Is the world ready for enterprise mobility?

Luke Marson Profile picture for user lmarson July 3, 2014
In order to fully leverage enterprise mobility there is the assumption of ubiquitous connectivity, but that's not how it plays out in the real world. Until then, then the 'anytime/anywhere' approach to mobility is nothing more than a fancy buzzword.

Editor's note: this is a guest post written exclusively for diginomica by SAP SuccessFactors consultant and HCM expert Luke Marson.

Much has been written about enterprise mobility, but with some of the challenges I have had to get reliable connectivity – or even any connectivity – on my travels I wonder how ready the world really is for enterprise-level mobility.

For some companies, rolling out mobile functionality makes little sense if employees are office-based. There is little value in polarized usage. Although there is the executive who may want to work from the comfort of his living room with his family around, more often than not employees are not going to work in the evening just because they have a mobile app to enable that.

In healthcare or the oil & gas industry, for example, there is a real business case to provide mobility functionality to employees. But for those on the move, is there such a scenario that makes sense? While travelling across the US doesn’t post much of a problem with complimentary Wi-Fi, Europe is far from as connected. The US not only provides complimentary Wi-Fi in most airports, but a number of airplanes offer Wi-Fi connectivity (albeit at an extra cost) and power outlets. Europe, however, is lagging behind in both areas.

Many tablets have models that contain a port so that Wi-Fi-only SIM cards can be used. However, this is often a more expensive model than the “standard” and many people I know didn’t go for that option. There is a lot of value if Wi-Fi-only SIM cards are available in your country.

I benefit from being able to hook my laptop up to my smartphone via tethering. Tethering allows my smartphone to become a Wi-Fi router and uses my mobile provider’s 3G service to provide internet connectivity. This is a useful way of getting connectivity as long as roaming charges aren’t an issue.

And talking of roaming…

What about those pesky roaming charges? If you have one of T-Mobile US’s packages then you can have free 3G in over 120 countries worldwide. But if not? Will an employer really cover hundreds of dollars/Euros/currency in roaming fees? Does it really provide value for the employer versus the productivity gained? In some cases it is an undoubtable 'yes',  but without evidence it can be difficult for an employer to authorize such charges. Even travelling from Canada into the US can add significant charges, and those travelling around the European Union will have similar financial challenges. Corporate culture needs to change if they want employees to be more productive.

One solution is of course for offline operation of transactions and synchronization. This is available for apps like Google Docs and for some enterprise applications. SuccessFactors Mobile is one good example of an enterprise application that has added this functionality to its capabilities.

Power to the people

Wi-Fi is not the only issue. Power outlets for energy-consuming devices is another issue. US airports are getting better with charging stations and with in-flight power outlets, but much of the world still leaves travelers searching for a spare plug. In the UK where train travel is much more popular than some other countries, many trains are now equipped with power outlets. Some continental European trains feature power outlets, depending on which country you are travelling within.

What really is a 'mobile' device?

Power is even more important if your mobile device is a laptop. Many use the term 'mobile' to refer to a smartphone or tablet device, yet a laptop can also be considered a mobile device. Although laptops have grown to become devices to be used in a fixed location, they are also the first real professional mobile devices for out-of-office working. I am one of those folks that still do a majority of on-the-go work on a laptop. I prefer working on a laptop to a smartphone or tablet. I recognize that I am in a minority, but in terms of numbers it is still a very big minority.

App Attack

Another problem for mobility is the sheer number of apps available. Let’s say you use SAP HCM for Finance and Logistics, SuccessFactors for HR, for CRM, and a generic expenses application. That could be upwards of five different apps, with five different user experiences, and five different methods of operation. And this type of scenario is not uncommon. The suite may be winning on the desktop, but on mobile it’s a different story. What is the solution? A common user experience framework for app developers? An app self-service portal app? Whatever it is, something needs to change if employees are going to embrace enterprise mobility and service consumability is going to be maximized. And this case is more conducive if employees use their own device. Who wants to install 5 work apps on their own device? Not me.

Some apps that work with on-premise systems require VPN access. This doesn’t do the user experience any good and can be enough of a hassle that it doesn’t make mobility worthwhile. The cloud will alleviate this pain over time.

Lightweight vs. heavyweight usage

There should be made a clear distinction between lightweight consumer-style enterprise applications, such as your timesheet or invoice app, than your Point-of-Sale (POS), tablet-based apps. For example: having a tablet-based checkout app at a coffee shop or a digital restaurant menu is somewhat different in use case than your business traveler or field technician. Connectivity is much more likely to be continuous in the former use cases than the latter, which is where the problems may arise.

Not all doom and gloom for the enterprise CEO and founder Marc Benioff says 'I run my business entirely on my phone'. In a video discussion recorded at the Code Conference at the end of May, Benioff talks about the ability for him to manage his entire business on his phone (you can see the full discussion at 13:59 in this video). This really is the utopia of enterprise productivity that many organizations around the world are not able to fully realize, although I suspect in certain geographies (North America, for example) the more senior executives are able to reap similar benefits to those that Benioff does.

A recent survey – analyzed here by Diginomica’s own Dennis Howlett – shows that '60% of British employees now use apps on mobile devices for work-related activity, including 1 in 5 (21%) who use dedicated departmental apps.' Clearly this shows that in some contexts, mobility does not face a number of barriers faced by those that might be more mobile (no pun intended) in their professional activities.

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Final Thoughts

Enterprise-level mobility is at a very good level, but the ability to leverage this is far from it. In order to fully leverage enterprise mobility there is the assumption of ubiquitous connectivity, but without this assumption being a true reality then the 'anytime/anywhere' approach to mobility is nothing more than a fancy buzzword.

Location certainly determines how well you can make use of mobile apps, and the US is ahead of the game compared with comparably sized geographies. Much needs to be done and mobile app vendors have little power to control this. Things are moving in the right direction, but it’s still going to be some time until enterprise-level mobility can be fully utilized by those travelling across certain geographies.

Image credit: Surprised Nerd © lassedesignen -

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