Top five mobile working issues

There can be little doubt that people work better and more when they're able to access corporate applications and data away from the office. But a bewildering array of mobile devices and solutions on the market means IT managers really need to do their homework to develop the mobile strategy that best fits their organisation.

  1. Business mobility implementation
  2. Mobile working hardware options
  3. Cultural momentum for flexible working
  4. Flurry of application development activity
  5. Mobile working security concerns

 

Blackberry case study: Lawrence Graham

 

Business mobility implementation

There can be little doubt that people work better and more when they're able to access corporate applications and data away from the office.

But a bewildering array of mobile devices and solutions on the market means IT managers really need to do their homework to develop the mobile strategy that best fits their organisation.

"There's a number of considerations, such as which device type, ruggedised or not, operating systems, laptop or netbook or handheld device," says Vodafone UK head of corporate and public sector marketing, Jonathan Rutherford.

A few years ago the company formed the Vodafone Business Services division to help its customers design, deploy and manage end-to-end mobile applications and to side-step some of the common pitfalls. "Don't focus just on mobilising the applications," Rutherford says. "You must mobilise the process".

Companies should also be clear about the business case for mobility and develop a clear view of all the benefits and risks they need to manage. Key to this is ensuring that the technology itself doesn't overshadow the business case.

On the other hand, once a decision is made, companies need to commit to full deployment and not simply roll technology out across certain areas of the organisation or to particular levels in the company hierarchy.

"The only way enterprises will realise the true value of unified communications and collaboration is when these tools are being used by the entire organisation," says Vanessa Alvarez, industry analyst unified communications IT&T, Frost and Sullivan.

Deloitte mobility analyst David Tansley notes the move towards enterprise mobility has charted an unexpected course over the last few years. "People often think that convergence and mobility is about reductionism - meaning one device that does everything, rather than myriad devices," he says, "but in reality the reverse is often the case, with a proliferation of technologies coexisting."

 

Mobile working hardware options

While the mobile phone and handheld markets have been characterised by the drive towards smaller and smarter, there is evidence that companies are beginning to eschew this model.

IDC reports, for instance, that around seven million netbooks shipped in Europe, Africa and the Middle East last year, and predicts their popularity will increase amongst businesses due to lower costs and better integrated communications, for instance for 3G.

"We're seeing much lower priced products coming into the market place - at 100 Euros or lower - with reduced capability or functionality," says Deloitte's Tansley. " They meet a specific need, especially for companies moving to cloud computing".

A smart phone on the other hand may cost upwards of £500, despite being much easier to break and having a shorter life span. "Compare that to a high-performance PC and analogue phone on someone's desk," notes Tansley. "There are lots of costs for that are not discussed."

 

Cultural momentum for flexible working

Most companies would rather not have to deal with every new handheld gadget that staff and managers claim not to be able to live without. But the cultural momentum behind these products is practically unstoppable, with the predicted capabilities of next-generation or 4G networks expected to usher in more exciting devices and applications.

"People are mesmerised by devices; they just are," Tansley says, adding that this presents a number of unique cultural challenges for organisations. "It's hard to be proscriptive. You need to let workers get the hang of devices and work them out for themselves."

"It's hard to say thou shalt not use a Blackberry in this way."

For its part the Blackberry remains the dominant product in the enterprise mobility space and the company made a number of major announcements recently in an attempt to galvanise this position. These included partnerships with the likes of Cisco, IBM, HP, AT&T and others to improve integration between the device itself as well as the new Blackberry Enterprise Server v5.0.

 

Flurry of application development activity

RIM says that it has partnered with thousands of ISVs to boost the development of applications for the Blackberry. So far the company estimates that around 70% of its customers are already using applications other than e-mail. RIM predicts one of the biggest trends in the enterprise this year will be the move towards mobilisation of CRM applications.

Ironically the only product posing any real threat to RIM's hegemony in the corporate mobility market is a consumer-driven device developed by a company that has never made any headway in the enterprise.

"Apple is just starting to gain traction in the corporate world and the iPhone may even be a viable competitor to Blackberry in the enterprise," says Alvarez.

"You can build any kind of application on an iPhone and we are increasingly starting to see them allowed onto corporate networks."

A number of leading software developers including Oracle, Sybase and Salesforce.com have announced applications for the iPhone. SAP even released its software for the iPhone before the Blackberry.

Google's open source mobile platform Android promises to deliver a number of exciting new applications for consumers and businesses, such as sophisticated mapping and location features as well as extremely detailed information on anything from stocks to weather and flights. Handset manufacturers have, however, been slow to release compatible phones.

"Android will have functionality and bandwidth to support corporate applications but it's very much nascent at the moment," says Frost's Alvarez.

There have been some reports of Google's HTC Magic supporting Microsoft Exchange, however the software company says there is currently no Active Sync support for it.

James McCarthy, mobile communications manager at Microsoft, says that the company is now at the stage where most products are developed with both fixed and mobile computing in mind. The desktop and mobile clients for all of Microsoft's applications such as CRM and SFA all now developed in parallel. "Mobile devices are becoming an equal citizen to the PC."

Frost's Alvarez notes that another important trend in the mobility space, with big implications for companies looking to mobilise their applications, is the emergence of PBX systems offering stronger integration between mobile devices and solutions. Companies such as Cisco Systems and Avaya are currently leading this push.

Almost taking things a step further, a number of companies have come forward with products for mobile VoIP. Mobile carrier 3 recently announced a new Skype service, offering customers free and unlimited calls between Skype users, something with obvious appeal for companies looking to rein-in costs.

 

Mobile working security concerns

Clearly the move towards enterprise mobility is inexorable. However, many IT managers are understandably anxious about staff carrying the company's sensitive data around in their pockets.

A number of incidents, including the odd British secret service laptop going astray on trains and other embarrassing locations, have served to illustrate some of the dangers.

A number of technologies are now available that allow products to be locked or even have their data wiped remotely in the event of such mishaps.

"Putting all these applications in the hands of employees is very scary for a lot of organisations," says Frost and Sullivan's Alvarez.

"It's critical that enterprises begin to incorporate a more holistic mobile strategy because when you have myriad ad-hoc devices on the network it becomes so much more dangerous to have corporate information on them."

 

Blackberry case study: Lawrence Graham

Business law firm Lawrence Graham recently chose RIM to support its drive to improve customer service and increase its competitiveness.

"We needed to find a way to enable lawyers to work and capture more time in situations or areas where historically they probably wouldn't have been able to, while still maintaining a secure environment for company data," says Lawrence Graham IT director Jason Petrucci.

The law firm identified key business systems and workflows that would benefit from better mobility.

Digital dictation was a key focus. In the past lawyers used normal speech microphones to record dictation at their computers using BigHand digital dictation desktop software. One option LG had was to upgrade to micro tape or memory card-based professional dictation devices. But this would have been very expensive. Once Lawrence Graham learned that RIM had begun supporting BigHand, it simply rolled the software out to Blackberry Smartphones.

"Now upon leaving a meeting, the lawyer can be in the back of a taxi and make a quick dictation. The secretaries are already working on it when the lawyer returns to the office or hotel."

Further down the track, Lawrence Graham's lawyers will be able to access and modify documents using their Blackberry Smartphone. Other capabilities Lawrence Graham hopes to exploit include using a Blackberry Smartphone and Microsoft Outlook to better manage phone calls.

Security was of course another important consideration for Petrucci. "We use BlackBerry for session authentication. When lawyers log on to the system remotely from a PC, they receive an authentication code on their Blackberry smartphones that they have to enter."

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This was last published in June 2009

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