"Let ‘Em Loose": The Case for a Mobile Workforce

A mobile workforce changes the game in many ways. For one, having workers absent from their desks diminishes the interaction with colleagues—the water fountain/coffee room klatches—that can lead to helpful solutions and emerging insights. That kind of camaraderie should not be taken lightly.

Mobile workers also need a very different infrastructure. There needs to be a means of supporting those who work from their cars, or their homes or from the beach for that matter, that is very different from the in-place systems that have been put in place and are monitored and tested on a usual basis. There is very little in place (in most companies) to ensure that workers “in the field” have effective access via their mobile devices to the same information assets they are accustomed to from their desktops.

Finally, there’s the fear from managers that mobile workers are just messing around. From a recent Forbes article: “A recent survey conducted by Citrix notes that a majority of workers who have never worked remotely (64%) identified at least one extremely popular perk they’d be willing to give up to be able to do so just one day a week: lunch breaks (32%), alcohol (25%) or coffee (20%).” Alcohol? Really?

“Today’s managers are at a crossroads, needing to balance flexibility and productivity. Traditionally, their role was to supervise, direct and interact face-to-face with employees. That was easier with employees at their desks from nine to five. Managers could stop by at any time and check in. Now how can they maintain solid oversight while allowing their employees the freedom to work remotely?”

The solution providers in today’s mobile workspace business seem unfazed by all that. They are hard-focused on creating applications that allow a mobile, work-at-home community to flourish and endure.

As one of the articles, this one by Interneer, following in this white paper states: “Supporting improved productivity; greater customer engagement; less cost and greater ease of doing business, mobile apps can give you a significant competitive advantage. The time for transformation is now; but many organizations are struggling with the time-to-value proposition of their mobile app initiatives, while others still desperately need a way to simply get started.”

That’s correct, but I would also argue that companies need a way to justify a mobile workforce. And more than that, manage it.

From the same Forbes article (which I should credit to Mark Dixon, the founder and chief executive of Regus), “When you’re not regularly face-to-face it can be easy to let things slide, but you must always be engaged, consistent and flexible. Trusting your employees to meet expectations without direct supervision is essential to becoming an effective manager of flexible workers. From day one, communicate goals and expectations clearly and effectively. The goals should reflect quantifiable end results, not process or hours spent on specific projects. For instance, each month expect regional managers to report a certain number of marketing inquiries, and business center managers to generate a specific number of office sales, and regional directors to open a particular group of new centers. To measure progress, implement a results-based management program that sets and measures your established goals.”

And it requires corporate support, too. Mark writes, “Offer employees who work remotely or from home access to professional workplaces when they need it. They need to know they can get professional services and support when required. They need professional locations where they can come together face-to-face, whether for meetings with colleagues and clients or for working on special projects,” he says.

The Emergence of the Mobile App

Appian writes in this white paper about the emergence of mobile application development. It’s a rising tide in the field of BPM and is revolutionizing business applications for far-flung workers. “A new concept—the BPM-driven enterprise application platform—is revolutionizing the dissemination and use of enterprise knowledge on the desktop and on mobile devices. This new type of development platform addresses all three of the key criteria. These platforms simplify every step in securely provisioning and using new apps that spread enterprise data for action, within the context of business policies and procedures.

“An application author designs and configures a new application at an abstract level, writing very little code. Once the application is complete, it can be published to any device, desktop or mobile, and run natively with the same functionality. If the platform is hosted in the cloud (as an application platform-as-a-service), upgrades across all user platforms are automatic and hands-free. Security issues are inherently addressed by the platform (network encryption, minimal data storage on the device, passcode locking, etc.). Because such a platform is routed in business process management, the resulting applications treat both process and data as first-class citizens, keeping the two in lock-step for the attainment of business goals.”

Process and data! What a concept! And I don’t mean that sarcastically. Information and the various processes they require to become valuable should never be separated. It’s just that data is much more easily managed than process. So, information management is the low-hanging fruit, and thus gets the most immediate attention.

And there are statistics available that support the explosion in mobile technology acceptance. See KANA’s article in this white paper—this is some of the information they’ve found: “Consumers are embracing the ease and convenience of anytime, anywhere access to the Internet from their mobile devices. According to statistics by CTIA—The Wireless Association—mobile use is predicted to grow rapidly in the next few years.

  • By the end of 2014, mobile subscribers are expected to reach 7 billion users, almost the equal to the world’s total population, with 75% of users residing in developing economies.
  • By the end of 2019, total mobile subscriptions are expected to grow to 9.3 billion. Global broadband subscriptions surpassed 2 billion in 2013, and are expected to grow by four times to 8 billion by 2019.
  • Increasing by nearly 50% from 2013, Americans will have 34 million mobile broadband devices by the end of 2015. In 2014, consumers using smartphones to shop online represent 29% of all visits to commerce websites, a 42.7% increase from 2013.
  • Commerce transactions completed via mobile phones and tablets are expected to rise to $114 billion in 2014, with two-thirds of purchases occurring via tablets.
  • Sales via mobile phones or tablets will comprise 54% of the total $414 billion in ecommerce sales expected in 2018, reaching more than $223 billion.

It’s not an isolated phenomenon. But it’s not a slam-dunk either. Peter High, reporting for Forbes from the Gartner Symposium, had these observations: “Gartner suggests that now through 2018, a variety of devices, user contexts and interaction paradigms will make ‘everything everywhere’ strategies unachievable. The unintended consequence of bring your own device (BYOD) programs has been to render much more complex (by two or three times, Gartner estimates) the size of the mobile workforce, straining both the information technology and the finance organizations. It is recommended that companies better define expectations for employee-owned hardware to balance flexibility with confidentiality and privacy requirements.”

But he went on a more optimistic note: “Gartner also predicts that through 2014, improved JavaScript performance will begin to push HTML5 and the browser as a mainstream enterprise application development environment. As a consequence, it was suggested that developers focus on expanding user interface models including richer voice and video that can connect people in new and different ways. Apps will grow and applications will shrink, continuing a trend that has been documented for a while now. The market for creating apps continues to be very fragmented (Gartner estimates that there are more than 100 potential tool vendors), and consolidation is not likely to happen in earnest for a while. It is suggested that ‘the next evolution in user experience will be to leverage intent, inferred from emotion and actions, to motivate changes in end-user behavior.’”





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