BACKGROUND IMAGE: iSTOCK/GETTY IMAGES
LAS VEGAS -- With everything from door locks to toilets now being connected to wireless networks, the days of an enterprise mobile strategy defined by Wi-Fi in conference rooms are ancient history.
That was the message IT pros delivered in a panel discussion that took place at the Interop trade show this week in Las Vegas. The panelists, speaking during a keynote session on Wednesday, pointed to examples of how wireless has progressed from being a simple means of connectivity to a mechanism that enables new applications and business processes.
The IT team for La Quinta Inn and Suites, a hotel chain based in Irving, Texas, is in the process of launching a new mobile application that will modernize the way guest rooms are cleaned, said Interop panelist and La Quinta CIO Vivek Shaiva. Housekeepers will soon be able to use the app to digitally notify the front desk when a room is cleaned. If an item in the room needs repair, they can take a photo with a mobile device and the app will automatically upload that photo to the cloud via Wi-Fi and notify the facilities team.
Executing a mobility strategy like this requires a new approach to infrastructure -- one that abandons clunky, inflexibile legacy systems in favor of those that are cloud-based and use open APIs, Shaiva said.
"Make sure your systems can talk to these devices," he said. "If it's not designed for mobile from scratch, I don't want to look at it. If it's not built from scratch in the last seven or eight years, I don't want to look at that either."
It's a requirement that's bound to become more pronounced as the very concept of mobility evolves, said fellow panelist Evan Maloney, a principal software engineer at Gilt Groupe, an online retailer based in New York.
Today, the term mobile device tends to refer something that can be both carried around and connected to the Internet, he explained. But the Internet of Things (IoT) is changing that definition, Maloney said, pointing to the example of Amazon Dash Buttons in the consumer market. Announced earlier this year, Dash Buttons are Wi-Fi-enabled devices that allows shoppers to order more household supplies from Amazon without going near its website. The device, which can be adhered to an appliance like a washing machine, has a single button that a customer can push to create and submit an order on Amazon for more laundry detergent.
"The way you think of mobile today doesn't really factor that into account," Maloney said. "We talk a lot about mobile versus non-mobile today, but it's actually going to become a lot more diffused in the future."
It's a shift affecting enterprises as well. Rabobank N.A., a banking and financial services firm in the Netherlands, worked with HP recently to implement an all-wireless edge network at one of its new offices. The first project to take full advantage of ubiquitous Wi-Fi had nothing to do with traditional mobile devices, explained Dominic Wilde, another panelist and vice president of product management at HP.
"The first request came from facilities people who asked them to wire up the toilets because they want to monitor how often the toilets are flushed so as to minimize the use of chemicals to clean them and honor their corporate responsibilities," Wilde said. "The hyper-connected toilet is now a real thing."
Next-gen mobility needs better collaboration
Meanwhile, enterprise mobile strategies are increasingly driven more by line-of- business managers than IT departments, creating a greater need for improved collaboration and communication across the business, Shaiva said. There's a formal process at La Quinta for making technology decisions part of a broader business discussion, he said, but acknowledged it's not easy.
"I know people have been saying this for years," he said, "but that's what really has to happen to survive in this world today."
Many IT teams are unprepared for the organizational challenges IoT projects can create -- despite having lived through it already in the transition from traditional telephony to voice over IP (VoIP), said HP's Wilde.
"[VoIP] was a slam dunk in terms of the business value proposition, but the challenge came because you had a telephony team that was going to be aged out, and the networking team who had taken on this whole new set of responsibilities," he said. "What's holding IoT back is more organizational issues than technology."