Mobility a big factor for younger IT staff

Service providers and vendors are pitching mobility to the enterprise based on potential productivity gains, but analysts say attracting the top young talent and immigrants in a competitive labour environment provides another compelling case for adoption.

Microsoft Canada used a March mobility roundtable in Toronto to release the results of an Ipsos Reid survey on the views of Canadian businesses toward mobility, and showcase examples of mobile adoption.

The study indicated 59 per cent of respondents (21 per cent strongly) agreed that having a mobile device to connect to information such as e-mail when outside of the office would improve their productivity, while 40 per cent disagreed (20 per cent strongly).

The results also indicated businesses are looking for more than just e-mail, including voice calls, Web access, access to their corporate Intranet and the ability to review and edit documents.

While Canadian businesses may see benefits in mobility, statistics from research firm IDC indicate our adoption lags our global competitors. At the end of 2004, wireless penetration in Canada stood at 47 per cent, compared to 56 per cent in the U.S., 85 per cent in Australia and 100 per cent or more in some Western European countries.

Mike Bulmer, Microsoft Canada’s product manager for Microsoft Office, said the company’s OS for mobile devices, Windows Mobile 5.0, and the upcoming Office release are designed to get the right people access to the right information to best leverage the productivity gains mobility can bring. But he added mobile tools like instant messaging and text messaging are beginning to migrate into the business world as the next generation of tech savvy youth begin to enter the workforce.

“Businesses need to be able to take advantage of this new workforce that is coming on line” said Bulmer.

The way to do that, he said, is to integrate the mobile tools the youth are used to into your business processes. Marc Parella, vice-president of the technology group with IDC Canada, agreed, adding that youth today expect a certain level of technology.

“They want to be dealing with things that are fun and interesting, and having technology that enables that is part of the lure,” said Parella. “You want to be seen as a leader, an innovator, somebody that’s ahead of the pack.”

Parella added that Canada is a country heavily dependant on immigration, and much of that immigration is coming from places where mobility is the norm. If Canada is to attract the most highly-skilled immigrants, he said, mobility will be important.

Some Canadian companies are getting on board with mobility and seeing results. Working with Barrie, Ont.-based Microsoft partner and technology integrator Interprom Inc., the Blevins Insurance Group has rolled out mobile devices for its mobile sales force.

A provider of employee benefit and retirement savings plans also based in Barrie, Blevins’s field staff are now using UTStarcom’s PocketPC device from Telus Mobility, running Windows Mobile 5.0.

Jody Cybulski, a partner and senior benefits consultant with Blevins, said the devices are saving the company over $120,000 annually in billable hours and gasoline by letting him spend more time on the road meeting with clients and less time driving back to his office to get documents or connect with his assistant.

“I know nothing about the servers or technology…it’s all Greek to me,” said Cybulski. “But I know it works for me.”

Cybulski spends much of his time on the road in the Toronto area, meeting with clients, and he said the devices have saved him two hours a day in commuting time. He can receive and edit documents on the device, update his appointments, and use downtime to catch up on e-mail or use the Web to research a prospect while he sits in their lobby.

“If I’m in the office I’m not making money,” said Cybulski.

Wendy Cukier, associate dean of business at Toronto’s Ryerson University, said the real productivity gains will come not from e-mail but through field access to information in the corporate backend, such as CRM and ERP systems.

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