Mobility represents one of the fastest-growing line items in most IT budgets as an increasing number of employees request and receive mobile services. Yet most companies don’t even have a mobility strategy: Only 40 per cent of the IT pros I work with have deployed one (though another 40 per cent say they’re developing one).

An effective mobility strategy should address a range of issues, including:

* Your organization’s goals for mobility;

* A road map for mobile-enabling key business processes (such as e-mail today, inventory applications within six months, unified communications within 12 months and so on);

* Success metrics for the initiative;

* A technology road map for deployment (such as smartphones for qualified users in 2008, 4G services in 2010)

Consolidated negotiations is another best practice. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: it’s best to negotiate for mobility services as part of a broader telecom contract that also includes core WAN services (MPLS, carrier Ethernet and so on), Internet access, and managed communications service. (We recommend a “matrix RFP” to cover the entire portfolio of communications services across geographies). One of the goals of a consolidated negotiation is to minimize the number of providers. While there’s no single correct answer for the “right” number of providers, most companies have between two and three providers (depending on geography and service requirements).

It’s also wise to manage billing for mobile services centrally to ensure consistency across user groups — similar categories of users should be accruing roughly similar charges. In fact, you’ll want to ask about the availability of centralized billing as part of the RFP. If it’s not available, at minimum you should plan for centralized auditing: reviewing and auditing bills centrally, while paying them locally or regionally.

Most companies also standardize on a limited set of mobile devices and services. Devices that are “out of spec” should not be permitted (except in exceedingly rare circumstances, such as the CEO really wants an iPhone). This simplifies support and asset management.

Try to avoid treating phones like status symbols ( I realize it’s difficult). Your organization should assign devices and services based on user roles, not seniority or job title. A good way to determine which devices and services are required is to look at the number of travel days (or out-of-office workdays) expected per employee. For example, employees who spend less than a day per week out of office may do fine with a voice-only cell phone; those that travel regularly may require both voice and data services; and folks who spend the majority of their time out of the office might need data-capable mobile devices plus wireless computing capabilities (such as an EVDO or Aircard).

Speaking of wireless data devices, I haven’t yet seen companies replace cell phones with VoIP-over-wireless (that is, softphones and Aircards) Although a few companies have experimented with such setups, they’ve generally found reliability and performance to be subpar (at least so far).

There’s more, but if you’re working to get your arms around the challenge of managing mobility in your organization, these recommendations represent a good first step.

(Johna Till Johnson is president of Nemertes Research of Mokena, Ill.)

From Network World US