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The mobile enterprise

What does it mean to work like a consumer?

By Richard McGill Murphy

On January 9, 2007, Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone to the Apple faithful at the Macworld conference in San Francisco. Before the big reveal, Jobs teased his flock by announcing that Apple would release not one but three new products that day: “a widescreen iPod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone and a breakthrough internet communications device.” As the audience laughed and cheered, he confirmed that this gizmodic trinity was one smartphone.

In addition to making phone calls and sending emails, he explained, you could play songs, videos and podcasts on your iPhone. You could also sync your photos and web browser bookmarks. Apple’s App Store wouldn’t be announced for another year and a half, but Jobs pointed out that because the iPhone had a powerful mobile operating system, it would be easy to add new software functionality to it down the road.

Jobs positioned the iPhone as a consumer device, not as a challenger to Research in Motion’s BlackBerry, which had dominated the enterprise mobility market since its release in 2002. At no point in his presentation did he suggest that smartphones would transform how we work and how companies operate.

Yet 12 years later, most of us feel underdressed if we don’t bring our Apple or Android devices to every meeting. By 2020, 75% of the global population will be connected by mobile devices, according to research by GSMA.

Many of us bring our personal devices to work and use them to get work done wherever we are and whenever we like. Thanks to the boom in mobile development that the App Store unleashed, there’s an app for nearly everything knowledge workers do, from modifying spreadsheets and slide decks to videoconferencing and ordering lunch.

In some ways that’s the problem: We’re drowning in point solutions when what we need is software that can manage the underlying workflows that define every business function, from onboarding new employees to mitigating security threats, dealing with customer issues and closing the books at the end of the quarter.

Steve Jobs didn’t invent the PC, the personal music player or the smartphone. But he had a particular talent for applying a rigorous, user‑centered design aesthetic to existing technologies, yielding devices that consumers embraced because they were elegant, easy and fun to use. He also pioneered the idea of connecting hardware, software and services to form ecosystems that have since transformed entire industries, from media and entertainment to retail and transportation.

In our consumer lives, mobile‑centered ecosystems have reduced the effort involved in a whole range of human activities, from getting a ride to finding jobs and staying in touch with far‑flung friends. The same can’t be said for the software that runs companies, which explains why there’s still so much hassle and busy work involved in common functions like budgeting, tracking customer relationships and managing supply chains.

With varying motivations, companies all over the world are rushing to adopt digital and mobile business models. The emerging technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution—machine learning, robotics, the Internet of Things, quantum computing and the rest—are being combined into mobile‑centered ecosystems that promise to simplify business operations, improve decision making and accelerate time to value.

There’s a lot more to digital transformation than putting business apps on a smartphone. It requires a rigorous rethinking of every process across the enterprise. Workflow’s publisher, ServiceNow, is in the business of providing cloud‑based software that manages these routine processes so that people have more time for creative, strategic work that yields meaning for them and value for companies. Our job at Workflow is to help business leaders make sense of how emerging technologies are changing work and shaping markets.

I hope you find our work useful. If so, please sign up for the Workflow newsletter to get our latest insights delivered to your inbox every other week.

Richard McGill Murphy is the editor in chief of Workflow. A journalist and social anthropologist by background, he runs a research and publishing program at ServiceNow that studies how emerging technologies are shaping the future of work.

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