Research: Mobile working on the increase

An exclusive survey has revealed that nearly two-thirds of companies are seeing an increasing proportion of mobile workers

Executive summary:

  • The penetration of mobile workers across the UK workforce is significant, with a broad spread of mobility uncovered in the organisations we researched. Nearly a quarter of organisations considered more than half of their staff to be mobile workers.
  • Mobility continues its upward trend, with nearly two-thirds of our research sample reporting an increasing proportion of mobile workers.
  • Looking at current and future use by type of mobile device across the research base:
    - Simple mobile phones are almost universally used
    - Laptops with mobile connectivity are also widely deployed: more than four-fifths of respondent organisations are already using these, with a further six percent expecting to apply these devices over the next two years.
    - Use of BlackBerry devices was reported by 44 percent of respondents, with a further 12 percent anticipating deployment in the near future.
    Over half of all respondent enterprises have one or more of the other main types of email capable device in use, with around one-third of the research base using mobile phone with email, and/or PDA with email, and/or smartphone with email. A further 10 to 15 percent expect to deploy one of these technologies over the coming two years.
    - Use of a basic PDA is still significant, although increased penetration in the near future is likely to be modest. PDAs with mobile voice and data connectivity are expected to see higher growth, but from a smaller base of user organisations.
  • When asked to select the single mobile device respondents found most useful, the laptop with mobile connectivity came top of the list. More than a third chose this as their favoured device.
  • Senior managers are the main users of mobile devices, with approaching 80 percent of the research base reporting deployment at this level. Other key users are the core mobile functions of sales and service engineers.
  • There is a broad spread in the numbers of mobile products in use across the research base. Almost a quarter of organisations have fewer than five handheld mobile devices (excluding simple mobile phones); however, some have 1,000 or more.
  • The main applications in current use are voice, email, SMS, internet access, data communications and electronic diary/calendar/personal organiser. These were all reported by 60 percent or more of the research base. Other important applications are personal directory, instant messaging and global positioning systems (GPS), used by between a quarter and two-fifths.
  • Highest near-term potential for applications growth (in new organisations wishing to deploy) are mobile videoconferencing, GPS, database applications, instant messaging and access to the company CRM, together with the collaborative applications of presence, shared workspace and whiteboarding.
  • Of the technical features available on handheld devices, most significant in use were Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity (around two-thirds of respondents), high-speed internet access and high-speed data communications. A full Qwerty keyboard, the ability to work across multiple networks and the provision of a large-screen display were available to around two-fifths to one-third of the research sample.
  • Technical features with the strongest potential for growth (in new organisations wishing to deploy) are:
    - High-speed data communications
    - High-speed internet access
    - Devices that will work on multiple networks
    - Fixed/mobile integration
  • The main advantages in using a laptop over handheld mobile devices were reported to be:
    - The large display, and hence ability to view and work with detailed documents
    - A full-size keyboard
    - The ability to access MS Office applications and applications/documents available at the desktop

Introduction, scope and methodology
In IT and telecoms, the term "mobile device" covers an array of different products providing data handling and/or communications capabilities in a portable format.

There is a plethora of different handheld devices available today, with ever-increasing capability and functionality. Increasing mobility within the UK workforce, together with technological developments in both the devices themselves and the communications networks on which they function, makes this a dynamic and rapidly developing market.

The research investigated the use of mobile devices both now and in the near future, including coverage of the applications in use, key user departments and technical features and capabilities. Use was put in context through an analysis of current mobility and trends within the workforce.

This research was carried out as part of a broader research study sponsored by Orange UK investigating the top mobile trends today and their impact on UK enterprises. The study was undertaken by ZDNet.co.uk in association with Rhetorik, a specialist market intelligence organisation that focuses specifically on European IT and telecommunications markets.

The survey used web-based survey techniques with a detailed questionnaire applied through the ZDNet.co.uk research panel as well as a broad sample of knowledgeable respondents drawn from readership of specialist CNET technical publications.

The research was conducted with a significant sample of 371 organisations of all types and sizes with some degree of mobility within the workforce. A breakdown of these respondents by size of organisation is presented below.

