Mobility's lesser-known fact: It's not just about BYOD

Much like cloud computing and big data, bring your own device has become an irritating buzzword that is being tossed around with unrelenting vigour in the IT industry, but mobility isn't just about BYOD.

Australia has one of the highest smartphone penetration rates in the world, and we're known to be early adopters of new technology, so bringing the likes of iPhones and iPads into work just seems like natural progression; the inexorable outcome.

Put your phones in the air like you just don't care. Image: ZDNet/Spandas Lui

But bring your own device (BYOD) is by no means the end point; it's just an early symptom of the wider mobility trend infiltrating the corporate world. Mobile devices being used within organisations are changing how workers do their jobs, where they're doing their jobs, and how companies prioritise workspaces.

It's all about the workers

Attracting and retaining staff is now a priority for many companies, as skilled and talented workers are increasingly hard to come by. According to a report by professional services firm Deloitte, for every 100 people retiring over the next five years, there are less than 125 people leaving education and joining the workforce; that's the lowest ratio in Australia's history .

To ensure that they have the right people, organisations must consider offering flexible working conditions to make themselves more appealing. BYOD is, of course, part of the solution, but it really is about catering to workers' preferences.

"People want to work the way they live — they don't want to step back in time when they walk through the office door," Google industry director Claire Hatton said at the launch of Deloitte's The Connected Workplace Report, which Google commissioned. "Consumer devices they use at home are faster and newer than the ones they have at work, and they want to use them to be more efficient."

While remote working is becoming increasingly popular, Google's CFO Patrick Pichette has made it clear that the company much prefers its employees to be in the office, where they can bounce ideas off each other, face to face.

But Google does value collaboration tools on mobile devices so staff can work around the office while still being able to communicate with teams overseas.

"It makes it easier for employees to connect and share together; it makes a whole heap of sense," Hatton said. "It also makes them happier."

And happy employees are loyal employees. Having collaboration tools handy gives employees flexibility in working, as well.

"Working is no longer about nine to five in the office," Hatton said. "It's really about being able to work where you want and how you want."

Organisations are also self-reflecting on how to accommodate what workers want, while reconciling it with their business needs.

"Businesses are saying, 'we need to change — to increase productivity, we need to understand how our people are working'," Cisco Australia CTO Kevin Bloch told ZDNet. "Technology comes after that and is a critical ingredient, and the key technology is mobility.

"If you're going to have a mobile workforce, you have to be able to move them around."

It isn't just IT managers who have to deal with the consequences of mobility becoming much more prevalent in the workplace; even human resource (HR) managers have to think about mobility when recruiting and retaining staff.

It's not only impacting the people, it is impacting the workplace itself, and Bloch has seen the activity-based workplace (ABW) become part of the mainstream, thanks to the rise of mobility.

"ABW is to work with a workspace allocated on outcomes, not on people — hot-desking was an old term for it, and ABW is more comprehensive," he said.

"The IT industry talks a lot about terms like BYOD, H.265 — these are really technical terms that early adopters like, but the mainstream couldn't really care about."

ABW involves employees being able to book a workspace that is suitable for their needs at any given time. Spaces are allocated not based on hierarchy, but on who has a need for it.

With many people now BYOD-ing or remote working, sometimes up to 40 percent of office desks could be left unused within a company, according to Bloch. ABW means organisations can offer a flexible work environment and can, in some instances, even reduce overall office spaces, he said.

"The term doesn't come from the IT industry; it comes from the property and architecture industry," Bloch said. "The IT industry talks a lot about terms like BYOD, H.265 — these are really technical terms that early adopters like, but the mainstream couldn't really care about."

ABW is something the mainstream already cares about. Companies like Macquarie Bank, Microsoft, and even Cisco are already convinced on it.

In the case of Cisco, the company is going global with ABW. Locally, the vendor is in the process of consolidating its Chatswood office with the one in St Leonards.

"As we roll it out around the world, we're not just talking about a couple of million dollars in savings; it's tens of millions of dollars on real estate," Bloch said. "It also improves productivity and efficiency. For example, a lot of times, people allocate meeting rooms with expensive equipment that isn't being used very often or effectively.

"What we can do now is if the room is free, people know they can get access to it and it's not based on title; just because you're the senior vice-president of the company, doesn't mean you have first dibs on the meeting room, because allocation is based on outcomes."

The way ABW helps with productivity and efficiency is by breaking down the walls between different departments, according to Bloch.

"Putting people in different departments into different floors is actually not good for business anymore," he said. "We need to be able to swarm, to be able to get people moving and mobile as the business evolves.

"If you need cross-functional teams together for a particular business initiative, ABW can facilitate that much better."

Companies can also use specialised software to get a more comprehensive view of just how effectively workspaces are being used to help with facilities management in real time, Bloch said.

Mobility inside and out

Mobility is not only changing work life inside the office, but outside, as well.

Field force automation (FFA) involves using portable technology to capture data, be it for sales or services, and instantly transmitted to back-end systems, thus skipping a lot of paperwork and processing time.

FFA has become increasingly prevalent and much more sophisticated over the years. These days, it's not just mobile sales teams that are doing FFA, but skilled manual workers, as well.

"Putting people in different departments into different floors is actually not good for business anymore."

There was a time when tradespeople just required a sturdy phone that was water, dust, and/or shock resistant in case of wear and tear on the job. That's why the Nokia 5140 had such a good run, and was still in demand long after it was discontinued.

Keeping records on the jobs they do consists of scribbling details onto paperwork and inputting them into computers later down the track. Tradespeople who work for a larger company may have administration staff input that information into back-end systems for them. The trouble is, paperwork is easily lost, and sometimes the writing may be illegible.

FFA usually involved the use of specialised handhelds and PDAs. Nowadays, smartphones have taken over the job.

"We're seeing FFA functions delivered through apps — there's some interesting stuff going on here," IBM marketing manager for mobile, Jonathan Baxter, told ZDNet.

One of the vendor's clients, Crown Melbourne , has a building maintenance crew consisting of over 100 tradespeople tending to the entertainment and casino complex. From electricians to plumbers, these workers have been issued iPhone 4 devices preloaded with IBM software to register and track repair jobs in real time. This has ensured that different tradespeople don't get double-booked for the same job, and has enabled the crew to respond faster to repairs.

Because its iPhones were connected directly to the back-end financial and work order management systems, it has allowed Crown Melbourne to budget better for maintenance work around the complex, as well.

"Organisations might have thousands of maintenance guys across a whole bunch of facilities, and when somebody finds a leak, they usually fill out a field report. But with geolocation capabilities on the phone, they can just take a photo, geotag it, send it off, and it automatically goes to the right department."

Geolocation isn't usually done inside the building, but old technology is being used in new ways to make it easier to do so, he said.

"There is now a lot of work going on now with using the signal strength of common, off-the-shelf routers to triangulate where workers are," Baxter said. "From an enterprise perspective, a lot of organisations are using this kind of technique to map out their facilities and do geolocation inside buildings."

Mobility in the enterprise isn't going away any time soon, and it's constantly evolving. BYOD may be the dominating mobility topic right now, but it is merely a glimpse of the future.