I sat through the entire Webcast where Microsoft launched Windows Phone 8 and at no point in the hour-long presentation did anyone at the company talk about using the OS as the basis of a corporate IT strategy. Which means, once again, it will be up to the CIO.
This wasn’t a surprise, of course. Ever since mobile phones became something a consumer buys rather than something they are issued by their employer, vendors have turned their attention away from how mobile platforms, applications and devices could improve life in the enterprise or small business. And yet with Windows Phone 8, Microsoft has unveiled a sweeping design change with its so-called Live Tiles that, the lawsuit over them aside, almost begs for an inventive CIO or IT manager to recognize as an opportunity to transform the experience of using mobile devices for work purposes.
There may be many people who are turned off by Live Tiles, particularly on the desktop version of Windows 8 where so many people are used to more or less the same interface that’s been around for the better part of 25 years. The black background, the gaudy palette of squares and rectangles may not seem like a huge improvement over the traditional icon. But as Microsoft corporate vice-president Joe Belfiore walked through the features of the platform, I kept thinking about what it might mean for conveying real-time information about a business and easing access to mission-critical data.
The Live Tiles approach is intended, among other things, to personalize the experience for users by surrounding them with updates from their social media feeds, their favourite games and consumer apps and, more than anything else, their photos. Microsoft has not used this term as far as I’m aware, but in setting up a more mobile-first operating system that will be available across its entire product line, the company has essentially created a dashboard for your life. And IT departments should know all about dashboards.
For at least the last 10 years there has been an ongoing discussion about creating dashboards for corporate IT users that would cull information from enterprise resource planning systems, customer relationship management applications, business intelligence and big data analytic tools, and present them in a way that is as useful as the gauges that sit in front of the driver of a car. Despite attempts by everyone from SAP and Oracle to a host of niche players, there hasn’t been a dashboard that has become anything close to an industry standard. Maybe this is because an effective IT dashboard requires more customization than most software allows, but perhaps also because executives were expected to check and revisit these dashboards between meetings, when they got back to their desktops.
Windows Phone 8, and Windows 8 in general, means it’s possible that users could be set up with a highly configurable dashboard that only displays what they really need in a far more attractive form factor. For a CEO or vice-president of sales, it might be a Live Tile that gives them updates from their Salesforce.com system. For a network engineer, there could be Live Tiles that feature constantly-running network diagnostic tools or gauges that measure the utilization of internal servers or cloud-based workloads. Marketing execs, who are predicted to be spending a lot on IT over the next few years, could have Live Tiles based on apps that power their latest campaign to social media listening programs.
I’m not sure if the enterprise app vendors have started thinking this way yet, and it may not be Microsoft’s priority right now, but if Windows Phone 8 gets any traction in the market and is offered among the supported platforms in bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programs, why shouldn’t IT departments start the conversations themselves? The Live Tiles design is probably here to stay for the foreseeable future – instead of fighting it, take advantage of it.
Learn how Allstream has been approaching mobile device choice by downloading an executive brief on its BYOD Lite pilot.