A new look at mobile management

Every day brings a new mobile device to market, making the management of mobile users a source of many new challenges, writes Simon Forge.

In 1989, a report was published by a distinct rarity: a quite useful IT consultancy, Butler Cox. Naturally, this firm disappeared years ago under the weight of mergers. Its management report entitled "Mobile Communications" looked at the problems facing the IT manager in efficiently deploying what was then a new technology. What is rather interesting is to look at its conclusions and see what has changed over the years in this area. The general answer seems to be "surprisingly little."

Realizing a distinct management role is necessary for mobile

We can summarize the report's findings as a series of recommendations to managers that -- with a little tweaking -- are still valid. The Butler Cox report noted first that the uncoordinated approach to procurement of handsets, accessories and equipment did not work -- basic stuff. And there had to be a well-defined management position in the IT organization with a technically supported role and responsibilities -- certainly not just a shared position in a larger organization but a full-time post.

Just who qualifies for mobile?

Within the organization, determining who gets a mobile of any form -- be it a BlackBerry or simple cell phone -- can be a major source of tension, especially as company payment for service is a big boon. The report first noted that only those really deserving of handsets, or any other sort of mobile terminal, should have them. To identify them, it went on to define the rules governing who qualified for any form of mobile communications equipment.

Interestingly, the report gave rules for qualification based firstly on types of organization and then on the activities within -- all fairly logical. For a bank, for instance, any manager spending more than half a day out of the office would qualify for a mobile device; for an airline or utility, all operational staff, anyone on emergency call, or staff with a need to contact outside organizations to coordinate emergency measures would qualify. This general approach of role analysis for qualification of users is still the way forward.

Defining the job description of the mobile manager

The mobile manager's role still has to combine seven main responsibilities:

  1. Setting and managing corporate standards for equipment and usage, which includes its key features such as capability for hands-free usage (and this was 1989).
  2. Management of technical support for the users, with the definition of user-support and administration procedures, including activation of services in concert with managing the chosen mobile operator(s).
  3. Controlling procurement so that volume discounts on services and handsets plus interworking compatibility are assured.
  4. Controlling who is eligible to have a corporate handset or other mobile gadget by role in the organization, mobility, and overall business need from the corporate viewpoint.
  5. Looking forward and identifying new applications (and their market maturity) that the organization may usefully exploit, maintaining a constant awareness of what is on the market and whether it is really worth buying (yet). Obviously, the various laptop WiFi, WiMax and mobile data cards for mobile wideband data services and also satellite navigation and iPhone-type handsets all fall into this category.
  6. Drawing up detailed specifications for new potential mobile applications, in coordination with the systems department, especially if this is for access to the core IT applications in some way; then identifying the best mobile service options to support the applications.
  7. Controlling overall costs and budgets, both capex and opex. Interestingly, for today's conditions, I have had to add only one more role, which is crucial now but was not so much of an issue in 1989.
  8. Network security, both logical and physical: This should be designed on an end-to-end basis, from the handset/laptop through-the-air interface and operator to any applications servers and databases, with effective measures at each step. These will include consideration of mobile Web access, from a simple Wi-Fi attachment in a hotel to supporting those users who really wish to Web browse from the smartphone.

Whether all organizations will combine the above in one manager is open to question because it puts too heavy a load on one person in a large organization. Many will split the roles into administrative/financial and technical positions, with perhaps a separate future applications role -- not needed in 1989 but in line with today's demands in the larger organization. Thank you, Butler Cox.

About the author: Simon Forge applies more than 20 years of experience in information industries to his current projects in telecommunications and computing. Previously, he was director of IT development for Consumer and Business Products at Hutchison 3G UK, managing creation of software applications for third-generation mobile products, covering the whole range of multimedia products. Simon has a Ph.D. in digital signal processing, as well as an MSc and BSc in control engineering, all from the University of Sussex, U.K.

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