The Everywhere Office
Rapidly evolving mobile technologies and services help you take your business with you wherever you go. It's time to get a move on.
It's called the mobile Internet, and it's changing the way all companies conduct business. Indeed, the emergence of untethered Internet access is particularly helpful to managers at small to medium-size businesses. The convergence of wireless networks and business applications is leading to greater workforce productivity, innovative ways of collaborating with suppliers and, perhaps most important, new revenue streams.
That potential is for companies that embrace this vision of a connected workforce. Many of them already take advantage of the mobile Internet. E-mail, instant messaging and other basic Internet services have long kept mobile employees in the loop and to communicate crucial business intelligence, including sales leads and revised product information and pricing updates. And more is coming. Forrester Research found that despite the current recessionary environment, nearly 93% of firms it surveyed anticipate having to increase and support the number of mobile devices they deploy through 2010.
And nearly half of small businesses (up to 99 employees) and nearly 9 in 10 medium businesses (up to 999 employees) now report having workers that travel at least 4 or 5 days per month for business, according to market research firm AMI-Partners.
Speed and Power
Faster links and more powerful devices are dramatically expanding the mobile Internet's horizons. The arrival of more reliable, robust 3G wireless networks and an ever-increasing number of Wi-Fi hot spots means road warriors can have access to the same business applications they use in the office. It can also give managers in the workplace the ability to analyze real-time data entered directly from the field. While these are significant changes to the way commerce is being conducted, Internet mobility is a simple concept at its heart. John Namovic, global lead partner for Technology with Deloitte Consulting LL P, says, "Bottom line, it's all about getting the right info at the right time to the right person, no matter the place."
Learn by Example
Making the leap to the mobile Internet requires forethought. Managers at smaller businesses should begin planning now to make key business applications available on employees' wireless devices. "You at least have to develop a strategy of where you want to go and what you want to accomplish," says Rob Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a technology research firm.
A good starting point is to analyze how other businesses, particularly direct competitors, address mobilization. "It's a matter of learning by example," says Enderle. "If you look carefully at what worked and what didn't, you can benefit by avoiding the mistakes made by other companies."
Business owners and managers can also identify logical areas for mobilization by observing how employees go about their daily tasks. Derek Kerton, principal analyst with the Kerton Group, a wireless consulting firm, says this monitoring will likely trigger some basic questions. Would a traveling employee benefit by having on-the-spot access to key documents? Would workers benefit from being able to send information from the field back to the office? How much time does the average worker spend on the road, and are there mobile technologies that can make this employee more productive while traveling?
What's essential, says Namovic, is determining whether a particular application can provide some type of measurable value by being mobile. "To be beneficial, a mobile solution must deliver information more quickly, more efficiently or more effectively-or all three," he says.
Zero In On Needs
The next step for managers-especially those at smaller companies-is to zero in on the mobile device that best fits their business needs. They must choose from a variety of laptops and handhelds, including more smart phone options than ever from Palm, RIM (which manufactures BlackBerry® devices) and Apple, whose iPhone is making inroads into business environments. There are also more than a half-dozen different operating platforms to sort through. Enderle suggests focusing on no more than one product type. "It's unlikely that you'll have the resources to support more," he warns.
But which technology should your company select? "Pick the one that's strategic to you," Enderle says. Such thinking should take into account how, when and where the device will be used.
Acquiring the necessary mobile software is the next step. Most small and medium businesses, however, rely on commercial applications. Managers should therefore expect their primary software vendors to supply mobile versions of key applications. "[Suppliers] will have the resources and the RO I to build the mobile versions of their products," Kerton says. "It just doesn't make financial sense for a smaller company to attempt mobilizing its applications in-house." Another approach is to sign up with a vendor that offers software as a service (SaaS) programs, which are essentially rented software delivered to users via the Internet. When coupled with a high-speed wireless link, a SaaS application that runs on a laptop is generally no more difficult to access than its desktop counterpart.
What's more, some SaaS vendors offer mobilized versions of their applications. Those programs are specifically designed to accommodate the smaller screens and limited input capabilities of many handheld devices. "One of the advantages of a SaaS application is that the vendor has already gone through the integration work, so you can avoid a lot of the early deployment challenges," says Tim Wilson, a partner at Partech International, a venture capital firm. Hosted applications offer another advantage as well: "With SaaS," says Wilson, "you don't have to invest a lot of time and money in building and maintaining the mobile software infrastructure."
Lower Costs, Improved Service
As mobile technology continues to advance in the next few years, businesses will be able to place ever more powerful and useful mobile devices into employees' hands. "The phone will adhere to the Internet protocol in everything it does," Wilson says. "Eventually, everything will travel as IP traffic, making it easier for software developers to integrate voice, data and video."
On the hardware side, increased memory and storage capacity- particularly flash drives-are already enabling mobile devices to hold greater amounts of data, giving users the ability to work with larger files. At the same time, faster processors and speedier connections are letting mobile employees tap into sophisticated multimedia applications, including high-quality streaming video. That means workers are able to conduct on-demand presentations and demonstrations. It just keeps getting more compelling."We're just at the dawn of this new mobility era," Wilson says. "The possibilities that lie ahead are truly endless."
SMB Cuts the Cord
Small and medium businesses are growing more reliant on wireless telecommunications, and the travel industry is doing its part as well.
- Sometime in 2009, the estimated number of businesses with between five and 99 employees (worldwide) who use smart phones when traveling will pass 200 million.
- Since 2006, domestic travel among mobile-equipped SMBs has nearly doubled, while international travel has increased five-fold.
- Delta Airlines should have 500 planes equipped with Wi-Fi by the end of the year, and other leading U.S.-based airlines, including American, United, and Southwest are following suit.
- A May 2009 American Airlines survey found that 47% of frequent flyers would rather have Wi-Fi in flight than food.
Source: AMI-Partners Research Remote Control The mobile workforce is here to stay. CIOs cited what they consider to be the most important benefit of telecommuting.
Improves retention and employee morale through enhanced work/life balance 34%
Increases productivity by reducing commute time 28%
Don't know 16%
Saves money by requiring less office space 12%
Allows hiring of employees in locales with lower wage rates 6%
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