How to Optimize Your IT Staff to Make Mobile Projects Successful
By now many enterprises have started increasing their efforts on mobile projects and a key to their success is having the right staff with the right set of skills in place. Often, though, achieving that is easier said than done. Mobile app developers are a hot commodity right now and the demand outweighs the supply.
The larger the organization, the harder it becomes to shift staff toward mobile development, says Steve Damadeo, manager of IT infrastructure and business relationship management at Festo, a multibillion dollar global supplier of automation technology and industrial training/education programs. “There is a generational divide within mobile, and there is also a geographic divide within mobile,’’ he says, adding that American-run organizations tend to be more aggressive on mobile development than European-run organizations due to much stricter data privacy requirements in Europe, and particularly Germany, than in most other countries.
Organizations can address this challenge by determining what they want their mobile strategy to look like, he says. “Are you looking for developers, or are you looking for people who can manage other vendors and focus only on the UX component? That’s a decision each organization needs to make.” Usually, it ends up being a combination of both internal and external needs, and IT leaders end up both hiring new staff and retraining some existing staff.
Festo has about 17,000 employees in 60 countries, and about 425 people in its global IT organization. The biggest driver for the company to start focusing on mobile began with the need to create an external customer-focused mobile app to help address some of their most common contact center questions and provide customers with real-time information, he says.
“This was the big impetus for us to rotate toward mobile, but since then there has also been discussions surrounding cloud computing that I am using to drive our mobility initiatives as well,’’ Damadeo says. “The emphasis on mobile thinking is gaining steam, but this of course, is more of a journey than an event.”
In higher education, students are a big driver of mobile technology, and Fairfield University quickly realized if it wanted to remain competitive it needed to offer students coming to campus with multiple devices the ability to stream music and movies, engage with social media 24x7 and do their class work on the web, says acting CIO Russell Battista. That has meant having to mobile-enable existing IT staff, which he says plays a big role in pushing those initiatives forward.
"Network has now become a ubiquitous commodity, so we need to keep up or we will hear [complaints] from the student groups,’’ he says. There are other drivers, as well, such as online classes and enabling faculty and staff to have access to data 24x7.
Not only are mobile developers extremely difficult to find, Battista says, but compounding that is the fact that “they really do not exist in higher education … it can be a significant challenge to find a good balance of technical skills and the right personality fit for the team.”
Business world skills don't always translate into higher ed “because you need to view work differently,’’ he explains. “At its basic level, you are now supporting a mission-based culture versus one that is profit- and loss-based. That is a fundamental mindset shift in the way you approach work.”
It took time to retrain and enhance IT staff’s skills, he says, “but we initially worked on non-mission critical apps to get the hang of the technology.” The university also hired a web developer to help jump start the learning curve, which Battista says proved effective.
“I brought in some training as well to move the process along. The team did a great job learning the new technology and after about six months, they became quite proficient.”
Skills needed for mobile projects
Among his IT staff of 51 is the administrative computing group, which Battista worked on prior to becoming interim CIO and drives web/mobile responsive development. “This team has probably experienced the most transformation by moving from a non-web, older technology/green screen platform to a web and mobile environment,’’ he says. “They are now consistently building web apps that can be viewed on mobile devices.
For Damadeo, the hottest skill needed for mobile development is unequivocally UX design. “Enterprise Experience Management [EEM] is an enormous challenge, but also carries an enormous correlation to mobile success,’’ he says. “It’s not about how many features or functionalities are within an application, but rather, about how easy it is to use and how it engages people to want to use it.”
Besides having the right skills, another key to successful mobile initiatives is building a great partnership with the business and academic areas, says Battista. “It has always been a collaboration in deciding what is needed, then IT drives the how and when,’’ at the university, he says. “We've been fortunate in having a supportive senior management who allocates budget as well.”
Why Mobile Projects Fail and How to Increase their Chance of Success
Not having that support is the biggest cause of project failure, agrees Damadeo. “A lack of a true executive mandate and push to venture into mobile,’’ will cause most projects to fail, he says. In addition, “teams must be able to work free of the restrictions of most waterfall-driven, legacy-heavy organizations.” Mobile requires an entirely different approach when it comes to project management, development and change management/communication, he says.
Another common cause of mobile project failure is “the desire to duplicate what you have now in a desktop environment into mobile. I can’t tell you how many times I see organizations do this, and it almost always ends in disaster.”
Trying to jump into a mission-critical project while training your team at the same time “would be a disaster,’’ notes Battista. “Leaders need to be proactive in up-spilling their teams in web development, so the team can learn at a good pace before being thrown into the deep end,’’ he advises. IT leaders should seek out good training and find the right person or two to supplement the team in the web/mobile area. “It is definitely possible to retrain Oracle or other database-focused developers in newer technologies if you give them ample training and time to acclimate.”
Damadeo advises IT leaders to take a careful look at who they have in their organization to see if they have the right people to handle a mobile project. If they don’t, he says, don’t be afraid to call on vendors or organizations for help.
“You cannot try to force mobile to happen; you have to give some room to let it flow on its own. Know your key players and your change agents, and include them as the core of your team. Beyond that, be very selective in terms of who you add to this.”