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Managing the change to connected mobile working

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Background

Mobile working is nothing new. Travelling sales people and tradesmen have been with us for as long as anyone can remember and, in industry today, we have many more examples of workers operating outside of a fixed base - consultants on projects, accountants conducting audits, engineers on construction sites, and so on, not to mention managers roving from office to office as they go about their business.

Against this background, it's interesting to consider why everyone is talking so much about mobile working at the moment, given that it's essentially a very old concept. So what is it that's changed to put the mobile working conversation back on the management agenda?

In order to understand this, we need to consider some of the other changes that businesses have gone through over the past couple of decades. To begin with, for example, organisations today are now much more dependent on information technology, and access to IT systems has become either a mandatory part of many job functions or a key enabler of efficiency and effectiveness. Another trend that's had a huge impact is the degree to which everything is becoming connected electronically - people to people, business to business, market to market, etc.

The great thing about these trends is that people sitting at their desks or operating in some other location within the business are now much more plugged into both the immediate work environment and the wider world in which they and their business operate. Sending an email to query an order to a customer in the USA or a supplier in Korea from a desk in the UK is now something people take for granted.

The inclusive approach

Along the way, though, the mobile workforce has often been left out, as use of IT and communications has traditionally been dependent on being in a location that has physical access to the necessary systems. A big part of the discussion going on today, therefore, is not so much to do with implementing mobile working per se, but getting existing mobile workforces properly connected so they can participate in business processes and communications as efficiently and effectively as their office and depot dwelling colleagues. The business logic for doing this is pretty much the same as it has been for automation in general - better business visibility, increased accuracy of information, more effective decision making, shorter process cycle times, and a general lowering of operational costs and risks.

Having said this, providing mobile and remote access capability to solve the mobile worker disconnect also creates new opportunities, such as allowing previously fixed parts of the workforce the freedom to work from home or other locations. Businesses may be interested in enabling this for cost reasons, e.g. cutting office space related overheads, or flexibility reasons, e.g. allowing users to better dovetail their work and personal time, something which can increase both productivity and employee loyalty. Whatever the drivers, enabling connected mobile working is what it's really all about in the modern business environment, and this is such a natural extension of the other trends we have been discussing that moving in this direction is inevitable for most businesses.

Given this inevitability, it is probably worth thinking sooner rather than later about how the introduction and use of mobile technology will be managed if you are not doing so already. Otherwise, solutions will creep into the organisation in an uncontrolled manner from the bottom up through individual workgroups and users, potentially creating unwanted conflicts, risks and costs.

So what needs to be considered for those who want to be more proactive about embracing the change?

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