What is the business case for going mobile?

Some of you may have read that most companies have deployed mobile technology for the benefit of their workforce.

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Some of you may have read that most companies have deployed mobile technology for the benefit of their workforce.



You would be forgiven if you believed you are a member of a sedentary species facing extinction. Yet the truth is you are part of a majority who have not banished paper and who may not feel unproductive when they are unconnected outside the office.

So why have analysts been predicting a mobile revolution for three years in a row? Surveys published by industry analyst firms such as Ovum seek to provide answers about new IT purchasing patterns. But taken out of context, statistics are often meaningless and tend to feed the latest hype.

I am not suggesting there is no demand or need for mobile devices and applications. Many of the respondents to Ovum's latest mobile enterprise user survey, for instance, use mobile tools and see mobile technology as beneficial to their business. But few have allocated a budget to fund the mobile data projects that 60% claimed to have in the pipeline.

Most mobile deployments occur due to the demand of a handful of noisy users, where the main benefit is keeping senior executives happy. At the other end of the spectrum, companies in industries such as logistics and utilities are investing in field-force applications to cut costs and improve overall performance.

These deployments demonstrate the value of mobile business applications, but field workers are not the largest group of mobile users.

The challenge for companies is not to demonstrate the usefulness of mobile technology, but to demonstrate in a business case that it is a solution to a business problem, not a technology that is nice to have.

Translating gut feel into hard cost savings or productivity gain into profit is not simple. New technology generates new performance indicators, which makes measuring success up-front difficult. And your troubles do not end here.

Those who demonstrated that mobile tools could save man-hours previously spent filling in paper forms or doing nothing will have to choose among many different technology strands and deploy components possibly against the will of their workforce.

This is why most early adopters are either large companies which can afford the services of consultants and integrators or companies willing to purchase a hosted solution.

Yet mobile business applications will become mainstream in the near future. Mobile e-mail is already seen as essential in many areas of business and service companies with a large mobile workforce tend to under-perform without the help of mobile tools.

As demand increases, it will be easier to justify an investment based on a number of success stories and to source pre-packaged solutions, which a number of suppliers are busy designing.

Uptake will increase in 2004 but there may not be a revolution - change will happen over the next few years.

Elsa Lion is an analyst at Ovum

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