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Business Value in the Mobility Craze?

You would have to say mobility--or at least having the latest shiny mobile device--has become a craze. Craze seems the right word when millions of people pre-order and some large number of folks stand in line before the store opening--all to get a product's sixth release that appears to still need some debugging and that could be delivered to their home or office by UPS a few days later. But that's what marketing is all about--creating crazes--and it seems to be working in this case.

But businesses and governmental organizations need to look beyond the crazes to find the ultimate value of these products. It's there, so how can it be found and then put to beneficial use?

First, organizations have known for decades--since bulky portable radios and since the first cell phones and BlackBerrys--that wireless mobile devices can help them with:

* Sustaining productivity: By enabling a person to stay in touch when mobile, as BlackBerry truly proved with mobile email. Increasingly, mobile laptops, tablets and custom devices are enabling productivity that is almost as good as when in the office. This is a huge gain for those to whom it applies.

* Redesigning workflows: The multi-function mobile device enables enterprises to redefine their workflows. Just look at fleet management software, hospital electronic health record software, field sales and services software for examples of how entire workflows have been simplified and streamlined using mobile devices. In many cases, the need for expensive real-time communications is replaced by more efficient portals and touch- or text-based interfaces.

* Optimizing resource utilization: Mobile devices keep people in touch anywhere, and the software usually knows where each device is located. This allows work to be routed to the best available resource, which can drive major reductions in staffing or major increases in revenue. In many cases, the work can be routed automatically, by software, again reducing the labor costs and delays of traditional calling or messaging technologies.

But all these benefits must be understood in the context of what needs to be done. Mobile, wireless devices are:

* Not for every user. Lots of people come to work every day, do their job, and then go home. They usually don't work after hours, since that would require overtime payments.

* Not for every phone. Some tasks still require a telephone/speakerphone on the desk. Or, in some cases, a specialized on-premises wireless device may be better than a smartphone.

* Not for every location or situation. Some locations or spaces require security or privacy, so organizations will not tolerate the dangers of personal devices with cameras and audio recorders, nor will they let public-network smartphones connect to their private networks.

* Not always better than wired connection. As Michael Finneran has thoroughly documented in his book on Voice over WLANs, voice on Wi-Fi has many issues including call continuity when mobile. If a building or campus is already wired, it's pretty much a duplication to add enough Wi-Fi coverage for every user and every device.

* Always to be seen in the context of a process. This is really important! Users have many, many reasons to have a shiny wireless device (games, music, entertainment, health tracking, etc., etc.) but in an organization, every motion should have a purpose, i.e. will be part of a process. So, the org and the user(s) will need to dialogue and innovate on how to best use that mobile device in the process. Often, this can lead to breakthroughs; sometimes, it will lead to an "app" for that; occasionally, the outcome will be not to use the mobile device. But do the analysis.

* Always to be deployed in context of society and regulations. Here we come to what is necessary for safety, security, privacy, regulatory compliance, etc. Some "Millennials" may not want to use the secure internal business app on the mobile device to transmit customer data such as a health record, but the penalty for a breach is so severe for the organization that these things will become "conditions of employment," as they should be.

How do you best figure this out? Our answer is to define the Usage Profiles for communications in your organization. In our recent series on Information Week about the new IT architectures for communications (including UC&C), you'll find this article on Usage Profiles. On page 2 of that article you will see a list of the seven core Usage Profiles (8 profiles if Executives are separated from Corporate Staff, and 9 profiles if a profile is added for "Employees", i.e. the things every employee needs to do with HR, payroll, training, etc.

Once you are clear on the Usage Profiles, it should be clear as to which of them include processes that would be improved with personal mobile wireless devices, and which would not. It should also be clear as to which of the processes can be improved just by changes in procedure and which will be best improved by adoption (or creation) of a mobile "app for that" or a communications-enabled portal accessible from the users' devices.

So, hype on, you marketing departments of the world, and craze on, you mobile device fans. Grab all those latest and greatest wireless mobile devices. Our business analysts are eager to put all of that enthusiasm and spending to good use as part of Unified Communications, which we have defined for years as "communications integrated to optimize business processes." Thanks for the help!