Business Software

The Mobile Enterprise: Killing IT's Sacred Cows

It's shortly before 6 a.m. on a Saturday in Las Vegas. High-rollers and party-goers are sleeping off last night's thrill ride. Bright neon lights grow dim in the cold morning light. But an excited crowd is stirring at The Cosmopolitan.

Some 3,000 audiologists and hearing experts have come to Las Vegas to attend Starkey Laboratories Hearing Innovation Expo at The Cosmopolitan. What's got them anxiously waiting for doors to open, while the rest of the world shakes off a nasty hangover?

This morning's session: iPad apps of the future.

"There was an unanticipated quest for information on innovation and technical excellence," says Rob Duchscher, senior vice president of information technology at Starkey, the largest manufacturer of hearing devices in the United States.

Starkey's expo earlier this month trotted out a star-studded cast of speakers and entertainers, such as Bill Clinton, Sir Richard Branson and country band Rascal Flatts, not to mention an assortment of breakthrough hearing technologies. The iPad though, may have trumped them all.

Only two years ago, Starkey began buying up iPads and spinning out apps for salespeople, executives, customers, audiologists and patients of its hearing aids, ear-molds and other hearing-related products. Like the crowd gathering in the wee morning hours, CIOs wanting to adopt cutting-edge iPads and mobile apps must break from tradition and look excitedly toward the future.

In other words, CIOs must slay IT's sacred cows.

Sacred Cow: Not Approved

Before the iPad made its way to Starkey, Duchscher had become all-too-familiar with the IT department's veto power. He had spent 11 years in research and development, eventually heading up the project management office. His mission was to be at the edge of technology, which often clashed with the conservative views of IT.

On one occasion, Duchscher wanted to develop software for then-rising Windows 7. But IT told him no, and so he found workarounds to such rigid orders. "I had grown tired of having to argue with our IT department, of having years of roadblocks thrown up at me," he says.

It's not a stretch to say that many IT departments have a similar reputation, which only encourages rogue workarounds. CIOs need to respond positively to new technology ideas so that people will continue calling them for tech advice.

"If you keep saying, 'no way,' they'll stop calling you," Paul Lanzi, mobile application team manager at bio-tech company Genentech, an adopter of iPads and iPhones, told CIO.com.

Two years ago, Duchscher was promoted to senior vice president of IT.

Suddenly, he was in charge of the IT department. "A lot of my life had been spent in product development, dealing with IT from the outside in," Duchscher says. "Now I'm dealing with IT from the inside out. My philosophy for IT is to be an enabler."

On his watch, Duchscher bought thousands of iPads for both employees and customers. More than 100 Starkey sales reps carry iPads. Duchscher also created a three-person mobile apps group. Now Starkey has 17 iOS apps on the App Store, ranging from apps used by salespeople to process orders to apps used by audiologists to configure hearing instruments to apps used by patients to perform self-diagnostic hearing tests.

Sacred Cow: The Almighty ROI

When asked if the iPad has led to more sales, Duchscher isn't sure--and doesn't really care.

Many CIOs wouldn't embark on any major project without having a quantifiable goal for the return on investment. Yet such thinking will only delay the ball from moving forward, Duchscher says. "I wish we would have accelerated our iPad adoption curve even faster."

Sure, Starkey salespeople fire up the iPad at customer sites, access CRM apps, get real-time pricing, and take orders--all of which speeds up the sales cycle. Does this improved level of customer service translate to higher sales?

"The benefits are a little less tangible," Duchscher says.

But it's a good bet that sales are being affected. Salespeople at energy giant Eaton Corporation, who were recently handed an iPad with a similar app, told Eaton CIO Justin Kershaw that they closed several significant sales because they were in the right place at the right time with the iPad. That is, they might have lost those sales because it would have taken them longer on the legacy path of selling.

"Based on early returns of the performance of the app, every bit of our ROI is going to be achieved and exceeded," Kershaw told CIO.com.

Nevertheless, the point is that Duchscher wasn't overly concerned about having a concrete ROI before starting down the road to iPad adoption. Starkey executives simply knew that salespeople at client sites taking orders over an iPad instead of using a pen and paper would improve the company's image. After all, Starkey's hearing aids are technically sophisticated products, too.

Sacred Cow: Startups Need Not Apply

One of the slick-looking apps in Starkey's iPad stable is Handshake, a subscription-based sales order and catalog app created by an Australian startup. That's right, a startup.

It's an ugly word for many CIOs who've been burned by signing up with a startup software vendor only to watch helplessly as that vendor gets acquired or goes belly up, leaving them with unsupported software. Some CIOs require startups to put code in escrow so that the CIO can take ownership and continue development in such cases.

Other CIOs simply dismiss startups outright. One CIO told mobile device management vendor MobileIron, "I don't work with startups," recalls Ojas Rege, vice president of products and marketing at MobileIron, speaking at the AppNation Enterprise Summit last week in San Francisco. (MobileIron eventually won the business through perseverance.)

Duchscher says this traditional IT practice needs to change. Starkey showcased Handshake at its expo in Las Vegas to rousing applause. "The reality is that some of these small companies are doing really cool, innovative things," he says. "We're going to give them a shot."

Of course, Duchscher does hedge his bets by architecting in such a way so that a startup's failure won't be too painful. His mobile app team is also prepared to swap a startup's code with homespun code if necessary. "I'm not ignorantly blissful."

New Sacred Cow?

Being forward-thinking and aggressive with new technologies such as the iPad and mobile apps might seem risky. But Duchscher contends it's riskier not to be aggressive.

Truth is, a conservative approach often leads to IT departments that do little more than maintenance. And it's never been easier to outsource maintenance work, Duchscher says. His IT department needs to compete with outsourcing models.

One way is to get on the leading edge of mobile, bring new apps into the enterprise, and help internal and external customers use them, Duchscher says. CIOs should follow the early morning Las Vegas crowd, and wake up and get excited about the future of technology in the enterprise.

This sure beats the alternative. "IT departments throwing up roadblocks like the old days are going to get outsourced if they're not careful," he says.

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Networking for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Tom at tkanshige@cio.com

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