Mobility is not just about e-mail and Web surfing

Organizations that grant employees mobile connectivity solely through access to corporate e-mail and the Web are misleading themselves into thinking they actually have a mobile strategy, according to a recent study by IDC Canada Ltd.

The reality is, those organizations are only just starting to move beyond basic wireless enablement. True mobility is about leveraging business applications ranging from support and sales to finance and supply chain, said Sebastien Ruest, vice-president of infrastructure, software and services research with the Toronto-based research firm.

The disconnect, said Ruest, is likely due to an absence of a formalized mobilization roadmap. Their approach is mostly to say, “Hey, everyone is on e-mail, we’re going to be on e-mail … but there is no real valuation done to determine the benefits,” he said.

Culture and attitude are other roadblocks hindering Canadian organizations that tend to get a little hesitant when it comes to activities that “could really be true differentiators from a mobility perspective,” said Ruest.

The findings in the study, entitled Mobilizing Canada: Moving Beyond Wireless Enablement, are based on a survey of 255 senior IT and business decision-makers across organizations with at least $50 million in revenue. The study was sponsored by SAP Canada Inc.

The findings also revealed a misalignment between the expectations and actual benefits of mobility. While organizations initially like the idea of mobility as a means to improving worker productivity and responsiveness to customers, they later realize the benefits also include the ability to make faster business decisions with real-time connectivity, said Ruest.

On the topic of the most commonly mobilized business applications, respondents indicated service and support at 38 per cent, and sales and customer relationship management at 37 per cent. Ruest thinks help desk support is just the sort of business application that could really take advantage of mobility by getting rid of physical facilities and employing a system that allows employees to work from home.

Other business applications well-suited to mobility, yet not really applied, said Ruest, include consumer retail purchases and marketing, as well as real-time inventory and supply management using RFID.

But there are obstacles to adoption of a mobile strategy, the study found, with security concerns regarding remote data access, and whether legacy applications might be too outmoded to support a move towards mobility.

Oakville, Ont.-based Securit, a provider of records management and document destruction services, plans to launch a pilot for an SAP CRM mobile application on Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry this June in its U.K. location before expanding that mobility globally. Dan Snider, Securit’s vice-president for business systems, acknowledged that security can be a concern for organizations looking to go mobile. “Obviously if someone drops that device or loses that device and it’s not secured properly in terms of security protocols in the background, that device can be accessible by anybody,” said Snider.

And while the IDC study found that the economic downturn and tightened IT budgets will have an effect on adoption of a mobile strategy, Snider said in the case of Securit, mobility still proved to be an easy sell. Securit’s mobile strategy is largely driven by customers who demand better customer tracking among other things, and the benefits to sales representatives is just as obvious as “that’s an easy way of penetrating the marketplace.”

In the case of Securit’s sales representatives, Snider said it made little sense, from a cost perspective, to equip them with laptops. Instead, the company was drawn to RIM’s technology given the fact that it continues to evolve business-appropriate functionality, he said. Currently, Securit’s sales representatives “don’t have a real tool other than a notepad to do their jobs,” said Snider, adding that by applying their sales process to a mobile platform means “you’re getting mobility, and the system tool is replicating the process which is already defined.”

Similarly, mobility will replace the customers service representatives’ “pieces of paper with routing instructions attached to a clipboard.”

The rapid growth in mobile users has changed the way companies conduct business, which in turn has increased customer expectations for near-real-time business processes, said Mark Aboud, president and managing director with SAP Canada. While there are challenges to mobilizing employees, like cut budgets and lack of management buy-in, Aboud said “progressive thinking global companies and fast-growing customers are realizing that there are significant opportunities to improve productivity and business agility.”

According to Ruest, when assessing the need for a mobile strategy, organizations should ascertain the value based on what they are already doing mobility-wise and the industry they toil in. Ruest explained that if the company is still trying to go mobile on e-mail and the Internet, it’s pointless to jump to something like financial applications. Besides determining the value of such a strategy, organizations should identify the business-critical processes that will benefit, the degree to which their workforce is dispersed or in transit, and whether business operations require employees to be online in real-time.

“If you can answer partly yes to these questions, then it’s a justification to develop at least a roadmap for a mobile strategy,” said Ruest.

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