Why You Must Apply Systems Thinking to Enterprise Mobility

See The Big Picture In The Mobile Enterprise Without Sacrificing The Details

Mobile Strategy Comments (2)

To appreciate the profound implications of a business change from employees working in a fixed location to “mobile working” for all, its necessary to take a systems view of the concept of “enterprise mobility.”

Book cover for Thinking In Systems: A Primer

Source: Goodreads

According to the late Donnella H. Meadows (1941-2001), author of Thinking In Systems: A Primer, a systems view recognizes that all businesses are complex groupings of “interlocking stocks, flows, and feedback loops.” Although written in 1993, this book is a highly readable and non-technical introduction to systems thinking. The book was edited and re-published in 2008 by Diana Wright of the Sustainability Institute.

In The Mobile Learning Edge (McGraw-Hill, 2010), I devoted a chapter to treating mobile learning as an ecosystem. I diagrammed different elements of the system, including infrastructure, devices, content, platforms, tools, and critical concepts. I realized I missed capturing the dynamics of a typical mobile learning system such as its inputs and outputs, and how such a system is connected to other aspects of a business in a dynamic, living way. I now see mobile learning as just one of several subsystems that interconnect and influence each other in a mobile-enabled organization.

Inspired by Meadows, I went looking for more materials on enterprise mobility and systems thinking. There wasn’t much, but here are a few items that look interesting.

In Mobile Working: Technologies and Business Strategies (Routledge, 2013), Mahmood Hussain Shah, a professor at the University of Central Lancashire in the UK, takes more of a systems approach to enterprise mobility than most other authors I’ve seen. Among the topics included are:

  • Types of mobile working
  • Examples of mobile workers
  • Benefits of mobile working
  • Key issues in mobile working
  • Key technologies for mobile working
  • User resistance to change
  • Trust issues in mobile working
  • Start-up costs
  • Mobile security
  • Continuity between mobile and non-mobile systems
  • Project management
  • Change management

It’s challenging to imagine CEOs enthusiastically embracing the concept of enterprise mobility without knowing how such a new way of operating a business is going to impact productivity and the bottom line. In a provocative article, Ted Schadler of Forrester sees the problem of changing to enterprise mobility as a rethinking of the whole architecture of the web, which, he suggests, is not ready for the onslaught of mobile devices and their use in large organizations. Schadler calls for a new four-tier architecture for mobile as a condition for its wide-spread adoption in business. He writes:

“Mobile is pushing aging web architectures to the brink. The three-tier architecture built for a browser-led PC world can’t flex, scale, or respond to the needs of a good mobile experience or the emerging requirements for connected products. Mobile’s volatility and velocity of change require a distributed four-tier architecture that we call an “engagement platform.” The engagement platform separates technical capabilities into four parts: client, delivery, aggregation, and services. The new requirements of modern apps will force content distribution networks, application server vendors, mobile middleware vendors, platform-as-a-service suppliers, a myriad of startups, and enterprises to coalesce around this four-tier architecture. CIOs need to start planning immediately for the migration from three tiers to four.”

The AppsFreedom group, in a helpful guidebook to enterprise mobility, highlights some of the internal dynamics within a company when enterprise mobility is first introduced. They note the “tug of war” between lines of businesses (LOB) and the IT department in most enterprises: “The LOB folks desire agility. To be able to build mobile apps fast, deploy them faster, and gain a competitive edge. They want to solve real business problems. IT, on the other hand, is concerned about stability, performance, and scalability.”

Li and Steenkamp (2010) suggest that the problem of changing to an enterprise mobility system is that “there is no industry standard available to enable an enterprise to transform its business processes to incorporate mobile technologies to advantage.” They present a conceptual Mobile Enterprise Architecture Framework “which can aid enterprise ‘decision-makers to evaluate the business values, and analyze the risks and other critical business and technical factors for mobile enterprise initiatives and mobile transitions.”

Systems thinkers use lots of visualization – graphs, charts, diagrams, frameworks, and pictures – to talk about the systems they are describing. At Float, we regularly build flow diagrams, strategy maps, and infographics as part of our consultations with clients. We start with the big picture before getting too specific solutions to problems. Systems thinking is built into all of our projects.

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Gary Woodill is a senior analyst with Float, as well as CEO of i5 Research. Gary conducts research and market analyses, as well as assessments and forecasting for emerging technologies. Gary is the co-editor of "Mastering Mobile Learning," author of “The Mobile Learning Edge,” and the co-author of “Training and Collaboration with Virtual Worlds.” He also presents at conferences and is the author of numerous articles and research reports on emerging learning technologies. Gary holds a doctor of education degree from the University of Toronto.

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On May 18, 2016
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2 Responses to Why You Must Apply Systems Thinking to Enterprise Mobility

  1. […] is to integrate it with the many other possible business uses of mobile devices to form an enterprise mobility system. This type of integration is one of the core capabilities of […]

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