We’ve been reading quite a bit the last few weeks about iPhone related issues that have had an impact on the security (Citi) and stability (AT&T) of customer data. Beyond the current arms race in the media to see who can write more frequently about Apple, there may actually be something there that spells real news for us in IT.
If you’re in charge of some mission critical systems at an IT-intensive consumer services company, like a bank or a telecom operator, you might be starting to feel a little more nervous than usual. Over the past couple years you’ve finally gotten accustomed to the fallout of the dot com boom that started 10 years ago, since you had to change your architectures, your release cycles, your technology mix, and your team’s (and maybe your own) attitude as your organization got dragged into connecting directly to the end customer. So by now you’re sort of comfortable with the concept that customers can interact directly with back-end systems, including yours. Well, now we have the iPhone, the Droid, the Treo (does anyone still use Palm?), and more real smart phones competition on the way from the likes of Microsoft and Nokia. Having just internalized last Tuesday’s WSJ article, this really does not bode well.
Well, maybe that’s putting too much drama into the equation, but clearly the boom in smart phones is changing the IT landscape. Mobile apps, and the competition around mobile outreach to the consumer, is taking the customer-facing stress to a new level. For IT, the line between the handheld device and the internal system is becoming more blurred. As we can see with some of the commentary coming out of the situation at Citi, the issue is not a straightforward iPhone problem. It’s a combination of factors that include the iPhone OS, the software from mFoundry, and Citi’s internal applications. The recent problems that AT&T had registering new iPhone customers has some similar characteristics. I don’t have any more information about these two companies than what I’ve read in the press, but what’s certain is that we are bound to see more issues like this in the near future.
To me the key question here is what is IT management and customer service line management doing to ensure they stay on top of these problems? Do they take a proactive stance to track their risks to security or stability exposure? Or do we collectively “outsource” or “delegate” the responsibility deep into the IT organization or to our vendors. Collective responsibility is always a winning formula.
As mobile apps come online to be the direct customer interface, the overall IT system we’re customizing to enable our business to compete becomes far-flung. That has an impact on construction and architecture, and the overall structure of these sprawling IT systems. The additional exposure – both in terms of PR and direct customer experience – make these structural issues more important for management to measure and stay on top of.
You could hide security and quality issues when IT was all internally focused. These days badly designed software is going to become more and more of a publicly visible liability. The smart IT managers are getting in front of these issues.