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You bought into mobile email - what have you got to show for it?

Have mobiles increased productivity?

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Mobile Clinic Our mobile clinic returns today, this time looking to get some clarity on whether or not we really have become more efficient since the advent of the mobile phone, and if we have, by how much, and why. As before our panel of experts provide their opinion, something which you can do to via the comment forms at the bottom of the article.

Question

What are the main components of a business case for justifying investment in mobile access email and other business systems? - Cost Benefit Analysis.

Dale Vile, Research Director, Freeform Dynamics Ltd

This is a question I have been investigating through primary research since 2001, and over the years, the various studies I have been involved in have probably gathered feedback from upwards of 15,000 IT and business professionals on this topic. And still, the question of how to justify investments in mobile technology keeps coming up. Why? Because it remains notoriously difficult to construct tangible business cases for many types of mobile solutions based on classic financial return on investment (ROI) modelling alone.

To illustrate the challenge, imagine how you would go about retrospectively cost justifying your investment in normal everyday email today. The level of visibility, reach and immediacy of communications offered by email are pretty much essential for the majority of businesses to operate effectively, yet try turning that into a tangible value you can put a number on.

It's the same problem with mobile solutions aimed at professionals – managers, sales people, consultants and the like. Cost justifying the provision of a BlackBerry or Windows Mobile device, or even a data card to enable connectivity from a notebook PC, can be extremely difficult. Sure, you can make assumptions about number of minutes of lost productivity recovered in a day as people use previously "dead" time between meetings or in transit to do useful things on their mobile devices, and I've seen some great Excel models and analyst reports that do this very nicely. While there is nothing wrong with such an approach, however, I do think there is a danger of missing the point.

In our business, for example, we certainly don't justify giving people BlackBerries and data cards on the basis of getting them to work every minute of the day. It is so we can run the business more effectively. We get much better visibility of what's going on and team members can be much more responsive both when supporting each other on activities and decisions, and when dealing with clients, partners, subcontractors and so on. What it basically means is that stuff gets done more quickly and effectively, rather than processes being continuously blocked because people are not available to do a quick review, confirm a decision, or provide a vital snippet of information.

And our research confirms time and time again that that's really the way to think about the value of mobile email and mobile application access for white collar workers – simply greasing the wheels of business processes and decision cycles, and removing artificial delays. As someone said to me a while ago in relation to mobile email – "How do you put a financial value on being able to get to a ‘Yes' more quickly?"

Having said all this, there are some types of mobile solution for which the financial business case can best be described as a "no brainer". Paper and administration intensive field service and logistics operations transformed through the introduction of mobile technology can give rise to ROI periods measured in months. Cost savings come directly from reduced overhead and better control over the way in which resources are allocated and used, leading to better overall resource utilisation. The positive impact on resourcing was, in fact, something that came through strongly in one of our more recent research studies, which also highlights the spin-off benefits of increased customer responsiveness and a general improvement in levels of service delivered.

So, while it is easy to dismiss a lot of mobile technology as being predominantly about providing executive toys and perks, if you look for benefits in the right way, they are there and can be very compelling. It is all about the way you define and assess the level of value.

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