Top tips for supporting a mobile workforce

Your guide to a flexible future

Your guide to a flexible future

As an ever-growing number of employees demand the ability to work from home or on the road, employers are faced with the headache of supporting a mobile workforce. But need it be a headache? Not according to ICL, which has prepared a handy ten-point plan for anyone considering the creation of a more flexible infrastructure. 1. Face the facts
Mobile working is a reality and, as a result, mobile devices are almost certainly being used in your organisation, whether you know it or not. Most PDAs are being purchased by individuals, rather than companies, but are used for essential business matters, such as managing diaries, accessing emails and keeping contacts in order. 2. Find the facts
Once you have accepted the above, it is time to put a plan into place. Find out who is using mobile devices, what types they are using, where they are using them, what they are using them for and therefore, what type of support is needed. Involve your employees in this process, as it demonstrates that you value them and understand their needs in a changing workplace. Tomorrow is too late to start looking into how to support these essential business tools. 3. See the big picture
There are elements to implementing and supporting mobile devices that are unique, but this is not reason enough to treat them separately from your overall IT infrastructure. Doing so will lead to long-term problems integrating mobile working into your existing business' IT strategy. Support for mobile workers should be considered as part of the overall IT infrastructure and not an added extra. Therefore, when deciding on what devices are used and support needed, this should be done in exactly the same as systems for office based workers. 4. Understand the mobile worker
A mobile worker needs to be provided with the same degree of support as a desk-based worker, even if sometimes this requires a little more thought on how it will be delivered. Essential services must include access to helpdesks, asset management, procurement and hardware support. It is easy for mobile workers to feel alienated from the office based 'mainstream' and IT strategies should not reinforce this. 5. Data is vulnerable
One of the dangers of mobile computing is that it is easy to work outside the normal jurisdiction and rules of in-house IT support. Data is vulnerable and security must be a priority. People lose these devices and they can be stolen. What happens to the data on these devices when they get stolen? What happens if somebody then takes that device and accesses your corporate network? These implications need to be looked at. Keep it simple, keep it effective and ensure data is regularly backed up by the right technologies and the risk of virus attacks is minimised. This need not be costly and time-intensive, but can often be an automated process. Issue guidelines to mobile workers that ensure that they understand how to protect themselves and the company from security breaches and hackers. 6. One size does not fit all
One of the problems when implementing a mobile strategy is the temptation to oversimplify. With the proliferation of different devices it is inevitable that what works for some users will not meet the needs of others. For example, an office worker who works flexibly may suit a Palm or iPAQ device via a wireless local area network, whilst a homeworker is more likely to suit a laptop connected via ISDN. The simplest solution: ask and listen. 7. Budget wisely
One of the first problems facing any company is how to budget for mobile support. Support can vary massively in cost, and what might be expensive but essential for one business may be needlessly costly for another. Take a hard and honest look at what you require and ensure your business knows what it costs and why. Gartner predicts that, by 2005 PDAs and mobile appliances will raise enterprise total cost of ownership for user devices by 10%. 8. Talk is good
When rolling out a mobile IT strategy, ensure that you understand the benefits and communicate them properly. It is a frequent mistake to assume that all people are excited by new technologies many are in fact resistant. Thirty per cent of managers in a recent Fujitsu Services survey said they would not currently feel comfortable using a PDA because they did not understand the benefits that their use could bring. 9. Education, education, education
To make any support strategy work, training must have a major role. Initial research suggests that typically, only 10 per cent of software application functionality is properly used. An educated workforce is an effective workforce, able to maximise the investment made in mobile devices and their support, as well as less likely to drain support service. A pound spent on training in IT can often save countless more. 10. Choose partners wisely
Whether you are choosing a company to supply your mobile devices, implement your mobile strategy or provide the ongoing support, choose wisely. Implementing a proper support strategy for mobile workers is undeniably complex, due to the number of variants involved. Times are tough, budgets are shrinking and it is vital that you get expertise for your money.