Mobility Mistakes: Lessons from the C-Suite

In the first of our 2015 C-suite case studies, Jim Degliumberto, CIO of Southeastrans shares with us the background of his experience as a mobile practitioner, reflects on the journey that has brought him to his current work with mobile technology, and explains how he has learned from his 'mobility mistakes' to help drive his organisation's mobile initiatives forward.

1dd73aa.jpgWhen I became the Chief Information Officer of Southeastrans, Inc. in 2009, it was just a few months after Apple had launched their App Store. This event not only had an immediate influence on the way consumers viewed applications and application distribution, but it also influenced me to realise how mobile apps could shape the landscape in which business takes place.

As a result of this change in mentality, over the past few years we have made sure to consider the implications of mobile in the way we purchase equipment, design software and run our operations throughout the company.

Mobility has since played an ever-increasing role in our business. Six years ago mobility was a 'nice to have' for the majority of organisations; it was a luxury that allowed employees at Southeastrans to remain productive while away from the office. However, it has now undoubtedly become a 'must have'.

As CIO I work closely with our software engineers and infrastructure groups to ensure we remain at the forefront of mobility to stay competitive. At Southeastrans, mobile devices now out-number traditional PCs on the network 5:1, and new software is designed mobile-first. Today, more of the IT budget at Southeastrans is allocated to mobility, which is a trend that I do not see changing. We have and will continue to add staff, systems and other resources to better manage and enhance our mobile experience.

When implementing this kind of technology, it is important to embrace a 'learn by doing' mentality, and prepare to make mistakes along the way that can help to better understand how mobile initiatives can truly succeed.

Originally, coming to terms with the high demand for mobility at Southeastrans, and underestimating the amount of support infrastructure that would be needed to handle our users, was the first and most significant 'mobility mistake' we made. Thankfully, it was something that we were able to overcome in a short period of time, and it did not negatively impact the overall success of the project.

The initial deployment of our new NET InSight Mobile application was 200 users, and we deployed the application on the original Apple iPad. The users were contained within one geographical location, which was the same area as our corporate office, and consequently we were able to support the users by having them bring the device into the office when there was an issue. However, within one year we had grown to 1,000 devices in three different geographic locations.

That growth has continued to a current scale of around 1,500 devices all across the South East United States. What we did not fully grasp at our initial deployment was the support structure and expertise required, or that our traditional end user support model would not fit a mobile work model.

It is possible that we could have implemented processes and procedures to mitigate all of the support-related issues we encountered, but at the time we were moving very quickly to get the system deployed, so this aspect of the project was not fully developed and to some extent was overlooked by the project team.

As soon as we moved out of our home territory it became clear that we needed to change our support systems, and as a result we quickly designed a more robust and scalable model. We introduced a cloud-based service desk and knowledge base, as well as embedding more support into the actual mobile application, and providing additional end user training.

This was valuable experience in learning to never underestimate the demand for mobility, or the way in which employees will want to use it. Providing mobility to users means that you will need to support that user at all times of the day, wherever the user is located.

With that, supporting users has grown much more difficult, and with increasing numbers of mobile employees, gone are the days of a ‘controlled’ environment. Computing has moved outside the walls of the organisation, and IT departments need to be able to account for that. This is essentially what our ‘mobility mistake’ prepared us to be able to deal with.

From a more general viewpoint, I think there needs to be a balance within an organisation between mobile and traditional applications. Placing too much functionality into a mobile application can reduce its effectiveness in achieving the related goals. Not to mention, loading up a mobile app with too many features can also lead to increased user support.

The key to overcoming this challenge that we have found is in striking a balance within our applications. We strive at keeping our apps simple, and focusing them on tasks that are mobile-friendly. In this way, we see our mobile apps as an extension of our traditional applications, which is a mind-set which can help organisations with their development and deployments.

Mobility will only continue to impact my role as CIO. As mobile devices converge with traditional systems and wearable devices converge with mobile devices, CIOs will need to be prepared to address an ever-changing technological landscape. Compound this with the desire of employees to bring their own devices into the network, and CIOs will need to continually reassess their company's mobility readiness.

This article was written by Jim Degliumberto, CIO of Southeastrans, Inc.