Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/09/13/email_mobile_roi/

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

Have mobiles increased productivity?

By Team Register

Posted in Workshop, 13th September 2007 14:19 GMT

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.

Rob Turner, Deputy Head of Data Products, Orange Business Services, UK

There are clearly different behavioural approaches to the adoption of technology in business (mobile or otherwise.) There are those who believe IT will offer a distinct competitive advantage and have embraced IT as a strategic weapon at boardroom level. There are those who believe IT investments should have a more humble role as part of operational efficiency with hard ROI. There are those, of course, who have outsourced the whole lot.

The good news is that the ROI for mobilising applications, email and others, seems to satisfy the ROI demands at all levels and there is demonstrable proof from many sources (most notably the recent research papers published by IDC and Ipsos Reid.)

The growth of mobility-enabled applications is driven by the same factors driving all IT and business process change namely:

If you are not looking to do these things, then your competition is. Intensity of competition in nearly every industry sector is driving the need to better integrate information with key business processes.

In simple terms for mobile applications (notably email) we are talking about the benefit of “immediacy.” This is ironic given that email is designed as a “store and forward” technology – but it is essentially about getting the right information to the right people at the right time to make better and faster decisions. Often within the hour. Compare that to the days where a decision from your Senior Manager would have to wait for the next morning when his PA printed off emails for his/her perusal, the response was scribbled on the top and the decision trickled through when the PA go around to typing it up.

And most emails are not “War and Peace”. They are simply looking for approval/confirmation/further information/agreement to reschedule or re specify and the like.

The 2007 Ipsos Reid study analysing the ROI of BlackBerry deployment across over 1300 IT department in come up with some interesting figures:

Of course mobility is not just about email. Looking at the Orange Case Study for BDO Stoy Hayward:

The benefit to BDO Stoy Hayward goes beyond the positive impact on staff morale and retention. “The financial return on investment is very clear cut,” says Mark Sherfield, Finance Partner of BDO Stoy Hayward. “Our investment in 3G Mobile Office Cards, for example, hits break-even if each fee earner recovers just around an extra 40 minutes of working time per month. With BlackBerry devices we’re looking at around 20 minutes per month. Actual usage will far outstrip those figures.

Specific Points

For large and small companies alike, there are three key requirements that should be considered when evaluating a business case for mobile email.

Firstly, scoping the BUSINESS requirements addresses such issues as the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for the Solution. Recent primary research examining the relationship between mobile email and the affect on Employee Productivity and TCO (IPOS Reid, 2006) indicates that some solutions recover as much as 60 minutes downtime per user per day. Based on hourly worker rates, a business decision-maker can quickly begin to approximate the pay-back period of a mobile email solution.

Secondly, defining key TECHNICAL requirements becomes evermore critical in those larger organisations with inherently complex IT environments. Since implementing mobile email solutions nearly always involve integrating a Company's corporate email platform with handsets that reside beyond the firewall, organisations are becoming increasingly concerned with issues around end-to-end Security, Data Encryption, Centralised IT Administration and Policy Management, and so too Device Management, Resilience and Failover also become important factors.

Thirdly, when making investment decisions organisations must consider in what ways mobile email will make a difference to the daily working routines of users. In this respect, USABILITY requirements must be specified based on the types of roles throughout the organisation. In all cases, to achieve measurable improvements in worker productivity, user interfaces on handsets should be intuitive and require employees to undergo the minimum of specialised training.

Finally, overlaying the above considerations are the core and supplementary services, which are supplied by mobile operators. The issue of network coverage is paramount with Orange for example having the largest integrated data network in the UK along with a dedicated data support helpdesk for ticket-based incident management. In addition organisational decision-makers who anticipate mobile email as mission-critical to the effective and efficient running of their business should also consider an appropriately defined Service Level Agreement

Ed Moore, OpenWeb Product Manager, OpenWave Europe

I like the concept of mobile email and carefully make sure I don't have it myself. Thinking time is precious and I find it much harder to think deep thoughts when connected in to the company communication network. Call me if it's urgent or send a text!

There are however plenty of people out there who do need access to their email at all times, in order to work at peak efficiency. Technical support staff, account managers, consultants and freelancers can all nip issues in the bud or leap at new opportunities if suitably equipped and could easily justify the expense. How best to justify? Sales people have the best excuse – just one deal won instead of lost can pay for an entire mobile email infrastructure and whether it's that one single message that clinched it or a series of gentle pushes doesn't matter. So three sums; cost of failure to respond to an emergency, missed opportunities for new business or thirdly time gained through incremental improvements in administration. Approving a travel request, agreeing a pricing quote, denying holiday or selecting chairs for the office can all take you a moment but potentially save others hours in waiting around.

So the benefits are clear but what of the cost? I'd recommend two solutions for mobile email and budgets are the clear delineator.

At a simple level many existing business focused phones can now cope with email standards such as POP3 or IMAP; it may not be pushed to your handset in idle moments but you can get access whenever there's wireless connectivity. Most corporate email platforms can already deliver these standard interfaces so the only tangible cost you're looking at is incremental data charges. For the UK this can now be as little as £10 a month all in so well worth the investment.

At a medium level you have email packages that can use a range of devices to receive pushed email, including offerings from companies such as Visto and Microsoft. These will give more functionality, usually greater speed of access and incur a matching higher cost, especially if a corporate server version is chosen.

Finally at the sophisticated level we have what most mobile workers think of when they imagine mobile email; the elegant and simple ‘fruity' dedicated email devices. These work very well indeed but come at a price in terms of extra service charges. But let's think clearly here; at a price compared to what? If other email solutions then they look expensive but compared to a company car, expense account or pay packet then they are very cheap indeed! At any reasonable salary level then justifying for an individual should be child's play.

Unfortunately making email mobile does lead people to do at all times what they currently do in the office; continue being interrupted all the time, be bombarded with Spam and jokes from friends, gossip and waste time. To these you can add those mobile generated emails that everyone loathes; "yes, good" (what is?), "I agree" (to what?), "at customer" (so?), all finished with that automated rider "Sent from a Fruitberry".

I'll go back to thinking time...®