MDI Group recently hosted its 4th Annual Executive Forum Series with events that took place May 1-10, 2012 in each of the four markets in which it operates: Atlanta, Dallas, Greenville and Phoenix. The discussion topic was “Mobile Centric Applications and Interfaces” and technology executives representing more than 40 organizations shared their developments and challenges in this rapidly expanding area of technology.

MDI Group’s executive forms are invitation-only networking events and no vendor or sponsor representatives are allowed to attend. The focus is to provide an environment that is conducive to sharing ideas and best practices for what’s next in technology.

The following summarizes the discussion among attendees from all four forum events, which was facilitated using four topic questions.

What is your company doing with mobile applications and what are the perceived benefits to the business and/or your clients?

The broad range of businesses represented by forum attendees produced a variety of interesting uses for mobile applications, ranging from “point of sale” functionality and payment transactions to medical device interfaces for sharing patient data and transportation equipment for accessing operator manifests. Most organizations are focused on optimizing their Web-based applications for mobile devices instead of developing new applications with the iOS platform, citing easier compatibility for a variety of devices as the key factor of this trend from a technology standpoint.

The demand for mobile applications is coming from both internal functions – such as marketing and operations – and younger end users who want easier and more mobile-enabled “means of doing business.” As the uses for mobile applications expand, so do the tangible benefits including hard cost savings and improved levels of customer service. Leaders also noted how the perception of mobile applications is quickly shifting from being a “gimmick” or “just for fun” to becoming a valued “business tool” among internal and external stakeholders.

Does your organization have a defined strategy and budget for mobile technology?

While participants are fully engaged in projects and stated that applications are a “key focus area,” most organizations represented do not have a formalized mobility strategy or a defined part of their IT budget dedicated to mobile technology development. Many leaders expressed a reluctance to develop a guiding strategy at this time due to the rapid development of technology and changing perceptions of uses. Instead, many stated that they prefer to simply stay informed of emerging trends and will “wait and see” which ones become the most established practices and protocols.

Since internal departments like marketing and operations are driving the need for many mobile applications, they also appear to be bearing the budgetary responsibilities for now.

What are the biggest challenges with developing mobile applications and interfaces for your organization?

People-related issues at all levels of the organization were far more prevalent in the discussion of challenges rather than technology issues. Many IT leaders indicated the tendency for management to quickly embrace the potential benefits of mobile applications without fully understanding the complexities and costs required for IT to support mobility projects. Consequently, IT groups are feeling an increased amount of pressure to develop applications and support users while safeguarding the organization from many related issues. Also the “generational dynamics” of supporting people in the current workforce that spans five different generations offers several challenges including adaptation of new technologies and managing expectations of development and delivery.

What are your biggest concerns with the deployment of mobile applications?

Data and network security is clearly the top concern among IT leaders for mobile interfaces. Numerous challenges – including user privacy mandated by legal regulations such as HIPAA and an “increase in hackers attempting to steal information to reproduce products” – were discussed. Perhaps the biggest security challenge of all relates to internal users themselves, since most organizations represented allow employees to use personally-owned devices to interact with the organizations’ networks. User devices represent multiple “pathways” to stolen data, viruses and other security issues.

Other comments and best practices:

Attendees discussed a recent study by Lookout Labs that estimates Americans lost about $30 billion worth of mobile phones and devices in 2011. The staggering number of lost devices supports the need for “Personalized Security”—the modern term for mobile security – and its best practices of (1) setting passwords for personal devices, (2) using password manager applications, (3) being able to remote wipe device data, (4) wiping data after multiple failed password attempts and (5) regularly backing up device data.