Nortel: Businesses will become virtual

The growing power of mobile technology means many employees will soon work in a virtual office, predicts Nortel

Mobile technology is reaching a critical point where many businesses will be able to break away from the confines of the office, Nortel said on Tuesday.

The telecoms and networking vendor said mobile technology and communications advances were coming together in a "perfect storm", meaning the office as a workplace would become increasingly obsolete.

Nortel cited Wi-Fi, 3G, collaboration tools and SIP as key technologies that will change the way companies operate, turning them into "virtual" entities.

"This is probably the most significant business dynamic taking place. It allows employees, partners and customers to communicate any time, any place, any where," said Peter Kelly, Nortel Enterprise's European president. "The virtual enterprise model will allow companies to leapfrog others. It really is a case of virtualise or die," Kelly added.

Employees have evolved over time, Nortel said, first from office workers to "knowledge workers" who dealt with information being accessed from databases, and now to the "21st Century agile innovator, who is good at connecting information through organisations, sharing information rapidly and openly."

Nortel outlined its blue-sky vision for how virtual organisations could transform e-government and business models.

"Imagine a five-star citizen service when getting a passport, or zero lost luggage. There's no reason why this can't happen with the right virtualised enterprise. Why not move house in a day, or have a Fortune 500 company with only one employee, with third-party outsourced sales, logistics, and customer support?" Kelly speculated.

A leading academic from the London School of Economics (LSE) agreed that increasing employee mobility would mean that offices would become smaller, turn into places where a widespread workforce would network and socialise.

"It's a hybrid, not a perfect virtual organisation. Basically it's a way of getting rid of real estate," said Professor Ian Angell, head of the information systems department at the LSE.

"The problem is how to maintain commitment to a nebulous concept and business prioritisation if the workforce is spread around the globe. This basically comes through friendship. Organisations will set up social events to encourage bonding between individuals," Angell added.

However, mobile technology will also bring more security risks, not just through technology but through the employees themselves, according to Angell. He cited Bluetooth hacks such as bluebugging, where a malicious hacker could take control of a handset over Bluetooth, allowing them to open a voice connection back to their own phone.

"Bluebugging means people are going into meetings with their phones acting as a microphone," said Angell.