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5 shades of mobile grey

imageOK, so you’re convinced that mobile computing may have some value for your organization. But where do you stand today? On a scale of 1 to 5 how deep into mobile is your company?


How important is mobile computing for your organization? Why should you care? The question may not seem relevant to you unless you consider this from the perspective of your organization’s objectives. In generic terms every organization has the following challenges:


So the real question you have to ask yourself is:

How can mobile computing help me to achieve the objectives of my organization?

We’ll come back on that question in the last chapter. But let’s first define the 5 shades of Mobile Computing.


Shade 1: Mobile e-mail and contacts

image In level 1 of the mobile adoption scale you have opened up your mail server to allow your employees to consult their e-mail and contact data on mobile devices (both Smartphones and Tablets). Almost every organization currently is in this level, at least for a selected group of employees.

Many organizations running their mail server on-premise hesitate to do this because of the security implications it has. Security will be a main concern in every shade of Mobile Computing. How you can deal with that is indicated in the last chapter. The fact remains that your work force is increasingly expecting to have access to their professional mailbox and contacts from their own mobile device (meaning that in the objective of having satisfied, motivated employees, this shade of grey scores quite high).


Shade 2: Mobile access to files and documents

image In the next level of mobility you allow users to access documents, pictures, etc. from their own mobile devices. Achieving this level might be a bit more challenging depending on where these files and documents are stored when you start.

If the documents are stored on file shares on the company’s network, you will need a VPN (Virtual Private Network) or VPN-like connection to access the files from outside the company walls.

In a similar case your files may be stored in an on-premise SharePoint. In this case you would also first have to install a mechanism to access your SharePoint from the outside.

In both cases you have to solve the scary problem of opening up your network in a secure way. There are various solutions. The last chapter will tell you more about this.

One of the possibilities is to make sure first that your files are stored on file servers in the cloud. There is a fair chance that if your organization fails to organize mobile access to files and documents, your users will do it themselves by setting up a personal Dropbox, iCloud or OneDrive[1] account. Is that what you want?


Shade 3: Mobile virtual desktop

image Another way to make sure that your employees can access their applications, files and documents no matter where they are, is to implement a Virtual Desktop. This is a mechanism that allows you to log in into your network from virtually any device and still find the same desktop that you are using at the office.

.It is clear that the user experience may not be the same on the various mobile devices that you have, but at least you can be sure to have access any time, any place with any device and still find the familiar experience you have at your desk.


Shade 4: Mobile generic apps

image In the first 3 shades of Mobile Apps, you merely open up existing applications, files and data to mobile users. Starting with Shade 4, we are entering a new world in which you create new possibilities for your mobile users. From this point on you have to think in terms of new ways to interact with users that are on the road.


These new ways are available because the mobile devices have capabilities that your standard laptop or desktop PC doesn’t have: taking photos, knowing the geo-location, handwriting on a touch screen, etc. (see blog post “Business Processes on the Road: Why you need Mobile Apps”).

So Shade 4 is about mobile apps that were designed specifically for the mobile users. The easiest and fastest way to getting started with mobile apps is by using Generic Apps. Generic Apps are generally available on the market to fill in a specific (generic) business functions. Examples are: Track My Mileage (to keep track of your mileage expenses), BulldozAIR (for field reporting in Construction Projects), Timesheet .Net (to fill out time sheets on mobile devices) etc.

They are great because you can start using them almost immediately. However, their biggest disadvantage is that they are not integrated into your existing enterprise applications: e.g. the Timesheet app mentioned above cannot use the existing cost codes of your project management system.


Shade 5: Mobile enterprise apps

image This is the level you really want to achieve. The main difference between Enterprise apps and Generic apps is that the former bring your existing enterprise data straight to your mobile employees and customers

This type of apps is the darkest shade of mobile because by opening up your back-end data to front-end apps you create the highest possible business value.

Enterprise apps change the way you do business, because they give you possibilities you never had before. Imagine that your customers can place orders directly into your order system by using a mobile app that you make available to them. This App is branded with your organisation’s logo and colours and uses up-to-date information about your products (availability, price, actions, etc.)

