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Mobile – Drowning in Data

Mobile Only: Week 38

Benjamin Robbins, an EMF member, is spending the next year working solely from a single mobile device. Each week he shares his thoughts and experience with us on what it means to be mobile-only.

Working on my device this past week I noticed that many apps have a clean, easy-to-use interface. They are intuitive and even fun. However, many of them still rely on search and lists as primary mechanisms to serve up data. While this works, it is neither efficient nor refined enough to address the trends in data—the likes of which enterprises have never experienced before. Business as usual isn’t going to cut it in a data-deluged world. We need to think beyond the app. We need systems that deliver context.

We all perform data-producing tasks each day. Even the simplest things we do on a mobile device make us data generators, from surfing, to shopping, to speaking. As it has been pointed out repeatedly, data is growing at breakneck speed. If you combine this volume with the screen size and user experience on the device, we either need to adjust our approach or expect a decrease in productivity.

The cloud provides some fantastic capabilities when combined with mobility. Because of mobility’s (near) ubiquitous connectivity I can at any time, anywhere have access to my data. The ability for cloud providers to scale limitlessly means there will always be enough storage for all our data. Unfortunately, even with guidance, this begins to look like many American garages: full of stuff but impossible to locate anything.

Search functionality is not going to solve this issue. Why? Because the typical paradigm of search is to produce yet another list of data, not the answer. While search does help narrow the field, it doesn’t drill in far enough. Michelangelo didn’t paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel with a broom—refined work requires a refined instrument. Organizations that provide the tools and capabilities to get at the right information, by the right people, at the right time will excel beyond their data-laden competitors. An app can deliver that information, but it will take a connected ecosystem to produce it.

What does this mean in an enterprise context? The more data you compile, post, and hoard the harder it’s going to be for your employees to access, work with, and most importantly derive value from it. This will be the issue even on a PC, but it will be even more pronounced on mobile devices given the constraints of the UI. Mobility provides the ability to deliver, in real time, essential information that can be targeted to a specific individual. But overwhelming the individual with information will only lead to a loss in productivity.

To avoid being knocked over by the data fire-hose pointed their way, organizations need to begin thinking now about contextual strategies that will allow the right access at the right time to the right data. A more refined and honed approach to organizational workflow will need to be developed. Just giving employees access to the entire data set and tools to search it isn’t necessarily going to guarantee success. Even if they do eventually find what they are looking for, the inefficacy of the process will cost you.

Here are some questions to ask yourself. What are the critical steps in your organizational success? In each step of your process what are the key pieces of information? Who are they key players? With what frequency does the information change? Understanding what information needs to be delivered and when allows you to begin to look how to systematically deliver that focused data.

Currently, there is a commonly held misbelief that mobile devices are great for content consumption but terrible for content creation. Given the growth rate of data in both the personal and enterprise context there is an ironic chance for that maxim to be turned on its head. What if data, as predicted, becomes so voluminous that it is just not practical to consume on a mobile device? Organizations need to think beyond the app and look to develop a contextual platform that will carry them into the future.

Benjamin Robbins is co-founder and Principal at Palador, a firm that focuses on providing strategic guidance to enterprises in the areas of mobility, apps, and data. You can follow him on Twitter. Mr. Robbins resides in Seattle and blogs regularly at http://remotelymobileblog.com

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