As an investor in enterprise mobile startups, I meet with hundreds of entrepreneurs every year whose business plans include the “mobile” buzzword.
Many of them are app companies that target consumers or ad networks and platforms that help reach them.
While these are interesting and will certainly yield some unicorns, I think there are even bigger opportunities for startups that leverage mobile technology to solve the most pressing problems for enterprises.
Many organizations are unprepared for the mobile future. The vast majority of knowledge workers own smartphones, and they regularly use them to access apps like Evernote, Dropbox, and Box — whether their companies want them to or not.
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In fact, a recent study by Workshare found that 65 percent of smartphone users at financial institutions use their devices to access file-sharing apps that aren’t approved by their IT departments.
Some companies have mobile device management policies and platforms in place, but many are winging it, hoping there won’t be a major data leak or security breach caused by an employee’s smartphone.
There are three major trends I see brewing in the enterprise that could be solved with innovative mobile software.
Web infrastructures will not be able to cope with mobile demands
With the simultaneous rise of cloud technologies and a surge in ubiquitous bandwidth, most companies have built web infrastructures to run their businesses.
Employees access cloud and SaaS applications from browsers and use web-based email and apps for collaboration. IT teams manage back-end storage, networking, and IT processes through web-based management consoles. Web-based infrastructures have provided huge gains in efficiency and significant cost-savings compared to the old days of in-house server farms and packaged software requiring constant maintenance and costly upgrades.
However, these web-based systems are not adequate when it comes to “mobilizing” the enterprise.
In a recent report, Appcelerator (disclosure: Mayfield is an investor in Appcelerator) found that 35 percent of large companies do not believe their web infrastructures will be able to meet the demands of mobile.
Some 49 percent of companies said data formats posed the biggest problem; most of their data was not stored in mobile-optimized formats, making it impossible for mobile users to access key corporate information.
Meanwhile, 41 percent of companies said the lack of support for “interrupted connectivity” common with mobile devices was inadequate, causing problems with online-offline app and data sync.
A good example is in the area of content delivery networks (CDNs) that grew into prominence in the Web 1.0 era by accelerating the delivery of content to users. In the current climate of mobile front-ends and cloud back-ends, I think the industry needs a mobile-first CDN, almost a next-generation Akamai (one of my past investments), built from the ground up to deliver rich media content across all device types — smartphones, tablets, laptops, and now, wearables.
Mobile device management will grow into mobile data management
Many large companies will soon manage and monitor more than 100 apps, most of them accessible from any mobile device.
Employees will increasingly purchase their own mobile devices (Gartner predicts that half of all companies will require employees to buy their own smartphones by 2017) and use them to access any app they feel is needed for their jobs.
As a result, IT teams must support a dizzying array of ever-changing apps, and ensure mobile connectivity doesn’t introduce security breaches.
This year, 42 percent of businesses expect to manage 100 or more apps, with 21 percent of those businesses expecting to manage over 1,000 apps, according to the Citrix Mobility Report.
There are already lots of mobile device management (MDM) companies, but the best ones will take the concept much further than just managing devices. They will create mobile security platforms that are as integral to the mobile web as the web browser is to the Internet. IT teams will be required to use these products to manage data, security, provisioning, and availability of all the apps that employees use for work — whether they are official company apps or not.
Non-techies will get mobilized
A good example of an area where we are seeing non-techies get mobilized is that of field service.
Two-thirds of Americans already own smartphones, and that number is growing at a rapid clip. What’s more, companies in almost every sector realize that equipping field personnel (estimated at 5 million workers in the U.S. and more than 20 million globally) — everyone from truck drivers to service technicians to teachers to real estate agents — with mobile devices can dramatically improve productivity.
When these previously overlooked employees are equipped with mobile devices and armed with specialized mobile apps, they will have access to the information they need when they need it, enabling them to improve performance, better serve customers, and increase revenues through up-sell and cross-sell.
We have already invested in a company that is targeting the over $15 billion field service market. But I believe that there are many other vertical industries (such as education, fintech, healthcare) where mobile technology is helping non-techie professionals become more productive. Companies that target those industries with mobilized applications can grow into the next Oracle or SAP.
Companies now know they must adapt to a mobile and cloud world; those that don’t will simply fall behind and fade away. I’m always eager to champion entrepreneurs that have come up with innovative solutions to a specific mobile enterprise challenge.
Navin Chaddha is managing director at Mayfield, a global, early-stage venture capital firm with over $2.6 billion under management. Some of his current investments include Appcelerator, Elastica, Gigya, MapR Technologies, and Poshmark. During its 44-year history, the firm has invested in more than 500 companies, of which 112 have gone public and over 150 have merged or been acquired. Recent successes include Marketo (NASDAQ:MKTO), Qunar (NASDAQ:QUNR), and Solarcity (NASDAQ:SCTY).