Cloud + Mobile: A Good Business Combo

Mobility is not a technology. It is a state of mind. And it has changed the face of the commercial enterprise.

In the early days of mobile telephones, before data access was available and the term “car phone” was still accurate, a mobile device was a luxury that enabled road warriors to stay connected. Now, mobile devices – be they smartphones, notebooks or tablets – are essential tools for almost all professionals, who are expected to always be online, on the job and able to access even the most sophisticated data-based applications.

The ramifications for this evolution in mobility are quite profound for business managers, especially those responsible for IT budgets and planning. It has also hastened the adoption of cloud computing for businesses of all sizes – including small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) — as the need for flexible and affordable mobile device management grows exponentially. Rather than pleading for the funding to buy more servers or database software, nimble SMBs can “rent” what they need from the Cloud.

The title of a recent Gartner report says it all – The Cloud is Expanding to Address the Challenges of the Mobile Enterprise. As the report recommends, IT managers would be wise to avoid significant capital investments into device- or platform-specific technology platforms and systems, given the short life cycle of today’s mobile devices. Because end users, on average, are replacing their devices every two years – not coincidentally, the length of the average smartphone contract – businesses would be foolish to center their IT infrastructure on this year’s model of products and services. Instead their focus needs to be on developing the best cloud-based mobile strategies.

The cloud is also turning out to be a bright spot for communications service providers (CSPs). Faced with threats from “over-the-top” providers such as movie streaming and social channels that dramatically increase CSP network traffic without a corresponding increase in profit, many CSPs are tapping some of their inherent strengths (such as their overall reputation for reliability and trust, as well as their existing relationships with customers), and becoming cloud service providers themselves.

One particularly interesting approach is the work being done in China by IBM Research Labs and in India with its partner China Mobile Research Institute on the development of a wireless network cloud. This open-platform approach will ultimately help CSPs reduce network construction costs and improve resource utilization – and importantly, lead to fewer dropped calls, wider bandwidth and new network services.

And this “mobility mindset” isn’t relegated just to the workforce. Mobile computing essentially means data that’s available to anyone at anytime. And in today’s instrumented world this means the data could be coming from many other sources such as sensors attached to shipping cartons, tags on retail merchandise or even in a heart monitoring system in your chest. When you stand back and look at how this machine-to-machine (M2M) technology is combining with mobile communications to enable the “Internet of things” to talk to each other the possibilities are exponential.

For example, IBM and Vodafone recently announced a smarter home initiative through which they will collaborate to combine mobile communications and cloud computing for remote management of “smart home” appliances. They anticipate that this M2M initiative could allow consumers to use their smartphones for a variety of remote activities including viewing their home’s utility consumption; controlling security, heating and lighting systems; and activating home appliances such as washing machines. Additionally the initiative will enable manufacturers and service providers to collect data from appliances that can be used to inform product development and maintenance and provide better services to consumers.

The mobility mindset is here to stay. And so, too, are the cloud-based service options that will give enterprises, their tech-savvy employees and even home appliances entirely new ways to access information, to conduct transactions and to lead more productive lives – at work and at home.

Paul Bloom, bloom2@us.ibm.com

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