I just returned from 4G World in Chicago last week, where I participated on a panel on Enterprise Mobility and Wi-Fi Networks: Setting (and Meeting) Enterprise Expectations, hosted by Craig Mathias from Farpoint Group. 4G World has grown far beyond just 4G cell technology. Now the conference addresses network connectivity in general, and the session I participated in was the perfect example. We covered what enterprises expect regarding wireless connectivity, mobile access, and the increasing use of personal devices in the enterprise. Definitely outside of what most people consider 4G, but most companies are focused on the bigger picture: how networks, devices, and cloud will all interact in the future.
The biggest hole in the offering and barrier to adoption of new devices and wireless technology in the enterprise is manageability. Currently, most solutions do not have the right management hooks to be deployed in the enterprise. This is especially true of new devices, where most management solutions are similar to MDM, allowing only coarse, device-level management, which is very intrusive on personal devices. It also does not allow the kind of fine-grained access control necessary to protect the enterprise, while still allowing users to remain productive.
The second biggest hole is connectivity/coverage. Despite the marketing hype disseminated by wireless carriers, there are still many areas lacking network connectivity. And even where there is coverage, the networks are increasingly congested because of the increase of newer devices and applications that require more bandwidth, like streaming video.
One interesting and unintended consequence of the rise of 4G is how it has accelerated BYOD adoption. Consumers and end-users see TV commercials about how fast the new 4G networks are and all the cool things you can do with the new 4G-enabled devices. They say “I want that!” then upgrade their personal devices, which they then want to use in their workplace. The larger the technology gap between what is offered to consumers and what is available from enterprise IT, the greater the pressure to consumerize IT.
In addition to my panel discussion, I attended a few more attention-grabbing sessions, including a panel on Enterprise Mobility and Security hosted by Eric Lundquist. Gary Curtis, Chief Technology Strategist from Accenture, made some interesting points based on his experience within Accenture, as well as advising other companies on consumerization and new technology adoption. He said that BYOD has become essential in the war for talent, and firms that don't allow BYOD are losing talent to those that do.
Most enterprises are way behind consumers when it comes to adoption of new technologies. For example, consider the usage of new data types—mixed media, YouTube, Google, Amazon, and so forth—on the consumer side. Because users have become more sophisticated and aware of these new technologies, they have begun to demand the same capabilities of enterprise IT. And in the vast majority of cases, enterprise IT is ill prepared. Security is a major concern, especially with rapidly moving mobile technologies. Additionally, enterprise IT departments often lack the expertise or skill sets on staff to deploy and manage these new technologies.
I came away from the conference with a lot to mull over. I realized that mobile technology is just exploding, and it is filling my head with creative new ideas and concepts for next-generation products. As the old song says, “We've only just begun.” I look forward to see what happens next.