IT is a no-show when it comes to mobile apps

IT organizations and their vendors aren't making enterprise apps mobile, which only fuels employees' DIY impulses

There's a lot of talk in IT and vendor circles about the need to manage mobile applications, and there are a lot of tools to let in-house and commercial developers alike add control mechanisms around access, usage, and compliance to mobile apps, both native and HTML5. But there are actually very few such apps to manage or control. The bottom line is that IT organizations and their vendors are not developing, porting, or making accessible traditional applications to mobile users.

I've been hearing about that paucity for more than a year. That sad state was confirmed yet again this week by a mobile security firm MobileHelix study that shows that only 22 percent of corporate apps can be accessed by mobile devices, yet 87 percent of users want mobile acess to the 400 or so corporate apps an average enterprise works with. "Access" includes simply via a mobile-friendly Web portal. When you realize that more than half of enterprise apps are Web apps, the fact that only 22 percent of corporate apps can be used on a mobile device is even scarier -- nearly all those Web apps could be adapted to smartphone and tablet usage while remaining Web apps.

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For vendors, the data are worrisome because it means there aren't that many IT customers for their mobile app creation and management wares. For users, it means they can't be as productive when on a mobile device, which in turn limits business effectiveness and flexibility. For IT, it likely means further irrelevance, as users find commercial apps or build their own departmentally -- in a return to the "departmental computing" phenomenon of the late 1980s and early 1990s that saw dBase programmers in every department.

Today, we already have SaaS offerings like Salesforce.com refueling on the departmental-computing phenomenon, and the fact that marketing departments are poised to spend more on technology than IT further shows that business users can and will take over "IT" when IT doesn't deliver. As more and more computing happens on smartphones and tablets, the more business users will go their own way, using commercial apps from app stores, mobile-friendly Web services, and homegrown mobile apps (there are dozens of drag-and-drop "development" tools to create simply workflow-style apps, for example).

The reasons for the lack of mobile app support, according to the MobileHelix survey of 300 companies, are the usual ones: costs for development and support, as well as security concerns. Basically, IT or perhaps business management is unwilling to invest in mobile apps despite saying they are valuable, leaving users to figure it out on their own in a sort of "gray market" approach to productivity.

This is not a bad thing, except to IT departments that become less relevant to getting business done and instead grow further entrenched in infrastructure activities like managing networks and email accounts -- critical but not valued until something goes wrong.

For users and business managers, it's clear that if you want to go mobile, you will need to do it largely on your own. At most companies, IT won't be there to help in any meaningful way. For those companies that pay more than lip service to the value of mobile apps, there's a competitive advantage just waiting to be exploited.

This article, "IT is a no-show when it comes to mobile apps," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Smart User blog. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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