Keep it Simple
Recent Gartner research indicates that by 2005, 65% of the Global 1000 will extend an array of critical business applications to workers in the field. While there is a consensus that empowering a mobile workforce will lead to business benefits such as increased productivity, there is also increasing concern that the complexity of mobile devices may stop progress in its tracks.
While users may demand variety in both content and devices, they can barely use what they already have effectively. According to a recent survey of mobile phone users in the U.K. conducted by Wacom Components Europe, a subsidiary of the Japan-based supplier of interface technology for the Microsoft Tablet PC, a whopping 85% of users said accessing their phone functions is too complicated. What's more, 95% of users felt frustrated when trying to access mobile content and applications.
The survey looked at consumers, but corporate users have also come to expect a mobile data experience similar to what they would get on a PC. Following this logic, all mobile content should be one click away. Since devices aren't designed this way out of the box, SurfKitchen, a U.K.-based provider of mobile desktop software, has decided to, in essence, override the manufacturers' user interface. "An enterprise mobility strategy can't deliver results if there isn't a buy-in from the employees," notes Scott Allen, a SurfKitchen director. "Ease of use and convenience are key to driving service usage."
The SurfKit Mobile Enterprise Edition desktop provides users a customized and simplified graphical user interface that enables them to access the enterprise intranet-based business applications, as well as enabling extra services, including a suite of relevant content such as business news and traffic alerts. The desktop is dynamic and may be updated and branded by either the enterprise or the mobile operator. Operators and enterprises alike can pre-install SurfKitchen's client software in the phones, send it over the air to devices already in users' hands, or let users beam it via Bluetooth or infrared to their handsets at special access points. "Our vision," says Allen, "is to make the mobile handset a much more visual experience for the user, and get away from a voice and listening experience. What you see is what you get, and you should be able to get to it by clicking through a very simple desktop."
The Always-on Enterprise
Because of the ease, speed, and business benefits mobile communications provide, virtual coordination is faster, cheaper, and easier. But it will also become more complex as companies introduce yet another emerging variable into mobility strategies: objects.
Indeed, the spread of Internet and wireless technologies combined with the availability of low-cost embedded microprocessors and sensors will revolutionize the workplace and allow an increasing number of business processes to take place without human intervention. Moreover, the clever combination of wireless modules and technologies like RFID (Radio Frequency Identification)—smart tags that track every item—will provide the enterprise real-time visibility into its key business processes such as supply chain management and sales. The result will be a real-time, real-life enterprise where objects will be able to actively sense, record, and transmit information about themselves to either human supervisors or other objects. Moreover, intelligent objects could communicate information about every aspect of the object including its location and how it was made, how it has been handled or stored, and when it's due for repair.
The mega-trend of machine-to-machine communications (M2M) represents the greatest challenge in the 21st century, according to Orange's Bernard. Companies will need to dig down deep in their existing structures and regroup activities around business processes. More importantly, companies will need to erase the boundaries between fixed and mobile—and object and human.
As Bernard sees it, information, communication, and the real world are converging in real-time. For this reason, Orange recently teamed up with Wavecom, a U.S.-based provider of integrated technology solutions for wireless voice and data applications, to market and sell a targeted M2M solution. The end-to-end package combines Orange's M2M Connect platform and a fully compatible M2M module from Wavecom.
Looking ahead, enterprises will have to re-engineer their businesses to pave the way for the "real-life aware" organization. Corporations may have been part of a value chain, he says, but in now they are linked in a value web where collaboration with partners, suppliers, customers—and soon objects—is crucial to success. In this new corporate ecosystem, strength is in numbers, and only companies that have the right connections will move ahead.
"The real power of mobile content and information is unleashed when it is shared," Bernard observes. "The challenge is not to come up with yet another breakthrough technology to improve mobility. Rather, companies should learn to use what they have in an organized, integrated, and unified way."
Sidebar: Mobiel Stats
The exponential growth of the Internet coupled with advances in interconnectivity and the drop in bandwidth prices effectively allow more workers to access more information than ever before. IDC, a global market research company, reports mobile professionals now account for some 48% of the workforce in Europe, and over 63% in the U.S.
According to "Destination Wireless," a business survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit on behalf of Intel in April 2004, the advent of mobile computing is blurring the borders of the workplace. Professionals reported they spend an increasing amount of time working outside the office, and expect to spend some 42.4% of their time working away from the office just two years from now.
Overall, business professionals are adjusting well to working on the move, but some see serious drawbacks. While half indicate they are as productive outside the office as they are inside, 31% say they are actually less productive away from the office.
Sidebar: Companies Featured in This Article
Booz Allen Hamilton www.bah.com
Economist Intelligence Unit www.eiu.com
HP (Network and Service Provider division) www.hp.com
Orange Business Solutions www.orange.co.uk
Research In Motion (RIM) www.rim.net www.blackberry.com