Viewpoint / Enterprise

The Mobile Revolution: Startup Ideas For Changing The World

We have entered the mobile era of computing. And just like the previous eras – those of the mainframe, then the client-server and the PC – the mobile era is a fundamental shift with a new set of problems to solve.

The key to the mobile era is that it’s all about delighting and empowering the end user. The end user interacts with technology the way he/she interacts with the world around them. It will be hard for incumbents to embrace this new paradigm, just as it was hard for mainframe-era leaders to dominate the world of PCs, or for PC giants to pivot to embrace the Web. Similar to how Cisco and Polycom pioneered telepresence, but it took Skype to bring videoconferencing to the masses, we believe that a new mobile world order will emerge, with leaders being created by entrepreneurs and disruptors.

Three trends are shaping these opportunities.

BYOD, Bring Your Own Device: There was a time when only the top 5-10 percent of a company’s workforce would be issued BlackBerries. With the ubiquity of smartphones and tablets, individual employees are literally taking the power in their hands, bringing the devices to work that they are the most productive on. These devices create complex problems for companies involving data security, personalization, provisioning, and more.

Appification: Users today are trained and expect to do one thing with each product or service they use. You go to Google for search, Gmail for e-mail, Facebook to hang out with your friends, Zynga to play games and LinkedIn for professional networking. While the consumer world has rapidly adopted this model, it is only now gaining traction with business users. We’re moving from monolithic systems to a world of snack-size apps that do one thing really well, delight the user and are available through a frictionless business model such as free or freemium. Bottom line: if you don’t have an optimized app that delights the user and lets him do the one thing that they want to do well, the user will go somewhere else.

Cloudification: The mobile experience really gets powerful when it leverages back-end cloud-based services, combining mobile device capabilities like touch, location and personalization with cloud-based capabilities like streaming, social networking, push notifications, updates, scalable data storage and computing. There are currently about 5.5 billion mobile devices worldwide that need access to cloud and application services, and that number will only grow. To deliver that, the entire infrastructure to create/deploy apps and manage devices has to be created.

These trends present a host of challenges for companies and abundant opportunities for entrepreneurs. Solve these problems and you can transform the world of business.

  • Identify the security issues that you already have.Everyone, from C-level executives to junior employees, takes a smartphone to work. Most of them use that phone – and consumer cloud services like Dropbox – to access corporate data so they can do work wherever they are. If that phone then gets stolen or an employee leaves, you have the potential for Wikileaks-style security compromises. Companies have begun to emerge with security and systems management solutions for this new reality. We believe the new Symantec for mobile is being created as we speak.
  • Sandbox the data, don’t try and separate the workspace.When employees use their personal devices for business, data gets mixed together. Sandboxing is needed to keep personal and corporate data separate, because users want to maintain one unified identity. We believe that there will be a new industry leader, similar to RSA, which safeguard data for environments that co-exist on the same mobile device.
  • Develop once in a familiar language, deploy on multiple platforms.Getting apps out quickly – both for your customer and for your workforce – is crucial to staying competitive in the mobile era. However, designing apps to be scalable and maintainable as an ongoing, dynamic and cloud-driven “app as a service” is critical to keeping those apps manageable over the long-term across multiple, rapidly evolving platforms. New companies like Appcelerator (Mayfield is an investor in the company) are moving fast to fill this need, allowing developers to apply existing skills to create native applications, hybrid applications, and applications for emerging standards like HTML5. We believe that there is an opportunity for a new BEA to be created, which becomes the standard for development environments for the mobile Web.
  • Provide users on tablets with access to their favorite enterprise apps.Tablets will complement and in many ways eclipse the PC. Making it seamless to use existing applications on these devices will be essential as the transition takes place. Similar to how Citrix led the way for client/server applications to be accessed remotely in the 90s, by bringing Microsoft apps to users on dumb terminals and remote PCs, there will be new companies who do the same for the mobile era.
  • Delight the end user.In the era of BYOA (bring your own app) and the “consumerization of IT,” many business users will choose which apps they download and bring into the office themselves, such as Evernote, without permission from IT. The huge untapped opportunity today is to create apps and services that delight the user and make his or her job easier, more efficient and even fun! These apps need to factor in mobile-only behaviors such as touch, personalization and location. As the power and simplicity of mobile applications becomes the standard for end users, many new categories of applications never before possible will get created, and existing application categories such as CRM or HR may get recreated for the mobile world.

Don’t sell out early.

We’re entering a fascinating period where innovation comes from the mash-up and cross-fertilization of know-how from many different disciplines. Opportunities in mobile require entrepreneurs with a mix of DNA who can create solutions to these problems, and build brand-new industry leaders who define the mobile world order.

The trick for today’s entrepreneurs is to hold steady as the mobile era emerges. We tell them, “Don’t sell out early” as you could be building the next Symantec, RSA, BEA, Citrix or SAP. Taking the long-term view could mean the difference between rewriting the rules of the game and writing a corporate footnote on Wikipedia.

This post originally appeared in Forbes online.

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