Getting the most out of your mobile investment

One of the key phenomena of the last few years has been the drive to make businesses more agile by adopting flexible working...

One of the key phenomena of the last few years has been the drive to make businesses more agile by adopting flexible working practices. Yet enabling such a way of working isn't cheap. All companies are under quite severe financial pressure to cut the cost of IT and communications (ICT). Yet virtually all companies like yours who are implementing mobile networks have very clear ideas as to the extent of their investment. Similarly, you probably have very clear ideas regarding what benefits that you expect from setting up a mobile enterprise.

However, according to leading analysts such as Forrester, an alarmingly growing number of firms are investing in mobile networks without analysing and assessing precisely the total costs and benefits involved. For mobile networks to deliver benefit they need to be implemented and maintained cost effectively cost effectively.  Your board will not allow investments without precise ideas of what the total costs are and what returns will be made from the investment.  In short, if you wish to reap the benefits from the mobile enterprise you need not only to implement clear total cost of ownership (TCO) calculations, you  need also to establish a precise return on investment (ROI).

These things are not so easy to establish. Forrester Research reported in 2003 that "providing a clear ROI is particularly difficult in terms of mobile technology. because companies often don't know how the required technology will affect the business. Alarmingly, the research company estimates that only one in five of UK companies investing in mobile technology-and spending on average £496,000-identified any quantifiable business benefit.

Logically the first step for you to do is to set up a TCO calculation. You have a number of options here including dedicated internal personnel resource to the task at hand or engaging outside consultants. Giving his opinion of the subject Mick Hegarty, general manager of ICT marketing with BT Business, comments "TCO is something everyone struggles with, but it's down to common sense," says Hegarty. "It shouldn't be complicated for a business because there are a limited number of costs involved."

There exist a number of tools and methods for calculating TCO but arguably the most well-known is Gartner Group's methodology. Put simply, this is a formula for calculating the cost of owning and operating any type of technology. Gartner's TCO formula groups all the costs incurred by a technology system into four categories: capital costs, administrative costs, and technical support and end-user operations. The headings essential encompass virtually every cost involved in using ICT from buying the product to installing, maintaining and supporting it.

From this your company will be able to work out its budget to covering network connectivity, hardware, software and management. Yet it is essential also that you realise that TCO does not take into consideration general business caveats and risk and nor does it offer any guidance as to the end deliverable. TCO calculations generally at best please your accountants and CFO. Costs have to be balanced against return.

And in the case of the mobile enterprise these benefits may be not overly apparent to those with fiscal control. For example quantifying how your workers' productivity has changed using mobile technology can be complicated.   This is because in mobility, you will have to realise the benefits from achieving specific tasks or satisfying specific business needs.

Judgement calls occur at many stages. For example, with what air interface do you wish to base your mobile technology? Are the cost benefits from GSM, for example outweighed by the lack of functionality that more expensive but more robust alternatives could offer? What best matches your business need, not the budget? What are the ramifications in each to the overall project costs in terms of training and support for mobile systems?

The key to reaping the benefits from mobile technology though will be for you and your company to look at what mobile technology best suits your need and then to get the appropriately (trained) personal to utilise it effectively. And this is the clever bit.

This article was part of Computer Weekly's enterprise mobile business channel, sponsored by Nokia

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