With the technology available today mobile and remote workers can be just as productive as their office-based counterparts. In this special report Steve Evans looks at enterprise attitudes to mobility, including the business benefits, potential security risks and its place in a business continuity plan.
In February 2009, parts of the UK were brought to a standstill by the heaviest snowfall for many years. Roads were blocked, transport systems shut down and many workers were stranded at home. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) estimated that around 20% of the UK’s workforce didn’t make it to the office and that the disruption was likely to cost the economy over £1bn.
But it didn’t have to be like that. Workers set up to operate via mobile devices – such as laptops, notebooks, netbooks and smartphones – could have carried out their job from home, saving a company’s revenue and reputation. But are companies approaching mobility in the right way? Are they looking beyond the costs to the business benefits a good mobile strategy can deliver?
“A winning mobility strategy is task-centric,” said Michael Liebow, former CEO of business mobility firm Dexterra. “It is built on the processes already in place and plays to the way employees want to work. Mobility lets people complete the things they need to do every day, as they happen, instead of having to find a place to connect a laptop, disrupt an office worker, or return to the office.”
Analyst house IDC recently predicted that the number of mobile Internet users will more than double to over one billion by 2013, up from 450 million today. The move will be driven by the affordability and usability of smartphones and other wireless devices, IDC claims. “With an explosion in applications for mobile devices underway, the next several years will witness another sea change in the way users interact with the Internet and further blur the lines between personal and professional,” said John Gantz, chief research officer of IDC.
Lack of skills
However, it appears that the enterprise is not quite ready for the explosion. Research by mobile systems integrator Cognito found that mobile strategies at UK businesses are being handicapped by a lack of expertise and a preoccupation with return on investment (ROI). The majority (86%) of IT bosses said that they had been asked to implement a mobile strategy, with the aim of boosting employee productivity and business efficiency. Nearly half of them, however, said that their workers lack the skills needed to integrate a range of business critical applications with mobile devices. “It’s interesting to see plans for mobility use within an enterprise,” David Perry, a director at Cognito, tells CBR. “There is a clear disconnect between the idea and the reality of enterprise mobile use.”
Perry believes that a need to deliver tangible ROI is holding back mobile adoption, with one-third of respondents claiming that they are worried that their company’s lack of experience in mobile IT strategies would significantly impact the ROI from these projects in the near term and ultimately reduce long-term investment in this area.
The key, Perry believes, is for a company to understand worker requirements and tailor a strategy to suit. However, one quarter of companies quizzed blame the potential failure of mobile projects on the mobile industry’s lack of experience in supporting business customers. In particular, this manifests itself in the enterprise applications that are available to mobile workers. “Users don’t want a small screen that is full of information and has too much detail on it,” Perry says. “There is a requirement for more collaboration between IT, the business process people and the users to make mobile applications work.”
This is something that David Yach, CTO for software at BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM), agrees with. In a recent interview with CBR he said that successful mobile apps will be the ones that strip away the unnecessary bulk.
“If you take the entirety of SAP and put it on a BlackBerry it’s not going to be a good solution. You still have a 2-inch display on any mobile phone,” he said, adding that mobile app design takes a lot more thought. “When you have a big screen the easiest thing to do is throw more things at it. With a smaller device, you get more thought about what is important. It is a concentrated application.”
There is also a clear usage model differences between desktop and mobile apps, Yach believes. “When you sit down at a PC you are hoping to get half an hour or an hour to do some work. When you are using your mobile you have one minute – while the light is red, while you’re waiting for the meeting to start – and you need to be productive in that time.”
The productivity advantages of, for example, a salesperson being able to access a CRM application while on the move are clear. However, many companies could be forgiven for worrying how safe the data actually is. If the smartphone or laptop is lost or stolen then valuable customer data could fall into the wrong hands.
It was recently revealed that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had lost another laptop when the device was stolen from its Whitehall HQ. The MoD had previously admitted that between January 1 and May 11 this year, 28 laptops had been lost or stolen. In July 2008 the department revealed that it had lost 658 devices over the previous four years. What makes this case even more worrying is the fact that the security code used to unlock the encrypted data on the laptop had also been taken.
However a recent survey by security firm Check Point revealed that over half of UK businesses do not use data encryption to protect their laptop fleet, with just 41% of respondents having technology in place. Worryingly, 8% of the senior IT managers and staff at public and private organisations that took part in the survey said they did not know if encryption was in use.
“It’s very surprising that the losses, thefts and malware outbreaks suffered by organisations over the past two years have had such little impact on the way UK organisations secure laptop PCs. These machines are the most vulnerable point in a business’ IT set-up, and yet they remain largely unsecured,” said Nick Lowe, Check Point’s regional director for Northern Europe.
“Security on mobile devices is less about antivirus and more about remote wiping, encryption and centralised management,” Trend Micro CTO Raimund Genes, tells CBR. “Companies need a strong security policy and they need to enforce it. More and more companies are allowing users to use their own devices at work in which case the IT department can control it so workers can only access the company’s network.”
The November 2009 discovery of the first malware targeted at Apple’s iPhone provided enterprises and security firms with a reminder about the ever-changing threat landscape on mobile devices. Genes believes that an increasing number of attacks will target smartphones as their market share increases. “When an operating system gets a certain market share it becomes a more attractive target for attackers – that’s what is happening with Apple and will happen with the others,” he says.