Or imagine an App with which your Field Engineers can do a job at the customer’s site, fill out the job report on his tablet, and have the customer sign it on that tablet whereby this information is fed directly into your ERP-system. No paper involved, no writing and copying, no errors.

By looking a bit closer at the possibilities of this type of Mobile Apps you will discover a world of opportunities to really make the difference for your customers and employees. This type of app allows you to consider the specific context different steps in your business processes, and decide in which processes a mobile app can bring the highest value.



Business perspective

It is clear that from a business perspective not all shades of mobile apps contribute in the same way to your business objectives. Here is an interesting exercise that every decision taker should make: rate the different shades of Mobile Apps for their contribution to the organization’s objectives. Such an assessment may result in a table that look like this one:


This is a good basis to choose your first mobile candidates.

Technological perspective

It may seem like a big and risky leap to introduce mobile applications in your existing IT environment. However Microsoft has a comprehensive set of tools and platforms to help you achieve this in a controlled way, and Spikes has the people and skills to help you implement all that: check EMS or Enterprise Mobility Suite[2]. Based on the Windows 8.1 platform and using its cloud infrastructure, Microsoft offers a product for every part of solution that you want to implement:

  • Cloud infrastructure so that you don’t have to invest in new servers and other hardware
  • Cloud solutions to run your e-mail, contacts, files, etc. from the cloud
  • Identity management to make sure only authorized users get access
  • Encryption mechanisms to make sure that data remains confidential all the time
  • Communication mechanisms with which users can connect to the office from any place and on any device
  • Monitoring and Management Tools to control and manage the whole environment, even in a hybrid cloud-and-on-premise architecture
  • And many more

In other words:

Microsoft has the technology to let you run every shade of mobile grey.


Footnote [1]: OneDrive is the new name for the Microsoft service that was previously called Skydrive. OneDrive is a consumer tool to store files in the cloud. OneDrive for Business is the business equivalent of OneDrive. OneDrive for Business is part of SharePoint Online which itself is part of Office 365

Footnote [2]: Read more about Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS) on (in Dutch).


Comments? Questions?

Marc Vanderheyden - Picture


Twitter: @mceev11



Business Processes on the Road: Why you need Mobile Apps

Productivity on the move

The private use of apps on our smart phones is spilling over into our professional life: we expect more and more to stay in touch with our ‘home base’ and have quick and easy access to business information on our mobile devices, any time, any place.

We can already keep on communicating with the organization by using e-mail on our mobile devices. But the time has come to go further and create a competitive advantage by opening up back-end business data to our mobile devices while making use of the unique capabilities of these devices. The highest possible value can only be created when the capabilities of a mobile device can be used in combination with back-end data to participate in a business process while away from the desk.

 Competitive advantage

The applicability of all this in your organization and business processes may not be obvious at first sight, but it merits the effort of looking into it.

In this blog post we explore some of the possibilities of Mobile Apps in a business context.

Enterprise Business Apps: restricted definition

In this blog I use the term ‘Business App’ in a restricted way:

An Enterprise Business App is a Mobile Application on your Tablet or Smartphone that gives you access to your organization’s back-end data.

Below I give some examples of ‘Generic Business Apps’: E-mail, Calendar, etc.. A GPS app or Office app can also be used in a business context. Generic Apps are very useful, but they don’t allow you to make the difference. They hardly create any competitive advantage.

A true Enterprise Business App opens up your company data to employees and customers ‘away from the desk’. It is the integration with your business data that creates a unique offering.

Types of Mobile Devices

Business Apps are available on both Smartphones and Tablets. It is useful to make the distinction between these devices and your PC, because you interact with them in a different way.


Mobile devices have restrictions when compared to PCs while at the same time they have capabilities that are not available on a PC. Good Apps acknowledge the restrictions of the Mobile Device and make use of its capabilities.

Each type of Mobile Device has its own features and intuitive interaction.

In most cases your PC has a larger screen and you interact with it with keyboard and mouse. Until recently PCs didn’t have touch screens and that is still the case for most laptops (and certainly for desktops). A PC takes a lot of time to get out of your bag, open it and get it started.

