Injecting mobility into a business can have numerous positive effects on how a company operates, from boosting productivity and making cost savings, to empowering employees and adding flexibility into the workplace.
However, transitioning from fixed workspaces and desktop machines to a system of hot desks, laptops and smartphones can be easier said than done. The process of enterprise-wide mobility requires the participation of many departments, not just the IT team.
The planning stage
Given the variety of different business sectors and industries, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to mobility. Before an order is placed for company-wide laptops and smartphones, departments will need to discuss how a mobility strategy can be implemented in the most effective way.
Troy Fulton, product marketing director at enterprise IT specialist Tangoe, believes that several questions need to be asked before a company rolls out a mobility strategy.
"What's our strategy for driving business value? What end results do we want to achieve for employees, customers and partners? And, crucially, what is our starting point in real terms? Are we codifying a policy to legitimate behaviour that employees are already engaged in, or are we breaking new ground?" he said.
To this end, management and the IT department will need to assess the impact of the transition on employees by discussing the move with the HR department, which can glean an insight into whether a mobility strategy will disrupt or empower employees.
The legal department will also need to discuss the security risks posed by a more mobile workforce, as data will inevitably be taken beyond the confines of corporate firewalls, particularly when workers connect laptops to public WiFi hotspots.
A discussion then needs to be had with the finance department to establish a clear idea of the budget needed to carry out the mobility transformation.
A major part of this will involve assessing a company's existing IT infrastructure and ascertaining whether it can form part of a migration to mobility or will need replacing.
Given that such a move could mean scrapping an old but robust IT infrastructure to facilitate flexible working, the initial investment costs could cause financial officers to baulk at the idea, despite the theoretical benefits of a mobility-led business.
But with some careful planning, the different departments can formulate an approach that facilitates mobility without pushing costs or disruption to unpalatable proportions.
This could involve encouraging employees to use their own devices for work purposes, or harnessing cloud computing and virtualisation to minimise the need for new on-site hardware.
The second stage falls at the feet of the IT department, which will need to carry out the physical process of implementing a mobility strategy.
IT teams must ensure that the suitable hardware is available to employees, whether that involves swapping desktop computers for laptops, or providing tablets as a way of adding flexibility without completely discarding proven and familiar hardware.
With the assistance of the facilities management department, IT will also need to ensure that suitable on-site connectivity options are available across an office so that employees can get internet connectivity when away from their desks.
Installing more wireless access points will guarantee WiFi coverage across a facility, and providing access to Ethernet cables will address any need for more robust wired connections.
IT will also need to future-proof the infrastructure as much as possible to maximise the investment made in mobility. Gigabit routers and access points offering the latest version of WiFi connectivity (802.11ac) will provide a robust blanket of connectivity that has the capacity to cope with demands as the business grows.
Forward-thinking IT teams will also want to consider moving part of their infrastructure, such as file storage and non-sensitive applications, to cloud-based services.
This approach will not only improve the scope and longevity of a mobility strategy, but give employees working remotely more access to business tools and data without requiring applications or sensitive information to be stored locally on a laptop.
The IT team will need to plot security measures in tandem with the legal department, which must brief technicians on the levels of security needed for different departments.
For example, financial information will need to be managed in a way that prevents it being spread beyond corporate perimeters and accessed by people without the appropriate permissions.
It is important at this stage to remember that security and infrastructure parameters should be set up to add flexibility to, rather than hamper, the working lives of employees. Otherwise the shift to mobility could be pointless.
Box founder Aaron Levie is a keen advocate of such an approach. "Enterprises have to design IT with users at the centre of the strategy. IT attitude has to shift from ‘IT dictates' to ‘IT enables'," he said.
Given that the core of an ‘enabling' mobility strategy will involve the use of mobile devices, mobile data gateway vendor Wandera believes that employees must be educated in how to use mobile devices in a secure way when beyond the corporate firewall.
"Mobile devices bridge home and work life more than ever before, so it's important for businesses to define clear policies to protect staff and themselves. The IT department must work closely with HR to educate the company in best practice and policy," the firm said.
"Agreed at board level, these policies need to be clearly explained by HR, including guidance on what apps to avoid on devices used for work, what information should and should not be shared on different devices, and obligatory mobile security software on devices used for work."
Mobility in action
Once an infrastructure has been successfully transformed from static to mobile, the onus will need to shift from the IT team and include other departments.
Regardless of the initial planning, there may be some employees who find the move disconcerting, particularly if a hot desk approach has been adopted. Long-time staff will find that their previous working patterns have altered and will need to adapt to the change.
Here the HR department can help by ensuring that people are made aware of the benefits of a mobile working environment.
This could include encouraging them to work from home, arrange meetings at interesting external locations, or simply move to a different part of the office to engage with employees they might not work with on a regular basis.
The facilities team will need to work with the IT department to ensure that everything is running smoothly and that the changes are not disrupting any core parts of their company's operations.
Finance is likely to need to keep an eye on the early period of the transition to ensure that the investment in mobility is working to the company's benefit.
They will also need to liaise with IT and corporate management to discuss any areas that need improvement, and forecast budgets to include future IT changes.
There are many aspects and approaches to adopting a mobility strategy that require consideration and dismissal in equal measure, but the core of a successful transformation is collaboration.
A move to mobility will need all of a company's departments and sub-teams to play a part in actively leading or supporting a potentially disruptive but beneficial strategy.
The variation in scale and resources between departments can make collaboration an awkward process, so strong leadership from department heads will be needed to follow a mobility strategy from inception to execution.
The process may at first seem daunting, but the benefits of flexibility and efficiency make adopting mobility an opportunity too good to miss.
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