Apple’s “There’s an App for That” iPhone campaign is opening a Pandora’s box for mobile service management. Apple’s App Store offers more than 25,000 applications, and the site saw more than 800 million downloads in just eight months. This means that consumers are going to expect to have multiple applications running on their smartphones-and where consumer computing goes, so does corporate endpoint computing.
Successive waves of consumer technology have always found their way into enterprises. This time, smartphone applications have serious allies in their corporate infiltration. RIM has launched Blackberry App World, a Web-based marketplace for software running on their Blackberry devices. Not to be outdone, Google and Microsoft are racing to deliver the same capabilities.
Even with the rigorous application approval processes from device suppliers, network providers and enterprises, I guarantee you that in about 9-12 months, these companies will find themselves in a customer service management conundrum. Why? Because in my 14 years of covering how new technology impacts infrastructure management, I’ve seen the same pattern over and over again. New applications or services get rolled out and things seem great in the beginning.
Then, enterprise customer and technical support processes begin groaning under the strain of problems they are not designed to solve. Eventually, serious outages begin to occur, which impacts a revenue stream. Then business executives start grumbling about service quality. Only when business pain occurs does IT management get the green light to turn their attention to optimizing their service management processes and solutions.
The evidence suggests that the tidal wave of smartphone applications will follow a similar pattern. There are iPhone application development courses and Java development tools for Blackberry. It’s only a matter of time before corporate applications have smartphone front ends, which will be in the “I can’t live without it” category for mobile business users (and, unlike the iFitness or Flick Fishing applications, these applications will probably not get discarded after a month of use).
Then there are vague reassurances about IT manageability from the device manufacturers. For example, RIM President and co-CEO Mike Lazaridis said, “Blackberry App World aggregates a wide variety of personal and business apps in a way that makes it very easy for consumers to discover and download the apps that suit them, while preserving the appropriate IT architecture and controls required by our enterprise customers.”
Hmmm, where have I heard this before? It sounds like the same promises I heard from various desktop and laptop software providers in the 1990s. I also have recollections of research studies documenting enterprise management costs of $8,000 per PC per year (and that was with a single operating system dominating the market). Those costs skyrocketed because PC technology stressed problem resolution workflows and organizations that were designed for supporting large servers. Smartphones, with their seemingly endless variety of hardware, software and network providers, are poised to stress support workflows and solutions designed to support desktop PCs.
Device Management Challenges
Device management challenges
So, just how are these new services going to stress device management? First, when customers are told to remove their applications in order to resolve problems, they will get annoyed with the “device provider” (namely, the company whose logo is on the device, such as RIM, Apple, Verizon, etc.).
Next, an irritated call to a corporate service desk will be made; after all, some of the applications are likely to be business-related ones. Service desk staff will be left shuffling between troubleshooting Web sites from the device manufacturer, the software manufacturer, the data center provider, the network provider (and maybe some social networking forums where other administrators rant, discuss or troubleshoot application problems).
In all likelihood, the troubleshooting steps can be found somewhere; it’s just going to take your service desk staff a long time to find them. We have already seen this happen when Blackberry services connected millions of users to corporate Exchange servers to provide mobile e-mail access. It wasn’t enough for IT departments to monitor their Blackberry service and Exchange servers for alerts. That break/fix approach resulted in resolution call times averaging well over 40 minutes, and a high enterprise cost of “ownership” for devices which, in many cases, were not owned by the enterprise.
The trick will be applying the solutions and lessons learned in supporting mobile e-mail services to the myriad of mobile device applications, consumer cloud services and telecom-provided services that are coming online this year.
Lesson No. 1: To change the economics of break/fix support, you need to change the support approach from a cycle of “break, fix, and then script something if there is time” to one where support solutions are continually fed automated troubleshooting workflows.
We have learned that enterprise e-mail support staff really needed a means to automate the thousands of problem identification and troubleshooting workflows. The best solutions today are able to proactively identify when problems are occurring (without depending on users to report symptoms) and provide the best practices needed by support administrators to efficiently resolve problems.
Lesson No. 2: Move away from the idea of solely supporting devices. It is important to provide an end-to-end view of all infrastructure involved AND the multiple devices used by an individual to access the service. Business users change their Blackberry devices frequently, making it hard for support staff to pinpoint device-related problems.
We learned that IT staff needed a complete view of all devices used by the customer to access the Exchange service. Immediate access to device and application versions and configurations will simplify problem resolution.
Lesson No. 3: Keep the automated workflows current. Every quarter brings new devices (did someone say iPhone via ActiveSync?), Exchange upgrades and updated best practices for problem resolution that should get automated. I know of one mobile management solution provider who added more than 1,000 new workflows to its Blackberry messaging solution in the last 18 months-and that’s just for e-mail.
IT staff simply do not have the resources to discover, research, script, test and implement automated troubleshooting workflows for business-critical applications running side-by-side with applications such as HRS Hotel Organizer and iheartradio. Let’s not forget the added complications of a global recession and credit crunch!
Whether the support is provided by the device manufacturer, network provider or enterprise, the support paradigm has to change before the stress fractures occur and drive up costs at a time when the company can least afford it. Management solutions, which enable support organizations to move from break/fix, PC-based support to supporting mobile application users, will be worthy of a “There’s an Automated Workflow for That” ad campaign.
Jasmine Noel is founder and partner at Ptak, Noel & Associates. Jasmine is an experienced analyst who researches how technology trends such as virtualization, smart devices, cloud computing, service-oriented architecture and Web 2.0 impact IT management processes such as application, performance and configuration management. Prior to her current position at Ptak, Noel & Associates, Jasmine worked as a systems and applications analyst at Hurwitz Group and D.H. Brown Associates. She can be reached at [email protected].