Productivity paradigm shifts

With mobility becoming increasingly pervasive throughout the enterprise, IT managers and CIOs must convince desk-bound employees that the technology is there to be embraced as a productivity enabler. Rodney Gedda spoke to end users and vendors to discuss to ease the transition.

When law firm Arnold Bloch Leibler's (ABL) IT director David Leong first introduced the idea of mobile office applications he met with some resistance from workers perceiving intrusion of work outside regular hours.

"The first resistance, or barrier, to mobility is that a lot of employees don't want it in the first instance [because] they see it as a sign the workplace wants them to be available all the time," Leong said, adding the shift to mobile applications is akin to the mobile phone revolution when there was acceptance but people didn't want to be contactable all the time.

Although employees ask 'why do I need e-mail all the time?' Leong believes that as the world is heading towards people expecting an instant response to any transaction, it will gather acceptance.

"For example, if I sent a company-wide e-mail asking if staff want mobile e-mail many wouldn't; on the flipside there are the people that have it and can't live without it," he said.

"It can be an issue from a client-service perspective. It can be seen as 'toys for boys' but when you have to be contactable it can be very handy." Whilst ABL encourages mobility, the firm has guidelines for its deployment, so that it makes business sense.

To help overcome any uncertainty, ABL initially held training seminars, because mobility "costs a bit of money", and because IT needed to get all the key stakeholders on side in order to get funding. Workshops customized to what employees need in their jobs were also held.

When asked about other business applications going mobile, Leong said, "Do it as a sustained approach."

"Say it's similar to mobile e-mail because people understand the concept of mobile e-mail now and how there is no need to double-handle information. The generation coming through accepts the progress of technology."

Since generation X and Y have come through text messaging they will just "pick up" mobile e-mail as "the barriers are already broken".

"We've gone beyond the PC now and people value mobility as a productivity tool because it gives them the option not to be desk-bound," he said.

Chris Tubridy, IT manager at Pittwater Council - on Sydney northern beaches peninsula - also saw the paradigm shift to mobile applications, but the directive came from senior management.

"We had an influential GM," Tubridy said. "He said eight years ago 'I'm supplying IT so I expect you to use it'. We just had to make it [mobility] work and I hate having to ram things down people's throats."

Tubridy said there was a shift, but employees didn't need a lot of convincing.

"The only bad experience was with people being slack and letting the PDA [batteries] go flat," he said. "They then needed reconfiguring which took at least 30 minutes."

Tubridy said all businesses should be in the process of moving to a mobile platform.

"It's just a little harder to support because you have more to support," he said.

Mobile 365's manager Cameron Franks believes the move to mobile applications should be an easier change if there is simple technology to work with. "We are seeing an increase in simple mobile messaging to improve business-to-employee communication," Franks said. "In many cases where all employees have mobiles, you can roll out applications to the devices people are already familiar with."

Mobile 365 has partnered with Red Oxygen to develop software that integrates Outlook and Notes e-mail with SMS for a corporate messaging solution. This allows staff to set SMS reminders for meetings.

"We do a lot of messaging with Citibank for customer updates on accounts and markets," Franks said. "Citibank also uses it internally for corporate communications which is being delivered through the same phone."

Franks said mobility is offering a different experience to a PC because people use mobiles in different ways.

"If it saves time, businesses will use a mobile device to alert employees to new information, such as sales leads," he said. "Mobility is more of a supplement technology than complete PC replacement."

Franks said there is a lot of excitement in the market on what can be done with mobility.

"The ubiquitous form is still text messaging - the bedrock of mobile communications," he said. "Text doesn't require special devices and reduces call costs."

Vodafone's business segments marketing manager Daniel Johnson agrees with Leong that there is a shift and the technology savvy will be the leaders while the laggards will go towards traditional methods.

From an employee acceptance standpoint, Johnson said mobility has the advantage of offering a better work-life balance.

"Challenges include how you structure the workforce to work on organizational culture and training to accommodate the changes," Johnson said, adding that good cost control is essential so there is no abuse by employees.

"With hotdesking [at Vodafone] we've had to be quite innovative," he said. "We changed the office layout. The common area is a bit of fun where people can talk to each other. This is also a break-out area for personal calls."

Vodafone is now doing customer experience trials to see what types of information the mobile network is being used for.

"How can we make mobility relevant to customers?" he said. "There are two phases for businesses. How to make the mobile office seamless, which is not quite there yet, and how to use mobility as an enabler for competitive advantage."

Johnson said the finance industry, which once had bank managers but now has mortgage brokers, is a prime example of the change to mobility.

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