With the deluge of devices entering the market from PDAs to smart phones and iPhones, combined with the expansion of high speed cellular and Wi-Fi networks, it makes increasing sense to allow workers in the field to connect directly with business applications in the office.
Encouraged by managers who see the value of mobilizing business processes for greater company efficiency, and by staff whose frequent travel means mobile communication lets them enjoy the freedom of completing their daily tasks on the move, MIS departments are introducing initiatives to deliver the mobile enterprise.
However, to ensure that business goals are kept clearly in mind, a carefully structured plan is required. In larger organizations, this requires serious consideration from the CIO working together with company directors. For small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), there is a growing array of options that do not require specialist knowledge or heavy investment in infrastructure-standardized applications can be accessed online to access the benefits of wireless communications.
The mobile device is coming of age for businesses across the spectrum, but not without some growing pains.
According to Robin Simpson, Gartner's research director for open source, mobile and wireless, there is a convergence of key trends driving adoption of mobile devices within the enterprise: 'Young employees are a major force for innovation because they bring to an organization the experience of using the latest consumer technology - internet 2.0 applications like Facebook, YouTube and MySpace - wireless home networking, smart phones and other consumer devices.'
Fan Ye, Microsoft's business group lead for mobile communications business, added that people want to combine their business and personal lives, giving them an extra sense of freedom and efficiency. 'Mobile applications are becoming pervasive and very soon all 'road warriors' will receive a mobile device along with laptop when they start a new job,' said Ye. 'Access to office activities is what they want on the road: mobile messaging and email are already commonplace.'
He said that traveling employees want to access company files and meeting schedules. They also want to view Powerpoint presentations and surf the net in a format that is compatible with a small screen format.'
Sounding a note of caution, Gartner's Simpson explained that individuals are keen to use mobile devices at work in a similar way as they do in their personal lives and consequently pressure is placed on MIS departments to provide support. 'However, MIS frequently lacks both a clear way to handle such requests and a roadmap for a complete mobile strategy,' Simpson added.
The risk then arises that a quick-fix policy may be introduced to respond to each individual request. While mobility is a key growth trend, careful consideration needs to be given to security, standardization, and to the suitability of devices in different roles within the organization. Simpson also stressed the need to establish a clear understanding of the underlying cost/benefit analysis.'
'MIS departments need to be very proactive and not allow a similar scenario to the introduction of the Palm Pilot, when staff independently synchronized their devices with office PCs,' said Simpson. 'Consequently CIOs must work with company directors to build consensus and a shared commitment to business goals.'
'There is frequently a significant gap in expectation about mobile devices between MIS managers and business owners,' said Chris Lau, SmarTone's director of future services.