Keeping control of costs
Alongside security, cost is often highlighted as a potential stumbling block for mobile enterprise adoption. With a variety of devices and uses, not to mention workers using their own phones or laptops for business, it can be difficult for IT departments to keep on top of costs. “In a lot of companies the problem is visibility. Use of mobiles in business has grown in an ad hoc way, so they don’t have much visibility of what’s going on,” Glyn Owen, portfolio manager at consultancy Damovo UK, told CBR recently.
Damovo surveyed a number of UK organisations and found that they are potentially wasting £264m every year by allowing employees to use their mobiles for work calls even when in the office. On average, large companies spend £209,150 each year on mobile calls, even though an estimated 42% of those calls were being made in the office and almost half the calls were made to other colleagues or to the office.
Another worrying discovery from Damovo’s research was that 37% of respondents admitted they don’t even look at the mobile bill each month. Adding data costs on top of this makes it very difficult to determine what financial impact a mobile strategy is having on the firm. “In the last year or eighteen months, in the current crisis, a lot of organisations have focused on spending and realised that they haven’t got control over mobile costs,” says Owen.
One way for companies to get more value out of its mobile strategy is to utilise the existing Wi-Fi infrastructure and use mobile devices as an extension of the PBX, enabling full desk phone functionality on handheld devices. Available through vendors such as Cisco, via its Mobile Voice System (MVS) and Agito Networks, it means that workers away from the office can operate with one contact phone number and one voicemail that works across both the mobile device and a landline. In addition to PBX functionality, Agito’s Mobility Router can be used over a Wi-Fi connection, which the company says provides significant cost savings through reduced cellular minutes, international direct dialling and roaming charges.
One organisation that has used this mobility platform is Hertford Regional College (HRC). The college is undergoing a £65m regeneration programme, which includes two new campus buildings. In one of the new buildings a foil covering on insulation installed to make the building more energy efficient was blocking all mobile signal inside, which made communication between staff very difficult. The college installed Agito’s RoamAnywhere Mobility Router to enable devices to connect to the company’s PBX over a Wi-Fi network and automatically switch between Wi-Fi and cellular networks depending on which signal is stronger.
“We now have total coverage at the two sites, and we know where people are all the time. The desk phone-like features mean that someone can dial my extension and it goes through to my mobile,” Daniel Hidlebaugh, network services manager at HRC told CBR. The college has also seen its telephony bills reduced by 50%, as calls over a Wi-Fi connection cost less than calls over the cellular network.
Critical to business operations
Costs can also mount up when data charges are factored in. Mobile workers often face high costs through checking emails or accessing the Internet while on the go or at a hotel. Wi-Fi connectivity aggregator iPass enables users to bypass roaming charges through a virtual network service via deals with a number of network operators around the world. The company initially began life providing the service for laptops, but saw a 200% increase in handheld users from Q1 2009 to Q2 2009, prompting the company to release a software client for BlackBerry devices in September 2009. “We’ve noticed more interest from carriers about Wi-Fi,” Matt Cooke, senior product marketing manager at iPass, tells CBR. “But we are also seeing more interest from clients about Wi-Fi on BlackBerry devices as they become more critical to business operations.”
Extreme weather, pandemics such as swine flu, terrorist attacks and any other event that may stop workers getting to the office mean that mobile devices are more business critical than ever. The tools available today mean that providing a laptop to a worker in the hope that they will be able to operate as effectively as they would at the office is no longer acceptable.
“While that may be true for some, there are tools available today that replicate everything you have on your desktop,” Hugh Scholaert, founder and group vice president of enterprise communications vendor Aastra Technologies, told CBR. “Just the ability of an individual to be at home and be part of a contact centre and know the availability of other employees is a big plus. If an individual with a mobile, which is an extension of your call manager, is part of the contact centre then you can dictate the skill sets necessary to take a certain call and route it to the correct individual, you will be able to solve issues more rapidly.”
Beyond call centre connectivity, the ability to keep a business up and running in the event of a disaster has the potential to save a company’s reputation as well as its revenue streams.
The increase in use of mobile devices predicted by the likes of Gartner and IDC will not be restricted to the consumer space. As workers adopt new technologies in their personal lives, it is inevitable that they will find their way into working lives. Enterprises should tailor a mobile strategy to meet the needs of its workers, to help them be equally productive whether in the office or out on the road.
Facts & Figures
£264m – the amount UK business are wasting each year through poor mobile visibility
658 – the number of mobile devices lost by the MoD over a four year period
£209,150 – the average yearly spend on mobile calls at a large UK company
37% - the number of IT bosses that do not look at mobile bills
200% - Increase in mobile users from Q1 2009 to Q2 2009 as seen by iPass
51% - the number of UK businesses that do not have any laptop encryption technology in place
8% - do not know if they use any mobile encryption technology
1 billion – the number of mobile Internet users by 2013, according to IDC
£1bn – cost to the UK economy when workers couldn’t get to the office during the February 2009 snow storms
Carousel image credit: Lee Stranahan, Flickr, CC licence.