The rise of smartphones and tablets began with games – fun little apps consumers could download and install, then play at their leisure. They became annoyances for managers and IT admins, a productivity-stealing problem to guard against at all times. But they evolved. First these programs went cloud-based; users needed a connection just to play and games pushed out notifications to their phone if their base was attacked, fields were ready for harvesting, or a wave of zombies was looking for their virtual head. Now, there’s a real push for true business applications on mobile devices, some based entirely in the cloud.
SEE ALSO: Cloud Personal Finance Apps For iPhone
Bird is the Word?
Mobile devices have made significant inroads with IT professionals, most of whom now let employees access at least a portion of company cloud resources through their personal mobile devices. Applications have trailed along behind, offering lightweight versions of common office apps for use on mobile – in large measure to provide a sense of continuity when a user is traveling or works from home. One area, however, which remains a bastion for the desktop is the office suite; these supposed productivity silos are still intrinsically tied to desk-based computing. For example, many users just don’t feel comfortable typing out long documents on their tablet, even with the advent of hybrid devices which offer thin, portable keyboards.
According to recent Gartner research, there are approximately 50 million enterprise users of cloud office systems. This sounds like a huge number, but actually amounts to only eight percent of the total market (excluding India and China). The research firm predicts a shift beginning in 2015, leading to 33 percent penetration by 2017 and 60 percent by 2022. For the moment, however, mobile apps are in cold and in large measure, resistance to office-type applications on mobile is tied to familiarity.
For thirty years familiar, big-name office programs have dominated corporate culture, and come with a fundamental understanding: Pay for a license every year to get what you want. Any other thought process seems almost heresy, and traditional power players in the industry who aren’t quite ready for mobile do nothing to dispel this illusion – as a result, many of the mobile office apps on the market are just truncated versions of their originals.
Adding the cloud to the mix makes this even more complicated. Mobile apps are often cheaper to develop, and installing them directly on a device means a user gets the tools they need, when they need them – they just need to find a solid Internet connection if they want to send out files or collaborate. Moving to a cloud-installed version which simply runs a mobile instance is far more powerful, but also problematic; just like the first-gen games mentioned above, no connection means no play and no productivity. Increasing uptimes, however, in combination with decreasing subscription costs are beginning to make this kind of mobile cloud model viable. It’s just going to take time.
There are already some areas of substantial mobile app growth – customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) among them. Here, it’s the need for always-on access which drives development, since companies no longer set the speed of customer interactions. The advent of powerful social tools and 3G networks gives consumers the ability to pick and choose the businesses they prefer – which are inevitability the companies able to respond quickly to a problem, or treat them like a name rather than a number. Hours and minutes have replaced weeks and days as the standard measure of customer satisfaction.
Many executives, therefore, are demanding the creation of cloud-based mobile CRM and ERP tools which don’t just mirror some standard functions but can give full access to all data as needed. This allows employees in the field or at home to respond to consumer concerns with no delay in service, or be notified of (and respond to) an emerging social issue within moments. Cloud-based ERP solutions on mobile devices, meanwhile, let companies control their production and manufacturing processes at a granular level. Rather than assessing boardroom reports and trying to match dated information to current results, in-hand ERP provides the ability to visualize supply chains in real time, and make appropriate adjustments before small issues become large problems.
The era of the mobile cloud app is just beginning, with CRM and ERP deployments already viable contenders in the technology marketplace. Office productivity suites, meanwhile, need to first clear the hurdle of full-fledged mobile use, and must then find their place in the cloud. It won’t happen overnight, but make no mistake: The nature of the electronic word is changing.
Doug Bonderud is a freelance writer, cloud proponent, business technology analyst and a contributor on the Dataprise Cloud Services website.