Back in the mid-1990s, then Microsoft CEO Bill Gates offered a prophetic observation. The impact of the web, he wrote, would be greater than most people thought, but would take longer to happen than was commonly supposed.

Turns out, happily for Microsoft, that he was right.

Yet now, perhaps not so pleasantly for Redmond, the confluence of mobile computing, social online interactions and cloud computing are together supporting a wave of change that will both be more impactful than many think — and also happen a lot quicker than is expected.

More evidence of this appeared this week, building on momentum that capped a very dynamic 2010. Start-up Bitzer Mobile Inc. this week announced its Enterprise Virtualized Mobility solution (EVM), which makes a strong case for an ecumenical yet native apps approach to mobile computing for enterprises.

Bitzer Mobile is banking on the urgency that enterprise IT departments are feeling to deliver apps and data to mobile devices — from Blackberries to iOS, Android, and WebOS. But knowing the enterprise, they also know that adoption of such sweeping change needs to be future-proofed and architected for enterprise requirements. More on EVM later.

Another hastening development in the market is Salesforce.com’s pending release the first week of February of the Spring ’11 release of its flagship CRM SaaS applications. The upgrade includes deeper integrations with Chatter collaboration and analytics services, so that sales, marketing and service employees can be far more powerful and productive in how they innovate, learn and teach in their roles. The trend toward collaborative business process that mobile-delivered mobile web apps like Salesforce.com’s CRM suite now offer are literally changing the culture of workers overnight.

Advancing cloud services

Last month, at its Dreamforce conference, Salesforce also debuted a database in the cloud service, Database.com, that combines attractive heterogeneous features for a virtual data tier for developers of all commercial, technical and open source persuasions. Salesforce also bought Heroku and teamed with BMC Software on its RemedyForce cloud configuration management offering.

Salesforce’s developments and offerings provide a prime example of how social collaboration, mobile and cloud reinforce each other, spurring on adoption that fosters serious productivity improvements that then invite yet more use and an accelerating overall adoption effect. This is happening not at what we quaintly referred to as Internet Time, but at far more swiftly viral explosion time.

As I traveled at the end of 2010, to both Europe and the U.S. coasts, I was struck by the pervasive use of Apple iPads by the very people who know a productivity boon when they see it and will do whatever they can to adopt it. Turns out they didn’t have to do too much nor spend too much. Bam.

I also recently fielded calls from nearly frantic IT architects asking how they can hope to satisfy the demand to quickly move key apps and data to iPads and the most popular smartphones for their employees. My advice was an is: the mobile web. It’s not a seamless segue, but it allows the most mobile extension benefits the soonest, does not burn any deployment bridges, and allows a sane and thoughtful approach to adopting native apps if and when that becomes desired.

Clearly, the decision now for apps providers is no longer Mac or PC, Java or .NET — but rather native or web for mobile? The architecture discussion for supporting cloud is also shifting toward lightweight middleware.

I still think that the leveraging of HTML5 and extending current web, portal, and RIA apps sets to the mobile tier (any of the major devices types) is the near-term best enterprise strategy, but Bitzer Mobile and its EVM has gotten me thinking. Their approach is architected to support the major mobile native apps AND the web complements.

IT wants to leverage and exploit all the remote access investments they’ve made. They want to extend the interception of business processes to anyone anywhere with control and authenticity. And they do not necessarily want to buy, support and maintain an arsenal of new mobile devices — not when their power users already possess a PC equivalent in their shirt pockets. Not when their CFOs won’t support the support costs.

A piece of mobile real estate

So Bitzer Mobile places a container on the user’s personal mobile device and allows the IT department to control it. Its a virtual walled garden on the tablet or smartphone that, I’m told, does not degrade performance. The device does need a fair amount of memory, and RIM devices will need a SD card flash supplement (for now).

The Bitzer Mobile model also places a virtualization layer for presentation layer delivery at the app server tier for the apps and data to be delivered to the mobile containers. And there’s a control panel (either SaaS or on-premises) that manages the deployments, access and operations of the mobile tier enablement arrangement. Native apps APIs and SKDs can be exploited, ISV apps can be made secure and tightly provisioned, and data can be delivered across the mobile networks and to the containers safely, Bitzer Mobile says.

That was fast. It’s this kind of architected solution, I believe, that will ultimately appeal most to IT and service providers … the best of the thin client, virtualized client, owner-managed client and centrally controlled presentation layer of existing apps and data model. It lets enterprise IT drive, but users get somewhere new fast.

Architecture is destiny in IT, but we’re now seeing the shift to IT architecture as opposed to only enterprise architecture. Your going to need both. That’s what happens when SaaS providers fulfill their potential, when data and analytics can come from many places, when an individual’s iPhone is a safe enterprise end-point.

And so as cloud providers like Salesforce.com provide the new models, and the likes of Bitzer Mobile extend the older models, we will see the benefits of cloud, mobile and social happen bigger and faster than any of us would have guessed.

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