Figure 1: Breakdown by company size

Q42 Approximately how many people are employed in your organisation (in the UK)? (single response)
Base: All respondents; Total: 371
Source: Rhetorik 2007

The mobile workforce
Before looking at the devices in use, we investigated the developments in mobility within the UK workforce. Clearly, the mobile workforce is the key user base of mobile devices and its requirements set demands and trends for the devices themselves.

Penetration of mobile workers
Respondents were asked about the percentage of their organisation's workforce that was considered mobile. "Mobile" was defined as "spends a significant proportion of time working away from the office or home office".

The penetration of mobile workers across the UK workforce is now significant. Compared with research undertaken by Rhetorik only a few years ago, mobility within the workforce appears to have moved apace.

In this survey, nearly a quarter of the research sample considered more than half of their staff to be mobile workers. Only 15 percent had very low mobility, with a mobile workforce of less than five percent. The spread of mobility we uncovered across all organisations was broad, as can be seen in Figure 2.

This broad distribution was apparent across most sizes of organisation, although penetration of mobility was more polarised in the small-business sector (one to 10 employees). For these small organisations, almost half believed more than 50 percent of their staff to be mobile and a quarter claimed mobility to be very low.

Figure 2: Penetration of mobile workers in the organisation

 

Q1 What percentage of your organisation's workforce is mobile (ie spends a significant proportion of time working away from the office or home office)? (single response)
Base: All respondents; Total: 273
Source: Rhetorik 2007

Trends in mobile working
Mobility clearly continues to be an upward trend among our research sample. When questioned on the proportion of mobile workers in their workforce, nearly two-thirds said that this was increasing, and most of the rest reported stability.

The smaller organisations were more likely to have reached stability, with more than half of small businesses reporting no change. Similarly, those with very low levels of current mobility were much less likely to be seeing an increase. Only a third of organisations with less than five percent mobile staff noted an increasing trend, and close to 60 percent said this had levelled.

Figure 3: Changes in the mobile workforce

Q2 Is the proportion of mobile workers in your organisation increasing or decreasing? (single response)
Base: All respondents; Total: 371
Source: Rhetorik 2007

Use of mobile devices
This section of the report is all about the devices themselves. We first questioned current and future use of a range of mobile devices by type. These were largely handheld products, but we also included laptops to ensure consideration of as wide a spread of key devices as possible. We next explored which types were valued most highly by their users, before looking at the user base across the main business functions. Finally, we measured agreement with a number of key statements of belief to get a better understanding of user perceptions about the use of mobile technology in these areas.

Current and future use by type of device
Simple mobile phones are used almost universally across the organisations in our respondent base and, where they were not reported, this was almost certainly due to replacement with multifunction products incorporating voice capability.

Laptops with mobile connectivity are also widely deployed. More than four-fifths of respondent organisations are already using these for applications both within and outside the office. There is still some potential for growth in number of user organisations, with a further six percent expecting to apply these devices over the coming two years.

Next in current use came BlackBerry devices, with 44 percent of respondents already using these within their organisations and a further 12 percent anticipating deployment in the near future.

A range of other handheld mobile communications devices incorporating mobile email followed in current use. These products encompass a breadth of additional functional capability. Around a third of all respondents are using each of these products and the popularity of email is apparent by their increasing penetration. A further 10 to 15 percent of the sample expects to deploy one of these technologies in their organisations over the next two years. Altogether, more than half of all respondent enterprises have one or more of these types of email-capable device.

Use of a basic PDA is still significant. Around a third of respondent organisations are using them but increased penetration is likely to be modest. However, PDAs with mobile voice and data connectivity are expected to see higher growth, but from a smaller base of user organisations.

Figure 4: Use by type of mobile device

Q3 Which of the following types of mobile device is currently in use by one or more members of staff for work purposes in your organisation? And which do you expect to be used in the near future (next two years)? (multiple response)
Base: All respondents; Total: 371
Source: Rhetorik 2007

Most valued mobile devices
When respondents were asked to select the mobile device they found most useful, the laptop with mobile connectivity came top of the list. More than a third of all respondents chose this as their favourite device.

A fifth of respondents preferred their basic mobile phone. Perhaps surprisingly, a PDA with mobile voice, data and email connectivity came next, even higher that the BlackBerry, despite the higher current penetration of BlackBerry across these organisations. The smartphone followed not far behind.

The smaller organisations were strong proponents of the basic mobile phone, with a third of these respondents favouring this device above all others.

