Sanju Bansal, chief operating officer of software maker MicroStrategy (MSTR), keeps his Apple iPad close at hand around the clock. The tablet computer lets him work any time during the day without his having to wait to boot up a laptop or reach the office.
Using mobile applications that MicroStrategy created to work with its own computer systems, Bansal is able to approve work orders as they come in, rather than making staffers wait for days at a time. Employees and managers now expect "more of a 24-hour turnaround process," Bansal says.
MicroStrategy snapped up 1,200 iPads and is cranking out applications that run on them in hopes of helping its staff work more efficiently. Improvement in employee productivity is among the top metrics U.S. companies use to determine if they're getting a return on mobile-office investments, according to a survey of 200 enterprise mobile and wireless decision makers by Frost & Sullivan. About 42 percent of respondents in the survey, which was released in August, sought an increase in user productivity, followed by reduced paperwork (39 percent), and increased revenue (37 percent). The mobile-office application market in North America may reach $6.85 billion in 2015, up from an estimated $1.76 billion this year, Frost & Sullivan estimates.
About 55 percent of information technology developers expect mobile-app development for devices such as Apple's iPhone and iPad (AAPL) and those that use Google's (GOOG) Android operating system to surpass app development on traditional computing platforms by 2015, according to the 2010 IBM (IBM) Tech Trends Survey. The study queried 2,000 IT developers in 87 countries.
Mobile Apps for Reference Materials
While some vendors such as SAP (SAP) have led the way in developing enterprise mobile apps that work specifically with software already used by corporations, many companies are developing their own apps, too. Deloitte Consulting, for instance, has an online system that lets on-the-move employees reserve work and meeting space as well as projectors and blackboards. The company is working on making it possible to reserve space straight from a mobile device. The mobile app is an extension of an existing enterprise app, says Mark White, chief technology officer at Deloitte.
White says he sees a progression in how Deloitte customers approach corporate mobile apps. After business e-mail is up and running on smartphones, companies typically start to make corporate information available as apps. "People are taking reference materials and making that available as an app," he says.
At McLean (Va.)-based MicroStrategy, about 80 important sales documents have been made into an iPad app so that sales people can carry it with them. That repository includes PowerPoint presentations, Adobe PDF files, and multimedia video, says Bansal. It enables him to give impromptu sales pitches. "To sit in a plane or a restaurant and show people the vast array of content that we have—it's invaluable, because I'll never get that 15 or 20 minutes again with that person."
Making Executives More Productive
The Frost & Sullivan survey showed that about 39 percent of U.S. companies are either testing or have given sales staff access to mobile sales automation apps. About 21 percent said they plan to add the capability in the next few years. Those companies were looking for reduced paperwork, increases in sales and customer satisfaction, and a faster overall sales process. After creating information applications, companies tend to start looking at basic work-flow apps, from reserving a conference room to expense reporting, says Deloitte's White.
MicroStrategy now has apps designed to make executives more productive—letting them approve time-off requests, salary changes, and hiring decisions, in addition to purchase orders. In the future, COO Bansal says he expects more mobile-productivity apps at his company and across corporations as a whole.
"Enterprise mobile apps will be far more ubiquitous and will be used more often that current Windows-based or Web-based enterprise applications," says Bansal. "Already, I'm using the apps we created more than I used them previously, when they were available to me for the few hours a day I'm at my desk."