In this short brief, Dale Vile discusses the role of connected mobile working in the context of the overall business transformation activity that has been taking place in most organisations over the past decade or two. He then goes on to provide to advice and guidance to executives on how best to manage the specific change to connected mobile working from a business perspective.
The Business Context
Mobile working is nothing new. Travelling sales people and tradesmen have been with us for as long as anyone can remember, and in industry today, we have many more examples of workers operating outside of a fixed base - consultants on projects, accountants conducting audits, engineers on construction sites, and so on, not to mention managers roving from office to office as they go about their business.
Against this background, it's interesting to consider why everyone is talking so much about mobile working at the moment, given that it's essentially a very old concept. So what is it that's changed to put the mobile working conversation back on the management agenda?
In order to understand this, we need to consider some of the other changes that businesses have gone through over the past couple of decades. To begin with, for example, organisations today are now much more dependent on information technology, and access to IT systems has become either a mandatory part of many job functions or a key enabler of efficiency and effectiveness. Another trend that's had a huge impact is the degree to which everything is becoming connected electronically - people to people, businesses to businesses, markets to markets, etc.
The great thing about these trends is that people sitting at their desks or operating in some other location within the business are now much more plugged into both the immediate work environment and the wider world in which they and their business operate. Sending an email to query an order to a customer in the USA or a supplier in Korea from a desk in the UK is now something people take for granted.
The Inclusive Approach
Along the way, though, the mobile workforce has often been left out, as use of IT and communications has traditionally been dependent on being in a location that has physical access to the necessary systems. A big part of the discussion going on today therefore, is not so much to do with implementing mobile working per se, but getting existing mobile workforces properly connected so they can participate in business processes and communications as efficiently and effectively as their office and depot dwelling colleagues. The business logic for doing this is pretty much the same as it has been for automation in general - better business visibility, increased accuracy of information, more effective decision making, shorter process cycle times and a general lowering of operational costs and risks.
Having said this, providing mobile and remote access capability to solve the mobile worker disconnect also creates new opportunities, such as allowing previously fixed parts of the workforce the freedom to work from home or other locations. Businesses may be interested in enabling this for cost reasons, e.g. cutting office space related overheads, or flexibility reasons, e.g. allowing users to better dovetail their work and personal time, something which can increase both productivity and employee loyalty. Whatever the drivers, enabling connected mobile working is what it's really all about in the modern business environment, and this is such a natural extension of the other trends we have been discussing that moving in this direction is inevitable for most businesses.
Given this inevitability, it is probably worth thinking sooner rather than later about how the introduction and use of mobile technology will be managed if you are not doing so already. Otherwise, solutions will creep into the organisation in an uncontrolled manner from the bottom up through individual workgroups and users, potentially creating unwanted conflicts, risks and costs.
So what needs to be considered for those who want to be more proactive about embracing the change?
Managing the Change
Well, the first piece of advice is to create the right environment. While some advocate building a grand plan for how mobile and remote access is going to be rolled out across the business, this is not always the best approach. For one thing, the thought of doing this can be quite daunting, meaning it never gets started. More to the point, however, it's an impossible task anyway as both the business and technology parts of the mobile working equation are subject to constant change. It is therefore far more effective to put an operational framework in place that will allow specific requirements and opportunities to be addressed as they arise.
In terms of the framework itself, there are essentially three dimensions to it. The first is concerned with technology infrastructure, which deals with application access mechanisms, security, systems management, monitoring and so on. We then have the process and policy dimension, covering everything from how equipment and services are acquired and deployed (e.g. whether/how personal devices will be used), through how users will be trained and supported, to the way in which costs and expenses will be budgeted and accounted for as people begin to work differently.
Finally, there are the more cultural and personal considerations, such as ensuring the right level of social interaction within the workforce to avoid employees becoming isolated, and providing advice and guidance on how to maintain the appropriate work/life balance in the face of technologies like mobile email that can easily take over your life.
Pulling together these various dimensions can be a challenge if you try to drive it purely from within one department, so a good place to start is to coordinate activity at the management team level across the relevant disciplines. In practice, this means getting IT and HR management collaborating with line of business managers to work through the implications and requirements, together with involvement from financial management so the necessary investments may be appropriately understood and prioritised. It is worth emphasising the earlier point, however, that the aim of such coordination is not to come up with a grand plan or the definitive strategy, just a policy and operational framework within which specific initiatives and activity can take place. The detail can then be added as individual projects are funded and executed.
If having read this, you are still unsure about whether it's worth spending the time considering how mobile working related developments will impact your business and how to deal with their introduction, we can only advise that you check out what your workforce is up to right now. The chances are the impact is already occurring.
Originally published in the T-Mobile "Business in Focus" customer magazine
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