Figure 5: Most valued mobile devices

Q4 Which of these devices do you personally find most useful for business purposes? (single response)
Base: All respondents; Total 371
Source: Rhetorik 2007

Use of mobile devices by business function
Senior managers are clearly the main users of mobile devices, with nearly 80 percent of the research base reporting deployment at this level. This usage reflects the variety of needs and mobility requirements for the senior management function, as well as the prestige factor of having the "latest technology".

Other key users are the core mobile functions of sales and service engineers. Often "road warriers", these users require good communications capability to increase their effectiveness away from the office.

Logistics and delivery personnel also have a strong mobile need, but also important are a variety of other functional users in different types of organisation.

Figure 6: Use of mobile devices by key business function

Q5 What key business functions/departments are users of these mobile devices (excluding users of mobile phones with no further capability)? (multiple response)
Base: All respondents; Total: 371
Source: Rhetorik 2007

Some user perceptions of mobile devices
When presented with a number of statements regarding the use of mobile devices, and asked to rate their agreement, there was a strong consensus from respondents on a number of issues:

  • The functionality on handheld mobile devices is not yet up to that of a laptop
  • Battery life is perceived as an issue for both handheld devices and laptops
  • Cost of airtime is a limiting factor in the use of mobile handheld multifunction devices

Less significant were limits to the use of multifunction handheld devices due to lack of available bandwidth. This is perhaps due to the increasing availability of higher bandwidth network technologies today. Costs of airtime were seen as more of an issue for small organisations, where almost half were in strong agreement on it limiting handheld use.

Figure 7: Mobile devices — some perceptions in use

Q9 How far would you agree with each of the following statements? Please rate each statement on a scale of one to five, where one is "strongly agree" and five is "strongly disagree".
Base: All respondents; Total: 371
Source: Rhetorik 2007

Penetration of handheld mobile devices by organisation
There was a broad spread in the number of products in use across the research base. Almost a quarter of organisations had fewer than five handheld mobile devices when simple mobile phones were not considered. These would be deployed only to key staff. However, some enterprises had 1,000 or more company mobile devices (excluding simple phones) in use. As might be expected, the numbers increased steadily with increasing size of organisation. In the large corporate sector (>1,000 employees) more than half of all enterprises reported in excess of 500 products in use.

Figure 8: Penetration of handheld mobile devices by organisation

Q6 Approximately how many company handheld mobile devices (excluding mobile phones with no further capability) are there in your UK organisation? (single response)
Base: All respondents; Total: 371
Source: Rhetorik 2007

Applications on handheld mobile devices
Respondents were asked about the applications run on their organisation's handheld mobile devices today, and those they would like to have available in two years' time. Some interesting insights were obtained on the demand for certain key applications in the near future.

Key applications in use
Tier one applications that are in use today are voice, email, SMS, internet access, data communications and electronic diary/calendar/personal organiser. These were all reported by 60 percent or more of the research base. With relatively high penetration, less than 10 percent of additional organisations would like to deploy these applications over the next two years, although this does not preclude growth in the number of users within existing user enterprises.

Tier two applications are personal directory, instant messaging and global positioning systems (GPS). Current use in the company was noted by between a quarter and two-fifths of all respondents. Personal directory applications have possible incremental growth within the band discussed above, but for GPS and instant messaging, the potential is much higher. Almost a fifth of all the organisations researched would like to have instant-messaging applications available over the next two years, and this number was even higher for GPS. With close to a quarter of the respondent base wanting GPS, the application has the potential to almost double in penetration, to almost half of all enterprises researched.

Mobile videoconferencing and database applications are also considered key applications, not so much for their current user base (10 percent and 16 percent of the respondent base respectively) but for their high growth potential. A massive 29 percent of respondents would like to deploy mobile videoconferencing to their users in the next two years, and one-fifth would do the same with database applications.

Data communications, email and internet access are used less in the small-business sector, and personal directory, electronic diary and database applications appear most popular with the largest of enterprises.

Figure 9: Key applications on handheld mobile devices

Q7 Which of the following applications are used or accessed currently for work purposes on the handheld mobile devices within your organisation? And which additional applications would you like to have available on handheld mobile devices in the near future (next two years)? (multiple response)
Base: All respondents; Total: 371
Source: Rhetorik 2007

Other applications in use
Image capture and transmission, video, CRM, presence applications and high-quality audio all rate well, with between one-quarter and a one-tenth of all respondents noting use.

