CIOs who want to be really successful with mobility need to take a more strategic approach to mobile development. There’s nothing wrong with building a few apps that allow employees and customers to securely access your back-end systems from their mobile devices. But if you want to really embrace mobile, then you need to start thinking about how mobile devices and apps can enable business change across the organization.
A great place to start is by taking on one or two initial use cases centered on reinventing a business process or reimagining engagement with customers, partners, or your employees. If you’re successful with one of these projects — with increases in productivity, customer engagement, or new revenue streams — you could secure funding and buy-in to do even more. But getting a mobile project like that off the ground often requires a culture change that prioritizes fast and user-centric app development over more traditional waterfall and technology-centric approaches.
And therein lies the quandary for many CIOs looking to do more with mobile – they know they need to position their development teams to be more agile, but it’s not easy when their existing IT organization is centered around maintaining and running corporate system infrastructure requiring stability, reliability and uptime.
Balance agility with stability by using "two-track" IT
When it comes to mobile development, I find that it’s not usually the tools or the technology that is the problem; rather it’s the organization’s ability to adopt a "two-track" approach that not only sustains stability in core IT, but also supports agile IT.
For CIOs, the real challenge lies in actually changing your culture to allow for a more agile approach. The cloud, along with a whole range of new toolkits and frameworks, makes the move to mobile easier than ever. But if your IT organization isn’t structured to enable rapid development and integration with your existing systems, then you won’t be able to fully take advantage of mobile-centric business opportunities.
There are several ways you can begin to introduce more agile technologies. Certainly, you can start by migrating some of your existing systems onto more modern infrastructures, perhaps moving some of your traditional systems into the cloud or onto new Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) technologies. This can be done in parallel to maintaining a core, traditional IT infrastructure.
Your agile track becomes the "fast IT," and its focus should be on utilizing new open technologies and services. You don’t want this track to be hampered by the old way of doing things. You want to give this track the freedom to choose things like continuous development and integration, more modern development tools and frameworks, and probably more Software-as-a-Service-based products to work with. Effective collaboration between both your fast and core IT tracks will help shape your mobile success.
Finding the right talent for your mobile teams
As you craft this fast IT track, you can either hire for these skills or start building your internal team by cross-training one or two people. You can also form partnerships with offshore mobile app factories and centralize your new, fast IT there. You can keep the lines of communication open by having project managers from your core IT team to act as the interface between traditional teams. Collaboration tools and platforms also enable these two tracks to work more effectively together.
We’ve definitely seen some good practices with both approaches in terms of hiring, training and potentially outsourcing personnel, but above all, it comes down to your agile team being untethered from traditional IT processes, mindsets, and methodologies.
Keep in mind, the traditional core IT team is still absolutely important because if there’s one thing a CIO will get fired for, it’s for not looking after the core systems of record. So your entire IT organization doesn’t have to become agile. By making a conscious decision to have two tracks, you’re able to let your core IT team keep existing systems of record running and operational. Meanwhile, your fast IT team can start introducing newer technologies and methods to interface with these older technologies, laying the groundwork for a marriage of the two tracks.
Let me give you a real example of this in action. Say, for example, both your core and fast IT teams are able to work together to integrate mobile app access to an existing legacy transactional-based system. By doing so, they can begin to unleash the data that’s in your existing legacy systems, giving employees access to it for the first time. Through a project such as this, you’ve begun to cross-train your traditional IT team on some of the newer, lightweight integration technologies that allow smart devices to interface with existing corporate systems and databases. By having both your core and fast IT teams work together, you’ve helped the core team understand how these new devices can consume corporate data without exposing your legacy systems to vulnerabilities.
Making the transition to a mobile-centric approach easier
Mobile development can be a great catalyst to begin moving your development teams to more agile methods. That’s because it doesn’t require you to change your existing backend systems; rather they can be accessed by lightweight integration technologies. Additionally, mobile apps are small, finite, manageable bites designed to be built and released in an agile way. So it’s not going to take a massive amount of investment to build half a dozen apps around three or four simple business processes.
As you begin your mobile journey, really think about those one or two processes that lend themselves to quick mobile wins. If you succeed, and see business impact from your efforts, you’ll have a much easier time securing the investment and buy-in you need to do more. And if you’re not in a position to take on those more strategic mobile projects, starting to implement a two-track approach could help you get there.
Cathal McGloin is VP Mobile Platforms for FeedHenry by Red Hat, the mobile application platform provider that enables the development deployment, integration and management of mobile apps for enterprise. Cathal held the position of CEO of FeedHenry, when the company was acquired by Red Hat the leading open source solutions company in October 2014.
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