by Don Campbell

Mobile Evolution Opens Doors to New Definition of “Workplace”

Jan 09, 20095 mins
IT LeadershipMobileSmall and Medium Business

Work is becoming less defined as a geographic destination and more about what you DO. Advances in mobile-accessible technology, from smartphones to business intelligence software, may enable a more productive workforce by pushing the boundaries of what can be accomplished on-the-go.

This year, for the first time ever, more people in the world will have a mobile phone than a land line. Mobile devices outnumber personal computers by three to one, credit cards by two to one and TVs by two to one (although not at my house!). IBM’s Institute for Business Value predicted the number of mobile Internet users will grow 191 percent from 2006 to 2011, to reach a billion.

Against this backdrop, work is becoming less and less defined as a place that you go, and is more defined by what you do. There has been a rapid shift in workplace dynamics recently, with knowledge workers outside the traditional office boundaries much more frequently. Given the increase in the number of remote workers and the growing trend for individuals to work on- the-go, there is a resulting need to be connected and to interact with business-critical information wherever you are— whether it’s visiting customers, tele-working, or accessing information in the manufacturing plant about customer orders or product performance.

Things get complicated without the ability to interact with people and information at the same level as when you’re physically in the office: How do you access the most up to date performance information that is relevant to your job while on the road or in the air? More importantly, how do you capitalize on the important information contained in these reports and continue to make decisions that move the business forward?

Mobile workers driving on-the-go access to business-critical information

Fueling this growth is the industry shift towards remote working and the ability for users to do a lot more on mobile devices than ever before. Cellular phones and PDAs now provide alternative, powerful means to process business information vs. a PC or laptop. The sheer variety of Web-based applications in existence and the fact that you can now use a Web browser on a mobile device with a familiar Web interface to work with personal and business information are all part of this changing landscape of mobile accessibility—a landscape which impacts both consumers and businesses.

Usability demands beyond location also impact the rapid shift to ubiquitous mobile accessibility. Traditionally, most advanced software and information access has required specialized training, which was neither time- nor cost-effective for organizations. Technological advancements in mobile applications permit more user-friendly access, offering functions such as those similar to Web browsing. Coupled with the growing size of the mobile workforce and advanced device capabilities, what we are now seeing is a “consumerization of IT.” This is a term coined by industry analyst firm Gartner, explaining how people access and interact with technology and information outside of the workplace.

What if you could access the business information and systems you need via mobile devices, while you are not physically in the office? The result is increased productivity with fewer location-based restrictions. It is a trend taking off rapidly beyond e-mail to other applications, including key information gleaned from performance management systems.

The consumerization of business information

Mobile business information naturally blends with other ubiquitous mobile applications, such as e-mail. The mobile device is now a place where you can consume relevant information about your business, such as the business intelligence dashboards, scorecards, analysis and reports that you traditionally only saw while at the office.

The mobile device is the perfect platform to deliver information that users would access a daily basis at their desk, but need wherever they are. Those users might be executives looking for their daily dashboard of sales results, mobile field technicians who are logging their deliveries to-the-minute, healthcare workers pinpointing the location of life-saving medical equipment or baggage handlers tracking important cargo. Mobile access to key performance information increases productivity by putting core business information directly in the hands of the user, driving quicker, better decisions regardless of location. Developers are taking existing applications and essentially making them available in a mobile environment, thereby reducing training time needed because almost everyone has a cell phone and knows how to use it.

This mobile “business intelligence” is also a step towards “location intelligence,” which can contribute the additional element of “where you are” to the application, giving mobile access a new type of business value. For example, police officers could get updated intelligence regarding outstanding warrants while moving through their jurisdictions. The location information would help law enforcement officers increase productivity real-time, while also providing corresponding safety benefits.

With work no longer a “place” where you receive pertinent business information and remain productive, the trend towards a larger mobile or remote workforce is even more of a reality. Advances in mobile-accessible technology, from more sophisticated devices with increased processing power to business intelligence software, will enable a more productive workforce by pushing the boundaries of what can be accomplished “on-the-go.” No longer does location mean restricted access. With more user-friendly applications and evolving platforms, the sky’s the limit. And mobile devices fit into your pocket much easier than desktops and laptops.

Don Campbell is Chief Technology Officer, Business Intelligence and Performance Management at IBM.