The UK is now officially a ‘mobile first’ society – so what does this mean for corporate IT?

It’s official; the UK is now a ‘smartphone society’. The smartphone has surpassed the laptop as the most popular means of getting online. A recent study by communications regulator Ofcom found that over a third of us prefer to browse the Web on our phones, and less than 30% prefer to use laptops. So, what does this mean for businesses?

Web browsing on smartphones has been on the rise for some time. When you consider that business IT is increasingly driven by consumer habits, this change in browsing behaviour is likely to have several implications for the workplace. It also hints to those businesses slow to embrace staff mobility that restricting mobile use isn’t sustainable.

> See also: Retailers miss out on £6.6 a year by not being 'mobile first'

Ofcom’s announcement is a reminder to businesses that are behind the curve when it comes to ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) or ‘corporate owned, personally enabled’ (COPE) programs, that the mobile is already dominating as a computing platform.

How should IT departments approach mobile?

IT departments need to restructure their approach to meet the needs of a mobile-first workforce.

Embracing mobile means being better aligned with the lines of business that are increasingly looking for ways to drive efficiency out of employees. This can manifest itself as enabling simple workflows for providing access to documents to more complex applications designed to streamline, or even reimagine, business processes.

And with mobile comes 'shadow tasking,' where users increasingly blend work and personal activity, leading in general to a more productive workforce with a better work life balance.

IT is not the only stakeholder to consider. Many mobile applications may touch sensitive, or even regulated, sets of data. Legal departments should be engaged, in order to determine with IT what classifications of data employees will interact with, and what compensating controls need to be put in place if a device is lost, stolen or otherwise compromised.

HR departments are also an oft-overlooked stakeholder to engage in a mobility deployment. With much of the technological power in a mobile device shifted to the end-user, it’s difficult to prevent an employee for installing an app in many cases, violations of acceptable use become an HR, not an IT issue.

What is acceptable and not acceptable, for instance using SnapChat for corporate communications, need to be clearly explained to the employee and consequences, including termination, need to be enforced by HR.

Finally, application infrastructures should be designed with mobile in mind, either by building native applications that connect to web services, responsible HTML-5 or hybrid applications.

Usage should be tailored to enabling many specific business processes with optimised mobile experiences, rather than building one ‘kitchen sink’ app that does everything.

It’s critical that enterprises start to build mobile strategies as both lines of business and employees will circumvent IT to leverage the benefits of mobility. In fact, a recent study from 451 Research found that almost half (44%) of employees use or plan to use a personal app to help with their work regardless of whether the app is on the company’s ‘approved list’.

Of course, such usage does not necessarily consider the consequences to the business including potential theft of confidential information and regulatory fines for improper security over data.

Rethinking IT for the ‘smartphone society’

To keep pace with the shift to mobile, IT departments need to lead and act as a catalyst for this change or, at the very least, an enabler. Focus should be placed on allowing employees to choose their preferred devices and apps for work – choice leads to greater productivity – without putting corporate data at risk.

> See also: The new era of app development – mobile vs. legacy

By enabling rather than restricting, CIOs are able to align IT much more closely with business needs.

This can help create a better relationship with the rest of the business, allow the IT department to drive more value, continue to meet regulatory and policy needs, ensure confidentiality of corporate information and resolve the underlying issues that prompt staff to use personal devices as productivity tools in the first place.

Adapting to change

In order to take advantage of mobility’s transformative potential, IT departments need to focus on adaptive strategies that balance employee wants with company security needs.

Mobile Internet use is only going to increase, so while it may not be much of a surprise, Ofcom’s report underscores the importance of rethinking corporate IT for the mobile era.

Sourced from Sean Ginevan, senior director of strategy, MobileIron

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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