Organizations seem to be moving away from the locked-down infrastructure model of the Blackberry to the more “open” and challenging architectures of iOS and Android devices. The increased flexibility and user acceptance of such devices is driving their inroads into corporate use while presenting special challenges to IT departments to support them.
This increasing user acceptance and the associated support costs are good reasons to think carefully about how we ideally would like people to use mobile technologies in support of an organization’s goals and objectives.
As I stated in How Will Mobile Devices In the Workplace Make People More Productive? it would be a mistake to think of mobile devices simply as employee-owned little computers that just need secure network access for business use. I find it helps to think about three basic questions that need to be addressed when laying out and implementing a costable and manageable enterprise mobility strategy:
First, mobile technologies such as smartphones and tablet computers can definitely be used to do “more of the same.” This is not meant as a negative comment but is an attempt to be realistic. Microsoft, for example, is counting on the fact that Windows 8, the new release of Office, and the Surface computer will be seen — and bought — precisely because they offer familiarity (as well as a variety of advanced features).
I discuss this in Why Microsoft’s ‘Surface’ Tablet/Netbook Will Succeed and can’t fault the strategy. People think they need Office and the new Microsoft offerings are an attempt to provide that comfort level. Just last week for example I had to develop a proposal using PowerPoint, my least favorite application. Who am I to bite the hand that wants to feed me?
Second, mobile technologies should help people do the same things they are doing now but in a better way. Mobile devices and their connectivity allow people to work and share information regardless of physical location. The same document can be stored once and worked on by multiple people without the need for face to face meetings. Work can be done at a remote site with help and support provided by team members and by remote systems, systems that may previously only have been accessible via more traditional desktop or networked systems. Workers can be more creative about how they accomplish their work when freed of the need for access to office or building bound resources.
Third, mobile technologies can help people do different things differently. Of the three, this is the most difficult to plan for due to its assumption of process innovation. If one and two above can be thought of as business process improvement (i.e., performing a process more efficiently or performing a process differently while supporting the same outcome), this third use of mobile technology supports changes to both how the process is performed as well as what the process is intended to accomplish.
Mobile technology support for “working differently” is another way of putting this. The difficulty for management here is anticipating how the technology will be used. It’s one thing to enable a process to be done more efficiently from any location. It’s another thing to take advantage of emerging technologies to alter the nature of the process.
I think we’re only scratching the surface in terms of how we really take advantage of mobile systems and their perpetual connectedness. For example, tools and services are becoming available to simplify access by users to location- and context-aware information. Already, accessory development kits are available for Android to enable developers to design and build mobile system accessories.
Just as it helps for a call center agent to have a customer’s contact history available when a call comes in, so too it helps to have a remote device provide useful information automatically given the location and activity context of the remote worker. Planning for the best way to accomplish this can be a challenge, though, given the need to accommodate the mobile worker’s capabilities, experience, and first-person judgement regarding the job at hand.
In conclusion, taking full advantage of mobile technologies requires an open mind about what can be accomplished. Mobile technologies have the potential for challenging traditional concepts of management control and influence just as the ease of using email to communicate across organizational boundaries challenged previous generations of hierarchy-sensitive managers.
Organizations that are able to move beyond today’s processes and control mechanisms to involve workers in collaborative innovative development efforts will, in the long run, be the ones that benefit the most competively from the new technologies.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Dennis D. McDonald. Dennis is a Washington DC area consultant specializing in project management, digital strategy, and technology adoption. He has been involved with data collection, management, and analysis projects involving survey and statistical data, demographics, text and image retrieval, database conversion and consolidation, customer support, controlled vocabularies and full text, financial data systems, industrial & manufacturing systems, and social media metrics. His clients have included General Electric, Ford, American International Group, Whirlpool, the US Department of Veterans Affairs, the US Environmental Protection Agency, Jive Software, the National Library of Medicine, the National Academy of Engineering, Social Media Today and Oracle, and the World Bank Group. Contact Dennis via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 703-402-7382. His website is here: http://www.ddmcd.com.