Managing Mobility in the Enterprise

In coming years, the first half of 2008 may be viewed as a watershed in the evolution of enterprise mobility: the moment when the cumulative demands of increased usage, device divergence, security and compliance first made managing mobility a top concern of CIOs.

In fact, mobility now leads the 2008 agenda for U.S. and European network/telecom decision-makers, according to a survey conducted in April by Forrester, a Cambridge, Mass.-based research company. The No. 1 goal, noted by 65 percent of respondents, is “providing more mobility support to employees.”

In some industries—including transport and logistics, shipping, emergency services and retail—the “provide more mobile support” imperative reads as a no-brainer. Mobility now plays in these fields both as a commonplace technology that enables business to function on a day-to-day basis and as an emerging technology that produces new mines of information and insight to exploit.

Jim Ligorski, CTO of Brooklyn, N.Y.-based medical-transport provider TransCare, explains one common usage: “We began with a simple idea: GPS on mobile handsets would free our dispatchers from having to constantly call out to the trucks and ask, ‘Where are you?’”

“Then we saw all this data coming in and realized we could use it to tackle much more challenging problems,” he continues. “For example, we use cumulative GPS route data to analyze where to park trucks based on expected demand. And we use the GPS database to optimize our staffing and shifts to ensure all parts of our region receive appropriate service and that employees can reach their assigned vehicles efficiently.

“We’re looking into optimizing routes to save on fuel, and we’re tightening up our operation in many other ways—all from this constantly expanding body of information. All our work with mobility translates directly into improved profit margins and better service quality.”

Elsewhere, in service and information businesses, the need to provide more and better support for mobility may be seen less as an IT-sponsored, ROI-justified strategic decision than as a proactive adaptation to a perfect storm of factors: demographic and work-style shifts that increase demand; growing device and service diversity that increases complexity; and the risks that result from all of these.

It’s common to observe that the millennial workforce wants to be mobile, is already so in their personal life and demands similar accommodations in the workplace. But other business, technology and cultural dynamics now play what may be a more important and practical role in accelerating the spread of mobility in the enterprise—and in elaborating the risk picture.

The personal nature of small-device mobile technology—the tendency of users to collapse business and personal life onto one device—was long viewed as a reason for business to resist subsidizing mobility for the general worker population. However, tech-savvy employees, including many in the IT ranks, quickly learned to exploit personal mobile devices for professional advantage “off the grid.” They then began agitating, in tandem with executive early adopters, for the ability to integrate their personal devices with their companies’ IT infrastructure.

In many businesses, the result is a disconnect between official mobility policy—which seeks in many ways to emulate the regimented approach taken with PCs—and the actual situation, which is much more accommodating. According to Forrester’s report, 75 percent of firms surveyed have a mobility policy wherein they purchase devices and service on behalf of employees. Another approximately 15 percent adopt hybrid policies that permit employees to purchase their own devices, but the enterprise subsidizes a portion of the service fees. Only 10 percent do not pay anything for employee mobility.

Sixty-six percent of the survey respondents say they offer mobility to employees based strictly on title and responsibilities. But when asked to specify exact criteria for granting employees access to mobile tools, a more variable picture emerges. About the only consistently reported requirement is travel, and 25 percent of respondents say that decisions on employee mobility are made on a case-by-case basis.

Another response belies any assertion that enterprise mobile solutions have been systematized in an exclusionary way: When North American mobility decision-makers were asked which of six popular handheld operating systems they supported, the standard answer included a minimum of two. The majority named the BlackBerry, with Windows Mobile 6x the runner-up. More than 25 percent also confirmed support for Palm OS, Windows CE and Linux.