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Making mobility work for your business

Businesses are starting to take advantage of mobile working, but what they hope to achieve using the technology is as varied as the companies themselves
Written by Colin Barker, Contributor

Mobile technology comes in many forms, from the laptop equipped with 3G to specialised mobile devices and terminals. But as companies see the need for mobility, whether it is to get better productivity from staff in the field, or maximum value from a sale by  having the right sales data immediately to hand, there are concerns.

Some of the biggest issues around mobility centre around how to make it secure. How safe is a laptop? What if it is stolen? Can organizations really trust the technology enough to see it carried off site?

ZDNet UK recently gathered a panel of technology experts, at the Mobility Summit, to discuss what works and what doesn't when it comes to mobility.

See the full webcast of this event here.

The speakers included:

Dr Kamay Missaghi (KM), the chief information office for Boehriner Ingelheim, a European-based medical company, who has direct experience of implementing a mobile strategy.

Graham Nugent (GN), the European strategic information services manager for UPS. The delivery company has been a leader in the use of mobile technology. It used its first terminals to record customer transactions, complete with the ability to record a signature electronically, more than 10 years ago.

Mark Beattie (MB), the head of IT for London Waste, which is at the other end of the scale from UPS as far as the use of mobile technology is concerned. The company has a different set of problems, including how to develop a mobile strategy on a tight budget.

David Kemper (DK), vice president at American Express, who has a number of key accounts, including Intel, that need a personal touch if they are to remain loyal; and mobility is important way to keep in contact.

Shmuel Eden (SE), general manager for mobile platforms at Intel, who discussed the role processor maker has to play in making mobile computing as functionally rich as the desk-bound alternatives.

Is return on investment what people should be looking for with mobile technology?
KM:  I don't think that is what people should be looking for. People look at it as a justification for what they do but in my view they should think differently. We should look for the value in investment...

...because return on investment (RoI) is something you only measure for a period of time — value of investment is progressive. You make a strategic decision rather than a one-off decision. You need to look at the tangible results and the intangible results, and those are the ones that are difficult to measure, such as the quality of the information.

DK: We have a good example of intangible benefits. One of the factors we look at, at American Express, is "stickiness". In other words, the services we offer become so attractive that companies don't need to look at our competitors. So one of the things we look at around mobility is to add services that, I wouldn't say remove us from the sales cycle, but ensure it is a much easier process.

SE: It is not easy to sell RoI... the strategic bit cannot be sold in one day. You need to sell the overall package. You are not going to sell a £1m or £2m overall development by saying it is a strategic move only. For that reason you need both. Some will be measurable, some won't.

GN: We did a strategic move at our company when we removed drive paperwork (and moved it to mobile technology). That was a strategic leap of faith by the company and what we have done over successive years is to have continuing iterations of that process.We are now on the fourth iteration of our scanning platform using industry-standard hardware and there we were able to see RoI. We made a saving in repair costs by going Bluetooth — over 30 percent.

MB: We are such a small business that I can't persuade my managers to do any investment at all unless we can demonstrate RoI.

Can mobile technology be trusted. Can it be secure?
KM: You need to take business continuity into consideration.

GN: You need to take security into account. It is very easy for a user to set up a wireless LAN and it is very easy for them to leave it wide open and jeopardise the security of your network.

But do users expect security from a mobile device? The expectation is a lot less.
KM: The expectation increases. For example, you want to print. As people come into contact with location-based services they want to be able to print all the time wherever they are. That is why, as soon as you come into contact with location-based services, the costs go up.

MB: People have got used to it. They expect it.

Are we at the stage with mobile technology where we don't have to worry about security too much because we have the devices, software, and so on to provide secure environments?
DK: It is still a huge concern and it is very much an arms race and is going to continue. Everything needs to be encrypted now.

What are the possibilities from mobile technology?
SE: We are down to two types of technology now, I think. The mobile phone and the mobile laptop. I know that when I put them down together I would like them to synchronise immediately. One logical device. Everything is mobile. But I think we should look at the user interface. They say, Windows is user-friendly. Why is it user-friendly? Because you need a lot of friends to use it. We need to develop an interface that is much simpler to use.

DK: There are two key areas that everybody is talking about. Convergence on the device and personalisation, and I think the device is less important. I think your device will split itself into two. One is the work authorisations and requests, and so on. The other is personal. That is two devices now but increasingly it will be one and you are going to be able to set up what you want in the way you want to receive it. Increasingly we will see convergence on the same device.

GN: I think increasingly we will see convergence. Now some people are happy to have two of everything. It is going to be very important that there is a common device.

MB: I don't believe in convergence. I want a small phone I can actually put in my pocket and I want a PDA with a larger screen that means I can actually read that Excel spreadsheet attachment. I don't think that is a notebook.
The danger of single devices is that there are times when I don't want to connect with what I do at work.

Who wants to be connected all the time?
KM: I want to be connected all the time, but there is a big issue here. We do not want to create an environment where we are putting people under stress. If you create an environment where people are connected all the time, you are creating an environment where people spend their entire lives only working to benefit the enterprise. There has to be a balance; you have to tell people, "We are not trying to create robots".

SE: The impetus should definitely not come from the corporation. It should come from the individual.  We need to have a technology company to build the ability but it is definitely down to the individual to create the right balance.


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