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Why CFOs Must Be Upwardly Mobile

John O'Rouke and Karen Dale Torre


According to a June 2012 CFO Magazine survey, 89 percent of CFOs ranked mobility as the number-one technology of importance to their company’s success over the next three years. By any measure, mobile technology will be a game-changer, but for the unwary there are also profound technical, economic, cultural, legal, and ethical challenges associated with the transition to a more-fluid and inherently less-controllable environment.

The opportunities afforded by mobile technology are undeniable. They range from pure convenience—for example, the ability to retrieve information from corporate systems at any time and from anywhere on a handy mobile device, to a more data-rich society in which important decisions can be made on the fly. We are approaching a new era of mobile business intelligence (BI) in which Gartner says the mobile device is not just seen as the “endpoint” of an information flow, but can equally be considered a data generation point—using location-specific information and images to enrich corporate information about people, customers, suppliers, products, and personnel. Enterprise software vendors like Oracle are also moving beyond simple information delivery via mobile devices, offering workflow and approvals as well as data entry for tasks such as sales forecasting or travel and expense management.

The ability to have information literally at one’s fingertips is alluring. It’s a natural extension of the mobile phone phenomenon in which executives and employees are never out of touch, even when on vacation. Gartner adds that by 2014, 90 percent of companies will support their applications on personal mobile devices. In fact, the analyst firm says that by 2015, mobile application development projects will outnumber native PC projects by a ratio of 4:1. And with mobile technology accounting for around 30 to 50 percent of the average company’s IT budget, CFOs will undoubtedly feel the need to be intimately involved in investment decisions.

The Mobile Computing Phenomenon Also Presents Challenges

Yet, despite the apparent inevitability of a mobile-dominated landscape there are still significant hurdles to overcome. Screen size will place limitations on what can reasonably be achieved on a mobile phone—however well-gestured the human interactions. Tablets, on the other hand, provide much more scope for laying out corporate applications together with information containers such as graphs, tables, and charts. Minis provide something in between.

But application developers will have to think beyond the physical constraints of the device. In a scenario reminiscent of the early days of the microcomputer, the IT function will need to contend with a multitude of operating systems (Apple iOS, Android, Microsoft, BlackBerry, and so on) with widely different features and capabilities. Trade-offs may need to be made about which devices to support; that in turn will present difficulties for the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) world in which the majority of the devices connected to corporate data will be supplied by employees themselves.

Policies Will Need to Be Developed

However, the BYOD concept ushers in more troubling issues relating to data privacy, confidentiality, and security—issues that are always top of mind for CFOs. In fact, CFOs recently polled by Oracle cited the lack of a mobile device management policy as the top barrier for rolling out a mobile business intelligence project. That is why CFOs and their IT counterparts need to consider policies that govern the use of corporate applications, the storage of corporate data, accessibility to employees’ private data, and the conditions in which data can be wiped clean remotely when a device is stolen.

The good news is that the computing industry is responding to these challenges. For example, a recently released mobile phone provides a virtual wall between private and personal data, offering the potential to use one device securely for business and personal use. Among mobile applications vendors, Oracle provides a single development framework to develop mobile applications and any mobile device with the safeguard of appropriate enterprise management, integration, and security so that organizations do not need to make compromises between one technology and another. This write-once-for-any-device strategy simplifies the development, maintenance, and support issues, saving considerable effort and money while delivering business value for all employees and the enterprise.

But even if the technical hurdles can be overcome, cultural issues remain. Early studies by The Future of Work…Unlimited and Novacrea Research Consulting counter-intuitively suggest that so-called mobile workers are actually reducing their mobility by eschewing the technology in favor of face-to-face meetings and telephone calls. Mobile fever may have gripped the collective imagination of the business world but we should not forget that human beings are by nature a gregarious species. As the above studies indicate, it seems that organizations will need to undergo a period of change management, addressing the organizational culture, making it more receptive to these new methods of communication, and rewarding those that utilize them to encourage a truly mobile workforce.