About 10 years ago, the term „Mobile working“ mostly referred to a certain type of remote working, where employees were able to connect to their working environment using dedicated technologies like Virtual Private Network (VPN) connections and remote desktops. This was sometimes also referred to as “telecommuting”. Due to the limited bandwidth of mobile internet by that time, this type of remote work was usually tight to a wireline internet connection. For example the DSL connection in an employee’s house.
With the world-wide upgrade of mobile networks to 3G (and recently 4G) standards together with the rise of smartphones and tablets, the vision of “accessing everything at any time” has finally become a technical reality.
The ongoing evolution in the area of cloud-based services has added the last missing building blocks to finally make “Mobile working” feasible in a literal sense: Cloud-based e-mail solutions for example allow workers to read & reply to their business mails whenever and from wherever they want to, be it from home or while travelling. Cloud-storages like Dropbox or OneDrive allow working with documents in the cloud as easy as on a local drive, minus the need for a personal backup strategy plus some great features like co-editing documents simultaneously.
Some of the expected benefits of mobile working were already associated with telecommuting, like saving costs for office space (due to the reduced number of hours to be spent in the office) or increased employee satisfaction (because of less commuting to and from work).
But next to the actual connectivity layer, it is the growing maturity of mobile solutions that has boosted their acceptance and increased the demand for more business solutions to be “mobile ready”. Where some legacy websites still offer a separate version for mobile devices, today’s solutions are using responsive web design (RWD) to reduce the need for scrolling and resizing on mobile devices and hence increase the user experience. Modern frontend technologies like “Foundation” and “Bootstrap” allow the implementation of rich user interfaces that automatically optimize for smaller devices like mobile phones of tablets. The corporate website of Zurich insurance, the official homepage of the tennis open in Gstaad or the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research are a good example for such responsive web design.
There are numerous benefits an organization can gain from by enabling the mobile use of some of their systems or by developing special applications dedicated for mobile use: Sales teams for example can use mobile apps to demonstrate potential cost savings to clients based on customer context data, a reference price and an optimization algorithm. Field force engineers can read operation manuals on their tables and connect with other experts independent of their physical location. Pharmaceutical companies can provide mobile applications for their patients that remind them to take their medication while also offering them the possibility to send feedback about their well being while taking these drugs.
So how about the Digital Workplace and mobile working? Remember: The Digital Workplace “makes it possible to unlock and connect people, business information siloed in team sites, business applications, emails & ideas in people’s minds”.
Looking at some of the most common solutions that form a Digital Workplace (e.g. Enterprise social networks, CRM, collaboration tools etc.), many offer support for mobile devices already, allowing connecting with other people from wherever needed and granting mobile access to all information that is available within one Digital Workplace. This being said, mobile enabled business solutions are a perfect complement for a successful Digital Workplace.
No light without shadow
While modern technologies are finally allowing real mobile working, there are some risks associated that need to be considered.
Loss of governance
With more and more services running in a cloud environment, it becomes difficult to maintain the required governance since data and control are handed over to the cloud provider. Large organizations who are moving some of their business into a private cloud may be able to stay in charge of their governance. For smaller companies which are using common Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) like web-based e-mail, this possibility is usually very limited. Therefore it is key to map the expected cost benefits with possible risks associated with moving into the cloud. The same applies to any data security and data protections topics.
Heterogeneous application landscape
New cloud-based services with their immediate availability and often very attractive pricing models have motivated business units all over the world to bypass local IT architecture policies. This leads to a growing number of different solutions used across companies. A true nightmare for IT architects. It is the job of IT governance to make sure that existing policies are updated in order to find the right balance between the benefits of the cloud and the need to stay in control of the systems used within the organization. Otherwise the risks for locked-in scenarios and the creation of new data silos can’t be handled.
The further distribution of mobile-enabled business solutions leads to an even higher flexibility of our work. At the same time, effort has to be made to ensure compliance with internal and external policies. Cloud based solutions become an inevitable part of all IT strategies, no matter if looking at services or infrastructure. Mobile working is not a technical consideration anymore but one of using it in the most effective way.
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