A Tablet has a smaller screen than a PC and has also la less precise mechanism for pointing an clicking. (Unless you use a pen, but even then the interaction is different from mouse input.) On the other hand, with a pen you can draw pictures or sign documents. The on-screen keyboard also reduces the amount of information you can view on your screen while typing. A tablet is out of your bag and up and running faster than a PC.

And your Smartphone has even more restricted pointing and typing possibilities. In terms of availability however, it is the device that is the quickest in your hand and ready to use.

Each device type has its own characteristics for interaction, its own ‘user experience’. On a PC e.g. you will prefer to scroll vertically. A tablet on the contrary invites you in a very intuitive way to swipe from right to left or from left to right, as you would do in a book. And on a Smartphone vertical scrolling is use more often because of the ‘portrait orientation’.


One of the consequences of all this is also that not all Apps are suited for all mobile devices, and vice versa

Unprecedented capabilities

One of the biggest mistakes one can make when making business data available on a mobile device is to copy the content and behaviour of a corresponding back-end function. A true Business App should allow you to perform things you could not do before. By using the technical features that are available on Mobile Devices in an integrated way, new possibilities can be explored.

Typical Mobile Device features comprise:
– Taking pictures
– Knowing your geo-location
– Capturing handwriting and drawing
– Sensing movements
– Using other data on your device

Business Apps on Mobile Devices offer possibilities you never had before.

Mobile Apps that make use of these capabilities in an intelligent way, are the most powerful ones.

Example: with a mobile device you can take pictures and at the same time register the location at which you take the picture and the date and time; this is e.g. very useful in construction and maintenance environments when you want to initiate a work request or report some damage.

This may not come cheap…

We all expect mobile apps to be cheap. Most of the apps that we purchase in our private live are extremely cheap (from less than a Euro to a couple of Euros). These apps can be cheap because they have a large number of users. On the other hand, with generic Apps you cannot create high business value in your organization.


In an enterprise context the business app needs to be developed to the specific requirements of the organization. It also needs to be integrated with the back-end data, meaning that some development is needed at the server side too. Therefore the budgets to be calculated with when developing a business case for an enterprise app are substantially higher than in the case of privately used apps.

Business Apps As-A-Service

An intermediate solution between privately used apps and bespoke developed enterprise apps are the business apps that come with an integrated server-side solution. The TrashOut App ( e.g. allows people to report trash by taking a picture of it. When taking the picture the geo location of the trash is also recorded. Any enterprise can get an account at Trashout to collect trash reports on its premises and take action on it. Another example is the TasksInaBox App ( – still in beta) with which you can keep track of tasks assigned to you or your team. Again your organization can get an account to enable Task Management on mobile devices in your organization.

These Apps-as-a-Service allow you to create a higher business value without having to pay for the full development cost.

Generic Apps

As mentioned above, you can also make use of ‘Generic Business Apps’. In fact this type of Business Apps is the one that is most widely spread: they allow you to manage your e-mails, keep track of your calendar and access your contact database. They are available on Phone, Tablet and PC. And although they are very useful to stay in touch with your home base while you are on the road, they don’t allow you to executive specific activities in the Business Processes of your Organization.

Other generic Apps that can be used in a Business context are GPS, Microsoft Office (including the marvellous Office Remote app), convertors, and what have. But however useful, these Apps will not help you create a competitive advantage.

More Generic Communication Apps

It is worth mentioning other Generic Apps that help you to stay in touch with your Organization. If you have implemented Enterprise Social Collaboration platforms like  SharePoint, Lync or Yammer, you will certainly will want to use the corresponding Mobile Apps ‘SharePoint Newsfeed’, ‘Lync’ and ‘Yammer’.

imageThese apps will help u to stay informed about active conversations in your organization.

With Microsoft you can!

A short technical paragraph to end with.

Microsoft has a unique series of technologies to make all this possible in a secure, manageable and affordable way. Starting with devices and operating systems like Windows Phone and Windows 8.1 (on Surface or other hardware), using Azure and Azure Mobile Services to connect the mobile devices to the cloud on one hand, and to connect the cloud to your existing back-end application in your data center on the other hand; with management tools like System Center to allow the IT Department to stay in control.

image With the technology available and ready, it is probable just your imagination that is holding you back from creating additional competitive advantage by using Mobile Business Apps.

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