AT&T whitepaper foresees ubiquitous enterprise mobility by 2010

AT&T has released a whitepaper based on the results of a survey of hundreds of global executives that showed that mobility in the enterprise shows no sign of stopping.

The survey found that the use of mobile devices will be nearly universal come 2010. However, those three years could end up featuring some growing pains, according to Sean Ryan, a research analyst with IDC, who said that it’s still the early stages of mobile adoption in the enterprise, and that most companies are hesitant, due to the lack of enterprise-ready hardware and robust mobile applications, and the cost and difficulty of a wide roll-out.

But Michelle Warren, senior research analyst with the Info-Tech Research Group, said that she finds these figures completely plausible. “It’s more than reasonable that we might even see this occur a tiny smidgen of a bit faster, like in two-and-a-half years,” she said.

While Warren has found that customer service improvement is often cited as the No. 1 reason that a business would want to go mobile, the survey found that helping workers communicate better and improved productivity now seem the prime motivators for mobile adoption. While this could mean that the responders assumed that better customer service would be a natural byproduct of those two improvements, Warren thinks that this is actually the way of the future. She said, “I think it will shift away from customer service. It will shift from the obvious to measurable goals.”

Her predicted shift in focus to worker communication and productivity goes hand in hand with the rise of the mobile worker, which was another key driver for mobility adoption in the enterprise, with 38 per cent claiming it was the area where mobile technology would be of the most use in their company. Warren said that Canada especially is picking up on the mobile worker trend. “There are more and more remote workers in Canada—more in Canada than in the States, actually,” she said. “We’ll get there in three to five years when a mature mobile infrastructure is in place.”

Web browsing, e-mail, and instant messaging are still the most popular wireless data applications, with CRM, sales force, and field force applications at the bottom of the list. Warren was surprised by this, as she has seen such mobile applications being picked up more and more these days by the enterprise user. “They can be complex systems to be installed, but I think it would be at close to 50 per cent adoption rate in three years,” she said, while the survey pegged those application adoption rates as hitting the upper thirties/early forties in three years.

Said Ryan: “In the long-term, these definitely will be drivers that will really let companies differentiate themselves from the competition.” Regardless of the benefits, it’s still costly to implement a mobile strategy. This includes the barrier of telecommunications costs, Warren said. “We don’t have as much competition on the telco side, and we pay too much for telecommunications services, compared to other countries.”

Implementing and integrating a mobile strategy into the enterprise can be difficult for an IT professional to handle, due to the many factors involved and the relative newness of the practice. The key to getting a handle on the oncoming mobile enterprise, said Warren, is to be proactive. “IT and the business managers both have to understand where the other is coming from. IT is a support structure for business decision-making,” she said.

Ryan recommends that IT professionals aid in establishing the centralized policies and standards. “IT managers have to get involved, as they need to find a way to control these devices in the same way they do laptops or PCs, and manage privacy with software patches and upgrades. It’s very enabling, but more challenging for the IT manager because they can more easily be lost and stolen,” he said.

Warren also suggests that IT professionals should ask to sit in on budget meetings and help play a role so that the often-considerable costs of a mobile implementation don’t come as a shock—or don’t work within the budget. “IT has to be at the table. It’s inevitable that mobility will come, so they need to be there from the beginning,” she said. “IT is often seen as a cost centre, and often have to prove their value. This way, you can.”

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