I hear are whether middleware to make the motley crew of tools sing a common tune and compatible servers and standalone applications are required to make data stores accessible.

Many of the organizations I hear from regularly have chosen what can best be described as a polyvendor approach when it comes to mobile. A top design firm for customer-facing apps, the best-in-breed mobile device management solution, and still another to handle collaboration and data sharing that's nimble enough to serve all comers, mobile or not. Now, as large software vendors, security vendors and enterprise systems concerns eye the fragmented mobile space with their checkbooks out, mobile leaders have two choices, 1.) start fresh with an end-to-end, single vendor solution that you know will work but comes with a potentially painful and costly changeover or wait out your polyvendor mix to see where leaders emerge - or 2.) decide under which enterprise software hegemon you'll ultimately live. The latter seems a cynical view on the world, but past technology trends, from web servers, to security and client management tools to wireless carriers has borne out the hegemony hypothesis over and over again.

Which path will your business choose, and why?