• December 3, 2015

FIVE STEPS to Enabling a Mobile Workforce

It’s amazing to think that most employees’ smartphones and tablets offer more storage, processing power and functionality than an enterprise-class mainframe computer did less than a generation ago. Such dramatic advancements in technology have not only made mobile devices powerful business tools, but also allow workforces to conduct business around the clock, regardless of time or location.

Recognizing the opportunity to increase worker productivity and improve customer engagement, many organizations have developed applications specifically for mobile devices. Customer-facing applications for sales, field service and delivery logistics were among the first steps toward what’s often called enterprise mobility. Today, mobile workers are using an increasingly wider variety of applications, including business intelligence, analytics, remote workgroup collaboration and social media.

Add to that the development of fast, reliable, ubiquitous wireless connectivity with strong security and the result is growing support among business executives for enterprise mobility in general and specifically for using mobility to empower their workforces. This trend is true across organizations of all sizes: An IDG study1 notes that improved end-user productivity is the top driver for investments in mobility among small and medium-sized businesses, while a second study focused on larger enterprises found that mobility is a critical or high priority for 69% of business executives.2

Business executives aren’t the only ones who see the potential benefit in using mobility throughout their workforces. Market research firm Altimeter Group points out that 94% of chief information officers believe that enterprise mobility has become an important part of their enterprise IT strategy.3 Whether organizations are tacitly accepting this trend through bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programs or proactively enabling mobile solutions, the end result is the same: Mobility is changing how, when and where employees work. No longer deskbound by using traditional desktop computers, they are using notebooks and other mobile devices to work from remote offices, from home, on the road or at customer locations. For example, insurance claims adjusters now routinely use mobile devices and applications to help policyholders immediately file insurance claims after an accident. Another example is in healthcare, where doctors and nursing staff routinely conduct a wide range of bedside care activities using mobile technology that allows them to immediately share information with hospital pharmacies, admission offices, insurance companies and compliance departments.

Business leaders undoubtedly are keenly interested in mobility because of its ability to improve customer interaction, create new revenue opportunities and improve worker productivity. But at the same time, they want to ensure that the technology doesn’t create problems related to security, privacy, unanticipated costs or loss of critical information.

Organizations that have been most successful in using mobility to empower their workforces have typically begun by designing a comprehensive strategic plan to address these issues. While business goals and operating priorities differ among companies, there are a few common steps any organization should take when it comes to supporting a mobile workforce. Here are five of them:

Envision mobility as the heart of your interaction model.

Keep in mind that there are two important types of interactions for organizations: employee empowerment and customer engagement. In both cases, the goal should be to provide universal access to people, applications and data. Your global workforce undoubtedly needs to be in front of clients and business partners with high frequency. Employees need mobile technology and applications to help them solve customer problems, understand business objectives, and sell both existing and new products and services. But giving your workforce the ability to conduct important work at customer sites—such as checking inventory levels, shipment data or payment status or taking new orders—requires reliable, secure access to corporate databases and enterprise applications.

Establish clear, attainable business goals and measurable outcomes for enterprise mobility.

For instance, it’s not enough to simply say that all field salespeople need notebooks and remote access to your customer relationship management applications. Your business goals for mobility need to be specific and quantifiable—for example, increase sales of add-on products by a certain percentage or reduce errors when prescribing medication. Your business goals for mobility need to align with your overall strategic focus, such as improving customer satisfaction or increasing market share and profitability by selling existing customers more services from your portfolio.

Commit to a strategy of application modernization as part of your enterprise mobility program.

Developing, acquiring, integrating and operating new mobile applications can motivate your workforce and enable significant productivity gains. But you probably won’t realize the full benefit unless your IT organization modernizes its portfolio of business applications to make it easier, more reliable and less expensive to manage on a day-to-day basis. In fact, 43% of respondents to a recent study said that integrating existing business applications with mobile applications was either prohibitive or involved significant constraints.4 Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that applications are the responsibility of the IT department: Every business executive has a vested interest in making sure that the organization’s portfolio of applications are up to date and as lean and rationalized as possible.

Embrace the BYOD trend—and support your IT organization’s efforts to manage it properly.

The widely discussed BYOD trend is now increasingly part of how organizations work. But business leaders must understand that their IT organizations need executive support when it comes to issues such as putting in place strong security safeguards to prevent stolen devices and data loss. It’s not enough to give employees the flexibility of using their own smartphones and tablets to access company data. IT organizations need sufficient resources for such functions as device management, identity management and mobile applications support. Imagine you have salespeople working five time zones away from the main IT support location and they can’t do a sales transaction at a customer site. All the productivity and business gains you hoped to achieve through a well-thought-out BYOD program will fail to materialize unless the IT organization can support mobile users at any time.

Remember that security and compliance are critical business issues, not merely technology concerns.

Business leaders should be collaborating with IT organizations to develop security best practices for an increasingly mobile workforce. Failure to do so could result in service interruptions, data loss, threats to customer privacy and compromised intellectual property. Also keep in mind that widespread compliance and legal issues come into play when mobile workforces fail to take proper safeguards. For instance, imagine what would happen if a tablet or smartphone with electronic medical records got lost and patient information fell into the wrong hands. Certainly, employees must take due diligence in using their devices properly and maintaining proper security protocols when accessing enterprise data. But the employee and IT department aren’t the only ones responsible for ensuring such safeguards—it’s an enterprise wide business imperative.