This blog post is contributed by David Judge, Technical Solutions Manager for Workplace and Mobile Enterprise Services.
Over the last 12 months the question of whether, or indeed when, to
begin the transition from Windows Mobile as a platform for task worker
mobility solutions is one that has been debated again and again. Windows
Mobile has been a reliable platform for the task worker for over 10
years, supported by a wealth of fit for purpose, ruggedized hardware.
However, organizations are assessing the latest mobile operating systems
against their task worker solution requirements and at the same time
unearthing the challenges that this change inevitably presents.
Although Windows Mobile never overtly revolutionized the consumer mobile
world in the way iOS did, it played an extremely important part in the
ecology of mobile. Ultimately, Windows Mobile is the basis of thousands
of applications developed within a Microsoft platform that both
enterprises and independent software vendors (ISVs) eulogized, making
use of common skills in developing under the .NET framework. In
comparison to today’s apps, the user interfaces were often far from
appealing, lacked any kind of engaging experience and across the board
seemed to have a “this was absolutely developed in Visual Studio” feel.
Nevertheless, it provided a platform to develop task-oriented
applications that were easy to use, secure and integrated with existing
enterprise back-office systems.
Enterprises across the globe adopted Windows Mobile for many reasons.
One that supported (and continues to support) an entire industry of
ISVs, hardware vendors and systems integrators was the ability to
successfully mobilize a specific use case: the task worker. The task
worker in the enterprise can take many forms, but here I am focusing on
those that are primarily field-based and laborcentric, for example
utility engineers, delivery drivers, asset auditors. The deployment of
mobile enablement solutions across this specific use case has been rife
over the last 10 years, as enterprises discovered that the business case
and return on investment could be easily quantified and realized
through the deployment of mobile technology, facilitating automation of
manual administration processes.
Many of the clients I have met over the last 12 months are beginning
to look beyond their original Windows Mobile deployment and are
considering their options for the next iteration of mobile technology.
The majority have invested significantly in Windows Mobile as a platform
for task worker applications, and in most cases it has been very
successful in improving efficiency and productivity of its task worker
Thankfully, the mobile enablement climate has changed significantly since the early days of Windows Mobile.
Back then when you had an idea to “mobilize the enterprise workforce”
your choices were limited technically in terms of platform choice and
capability, and also in engaging partners who could bring the relevant
wealth and subject-matter expertise to your project. These days that
supposition no longer exists, as the choice of partners to help you with
the transition toward your next iteration of mobile for the task worker
is both wide and varied. Thankfully IBM Mobile Enterprise Services is
ideally placed to help develop every aspect of the solution. There are
of course a number of challenges to work through when assessing the next
phase of mobile technology for the task worker, and in my recent
experience in working with clients the following key areas have been
prominent in the initial assessment process:
Convergence of task worker and knowledge worker requirements
The line between the knowledge worker and task worker use case
generally remains distinct; however there is now a propensity for task
workers to be as integrated with the enterprise network as their
knowledge worker counterparts. This typically manifests in providing
task workers with access to email, calendar and contacts. I have worked
on countless projects in deploying applications for task workers where
the only real requirement lay with the applications being deployed to
the device. Rarely did an enterprise see any benefit in giving access to
laborcentric task workers over and above what the primary applications
provided, and in many cases the users did not even have a directory
In the connected era this requirement is
prevalent, and along with it will no doubt come the ever increasing
discussion of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and whether this can actually
work for the task worker. Either way, a focus on endpoint security and
device management will be a significant part of the planning process.
Mobile application development platforms
The discussion around native, web and hybrid mobile application
development rages on, with various opinions on which is actually best.
Needless to say if you developed your Windows Mobile application in
native .NET code you are going to need to do some reworking.
This of course is not necessarily a bad thing, since recreating the
mobile platform will give you the opportunity to fully assess the new
end-to-end requirements and allow you to take advantage of some of the
rich controls and integration that now exist within so many mobile
application development platforms. The platform choice will always be
difficult if you move away from Windows Mobile in terms of iOS versus
Android versus Windows Phone. In truth the best mitigation strategy for
this is to utilize a development platform that is committed to
supporting the latest mobile operating systems and allows you as much as
possible to adopt a “write once and deploy to many” strategy.
Mobile hardware platforms
Hardware for the task worker has always been a discipline in itself.
In most cases the working environment of the task worker is not
conducive to a standard iPhone or any other consumer-grade device. Task
worker requirements can range from intrinsically safe devices to a unit
with at least some form of IP (ingress protection) rating to ensure it
can stand up to the elements. Mobile device manufacturers such as
Motorola, Intermec and Honeywell have each released their own flavor of a
ruggedized device on Android, and in 2013 we will no doubt see a good
few more, along with a number running Windows Embedded 8. For consumer
hardware, companies such as OtterBox provide cases to increase the
durability and protection of the device. Whatever the chosen way
forward, and as you did with your initial Windows Mobile deployment, the
same amount of effort into user workshops and device trials will be
required to ascertain the most suitable platform.
Over the years I have personally witnessed deployments of Windows
Mobile applications transform business operations and deliver a myriad
of quantitative and qualitative benefits. However, we are now at a stage
where the traditional consumer platforms cannot be ignored for the task
For those who are considering the transition away from Windows
Mobile, the challenges of replacing the technology that users have grown
to know and love are indeed many, but thankfully organizations like IBM
have developed mobile offerings that can help. IBM Mobile Enterprise Services
includes mobile deployment planning, mobile security, device
management, application development and analytics that can be brought
together to deliver a truly holistic mobile solution for task workers
and across the enterprise.
David Judge is a Technical Solutions Manager for Workplace and Mobile Enterprise Services and an IBM Redbooks Thought Leader. Follow David Judge on Twitter at @themobilejudge.