Next came other business applications, ERP/ERM, shared workspace and push-to-talk applications, at between eight and nine percent of the research base. Lowest use was recorded for whiteboarding and contactless smartcard payment systems, at five to six percent.

The research pointed to significant potential for growth with many of these applications over the next two years. Collaborative applications — presence, shared workspace and whiteboarding — plus access to the company's CRM, scored highest in terms of those applications organisations would like to deploy. All of these could be taken up by close to one-fifth of respondent enterprises.

Push-to-talk applications seemed to attract the least interest, but all the others have the potential to be adopted by a significant 11 to 14 percent of the companies we researched.

The collaborative applications — presence, shared workspace and whiteboarding — seem most popular with the largest of organisations (large corporates).

Figure 10: Other applications on handheld mobile devices

Q7 Which of the following applications are used or accessed currently for work purposes on the handheld mobile devices within your organisation? And which additional applications would you like to have available on handheld mobile devices in the near future (next two years)? (multiple response)
Base: All respondents; Total: 371
Source: Rhetorik 2007

Technical features and capabilities of handheld mobile devices
We also questioned respondents on the technical features available on their business handheld mobile devices today, and those they would like to have over the next two years.

In terms of current connectivity, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi led the way, in use by 60 to 70 percent of our respondents. High-speed internet access was reported by nearly half of the research base, and high-speed data communications by approaching two-fifths.

Devices with a full Qwerty keyboard and those that can work across multiple networks were deployed by around two-fifths of these organisations, and a large screen display by close to a third. Devices facilitating fixed/mobile integration are less used but growth could be high.

Strongest potential for growth was reported for:

• High-speed data communications

• High-speed internet access

• Devices that will work on multiple networks

• Fixed/mobile integration

Around a quarter of the research base would like to adopt these technologies over the next two years.

Large-screen display devices, Wi-Fi access and a full Qwerty keyboard are also likely to create strong demand, with 15 to 20 percent of all respondents wishing to deploy these capabilities.

The use of most of these technologies grows in tandem with the increasing size of organisation but, interestingly, Wi-Fi is more universally available.

Figure 11: Technical features/capabilities of handheld mobile devices

Q8 Which of the following technical features/capabilities are available for work purposes on the handheld mobile devices within your organisation? And which additional features/capabilities would you like to have available on handheld mobile devices in the near future (next two years)? (multiple response)
Base: All respondents; Total: 371
Source: Rhetorik 2007

Key benefits of laptops over handheld mobile devices
Earlier in this report we found strong agreement from our respondents that the functionality on handheld mobile devices is not yet up to that of a laptop. To explore this issue further, we asked them what was the most important thing they could do with a laptop that they were unable to do on a handheld multifunction device.

The main advantages of a laptop that were highlighted are as follows:

  • The large display, hence the ability to view and work with complex/detailed documents including spreadsheets, presentations, images and other graphical data or rich media
  • A full-size keyboard for ease and speed of use
  • The ability to access and use MS Office applications and generally access all applications and documents available at the desktop

Overall, a lot of other very diverse points were also raised. Among the most prevalent not noted in the figure were:

  • The ability to handle attachments
  • Greater storage and hence local data access capabilities
  • The ability to customise and programme
  • Better web applications/access
  • Access to key business applications

Figure 12: Key benefits of laptops over handheld mobile devices

Q10 In your opinion, what is the most important single thing you can do with a laptop, that you cannot do with a handheld multifunction device? (open response)
Base: All respondents; Total: 371
Source: Rhetorik 2007

About Rhetorik
Rhetorik delivers market research services focused exclusively on IT and telecoms industries. To meet the challenges of these fast-moving and highly competitive markets, our clients need a consultancy that truly understands the issues and concerns that drive them.

With an in-house team of highly trained researchers working exclusively in these markets, we have a particular focus on end-user research and use a range of quantitative and qualitative research techniques to provide a unique portfolio of research services, including:

  • Face-to-face interviews
  • Focus groups
  • Telephone interviews
  • Web-based surveys
  • Research panels

For more details, visit the Rhetorik website or contact Rick Paskins on +44 (0)118 989 8580 or at mailto:rpaskins@rhetorik.com.

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