From The Experts: Ojas Rege

In 2007, a week after the first iPhone launched, a very brilliant man wrote a very brilliant article in which he coined the term “mobile-first”. This man is Ojas Rege. He is the VP of Strategy at MobileIron, a contributor to Forbes, Financial Times, and TechCrunch, and an insightful and humorous commentator on all things mobile. We sat down with him to discuss enterprise mobile technology, The Internet of Things, and consumer expectations.

HS: Why did you first get into mobile? What piqued and continues to pique your interest about it?

OR: Mobile changes human behavior. And nothing, to me, is more interesting than that. I believed that in 2000, when I first started working on mobile software at AvantGo, and I believe that even more today.

HS: You coined the term “mobile-first” in 2007. What did this term mean to you then, and what does it mean to you now? Have we become a mobile first society?

OR: I used the term “mobile-first” in an interview with TechCrunch in 2007 when I was at Yahoo! It was one week after the first iPhone launched. I believed that much of the world’s population would never even experience non-mobile services and that being tethered to a PC would become a thing of the past. The term was meant as a challenge to software companies to design mobile services from the ground up instead of porting over existing PC or web services. The iPhone was the catalyst for making that possible.

“Mobile changes human behavior. And nothing, to me, is more interesting than that.”

My colleague and partner-in-crime from those early mobile days at Yahoo! was Lee Ott, now President of POPinNow, and he was a big believer in this approach as well. He is much smarter than I am so there is a good chance he came up with the term first, though I used it first publicly.

Are we now a mobile-first society? Well, 82% of Facebook’s ad revenue in Q1 2016 came from mobile, and more people in the world have mobile phones than PCs. So, yes, we are absolutely a mobile-first society.

HS: How do you think the growing popularity of enterprise mobile solutions will affect user experience?

OR: It’s actually the other way around. The growing popularity of consumer user experiences will fundamentally disrupt traditional enterprise solutions. And that’s a good thing. We are tech-savvy consumers and we bring our high expectations for user experiences to work. Now, our employers have no choice but to support us.

The enterprise software industry has to get it through its head that it is not building enterprise apps any more. It is building consumer apps that happen to be targeted at enterprise users.

Employees won’t be comparing their mobile CRM app experience just to their non-mobile CRM web experience. They will be comparing their mobile business experience to their mobile consumer experience and, if the former is found lacking, they will go seek out unauthorized mobile apps that help them do their jobs better.

“Mobile is a state of mind, not a project.”

Apple says there are more than 190,000 business apps in its App Store. That is a LOT of choice and represents a level of variety and innovation will only increase over time. If a company tries to force a sub-par mobile app experience on its employees, they are bound to find one they like much better among those 190,000 and use it no matter what IT says.

One of the challenges with mobile apps, though, is that development is generally decentralized. Maintaining design standards is pretty hard when apps are popping up like popcorn everywhere in the organization. At MobileIron, we just had our global user conference last week, Mobile First Conference 2016, and we talked a lot about how CIOs can support this new model with organizational and governance strategies that don’t sacrifice innovation and experience for security’s sake.

HS: How do you think mobile and IoT will interact in the coming years both in terms of the individual consumer, and in terms of operations?

OR: Mobile and IoT are two sides of the same coin. “Mobile” refers to the ubiquity of computing, i.e., computing that is not constrained by time or space. “IoT” refers to ubiquity of connectivity across all manner of physical items. When computing and connectivity are available to literally every device across every action we take in our personal and professional lives, you can provide an incredible experience for the end user and the business.

However, when you combine this with the massive explosion of sensor data and the evolution of unmanned computing, you have a data-rich information fabric that becomes daunting for an organization to secure and maintain.

It should all be invisible to the individual consumer because the heavy lifting should happen in back-end operations. The challenges of IoT are scale, security, and simplicity, and they must be addressed for this to be tenable for the enterprise.

We believe EMM will become the security platform for IoT. We have spent 24 hours a day for eight years at MobileIron solving the scale, security, and simplicity challenges for smartphones and tablets. That architecture is extensible to the next generation of connected “things.”

HS: What is the biggest problem today that you see in enterprise mobile solutions?

OR: Mobile is a state of mind, not a project. Running around trying to support twenty ad-hoc mobile apps is just not sustainable for IT. When mobile becomes a state of mind, you start putting in place the platforms, organizations, and policies that scale across projects instead of being limited to one. This is a natural evolution. It happened with client-server, then web, and now mobile.

Another challenge is navigating the regulatory environment. In February 2016, the attorney general of California released a report indicating that the CIS Critical Security Controls are now considered the minimum security requirements for companies that operate in California. CIS itself has published a mapping of these controls to mobile in a companion document. Since California is a lead state for cyber-security legislation, every security and compliance team should be aware that mobile security may need to become a core part of the company’s compliance model.

HS: What is the most salient way in which mobile has affected the way we do business?

Every single electronic work and personal task I have done this week has been on a mobile, touch-screen device. I’m not sure there is anything in my business life that has NOT been affected by mobile. I expect my data to be available at all times. I don’t want any excuses from either my IT team or my technology on why it is not. And I am certainly not unique. This is the model to which we see our customers moving for their employees.

Each of us will become our own CIO. Those companies that enable this will drive innovation and effectiveness throughout their organizations.

HS: Last thoughts, questions, answers?

If we have this conversation in five years, we won’t use the word “mobile” because everything will be mobile. Tethered work will be the edge case. It won’t be “mobile-first computing.” It will be “user-first computing,” the way it should have always been.

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