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Mobile computing is clearly the hottest IT trend in terms of the number of people directly affected. Yet most solution providers may not appreciate just how big the mobile computing opportunity really is.

In fact, mobile computing may wind up to be a lot more about business process re-engineering than technology.

“Mobile is clearly the most disruptive force in the market today,” said Phil Buckellew, vice president of enterprise mobile at IBM. “The big opportunity is to take latency out of business processes.”

Deploying mobile devices and apps enables companies to get closer to their customers, and it’s only a matter of time before backend systems will need to be adjusted to support those apps, Buckellew said.

The primary reason for this is that most backend apps were designed using a batch-oriented approach to processing, he said. Mobile apps, in contrast, require a real-time response from any number of backend systems.

IBM is taking steps aimed at facilitating that re-engineering. IBM extended the reach of its MobileFirst app development portfolio by adding support for the BlueMix cloud integration platform and the recently acquired Cloudant database-as-a-service offering.

For all intents and purposes, mobile computing and cloud services are essentially now joined at the hip, Buckellew noted.

While there was naturally an initial wave of enthusiasm for all things mobile, the conversation is quickly shifting to what mobile means for the business.

A recent survey conducted by Dimensional Research on behalf of desktop virtualization specialist NComputing found that 83 percent of IT pros at small and midsize businesses report that having data available to employees on mobile devices will have a high or medium impact on business. In addition, 97 percent of those polled said access to business data and apps any time and any place makes employees more effective.

For all these reasons, solution providers such as PointSource are now focusing on mobile computing to get significantly closer to their end customers even though they may not have directly sold them the mobile computing device or the services used to connect it to the Internet.

“We saw mobile as being a change agent for the business,” said PointSource CTO Eric Burckart. “It creates an opportunity for us to engage business users.”

Michael Vizard has been covering IT issues in the enterprise for 25 years as an editor and columnist for publications such as InfoWorld, eWEEK, Baseline, CRN, ComputerWorld and Digital Review.