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Make Sure You are Planning for Mobility
January 11, 2008
by Lee Congdon, Chief Information Officer
Mobility has become a pervasive element of information technology solutions. Whether it’s voice, email, text messages, intranet access, applications for mobile devices, support for remote workers, or some other mobile feature, all information solutions are starting to exhibit mobility requirements. Many are already fully enabled for mobility.
The thoughtful Information Technology organization has a strategic plan for mobility and is already delivering mobility solutions to meet the needs of their enterprise. The IT department that is still trying to draw the line at the network firewall risks being left behind.
There are many elements to mobility solutions. Among the most important are the characteristics of the applications being delivered outside the internal network and the associated infrastructure requirements for backup, information security, and device management. Understanding how users outside your enterprise use mobile features you provide is also vital.
Realize that mobile solutions and devices provide competing services to those provided internally by your organization. As an example, users may migrate to the email and text services that serve their needs, even if those services are not provided by IT.
Starting with a simple example, making the corporate telephone directory available for use on mobile telephones is a useful productivity enhancement. If the IT organization is not providing this service, users are almost certainly keying business information into their phones or using a cable, memory card, or wireless synchronization to move data onto these devices.
Taken alone, this is not a problem for most organizations. Questions arise when users start to transfer calendar information (which may include sensitive data such as internal dial access codes) and email (which almost certainly contains non-public information) to their devices.
Another consideration is the accessibility of the enterprise voice directory for customers and others outside the organization. Does your phone system provide an audio directory or operator service? Can it be used without pressing keys?
Can your voice users forward calls from their work number to a mobile device? Are the security considerations associated with this flexibility well understood? Are some workers using a mobile device as their only work number and is this well supported by your directory service and dial strategy?
Providing a set of standards for these and related use cases and providing tools to improve mobile voice user productivity are valuable services that IT can deliver for the organization. Participating in the solutions also allows IT to assert security guidelines for mobile devices, to provide encryption and other services to protect data, and to manage costs associated with mobile air time and data transfer. Providing solutions allows IT to shape the future direction for the organization and to take a stronger position against non-supported and rogue implementations.
Email and Messaging
Mobile email and text are routine productivity enhancers for professionals, who will often self-provision a solution if the IT organization does not provide one. User developed solutions may be fragile, insecure, lack resiliency and may lead to further “innovations” on the part of the user community to address perceived deficiencies. IT will often be asked to take ownership of these applications when they become unmanageable.
IT organizations taking a leadership position work with their users to define a set of requirements and to deliver a robust, supported solution for remote email and text messaging. As with voice, providing a solution enables IT to take a stronger position against informal implementations.
A solid messaging solution is the centerpiece for integrated messaging deployment and establishing a standard user presence capability, desirable goals if you don’t already offer these services.
Intranet access (and most likely, Internet access) enables a wide range of applications for mobile devices. Providing this capability allows applications that are projected in a browser to be used almost anywhere. Deployment considerations include bandwidth and security.
Graphics or data intensive applications may require redesign to work effectively in low bandwidth environments. If the user’s device of choice has a small screen, redesign of applications with complex screen formatting or extensive data display may be required.
Security can become an issue if the device does not have password security and the application does not require authentication or does not time out. Remember, if the intranet is available on portable devices through a wireless or VPN connection, users will attempt to use applications remotely.
Support for remote workers requires provisioning network access. It may also require provisioning a device, voice services, print capability, videoconferencing, and providing help desk services. There are many questions to consider.
- Are the workers in a fixed location, such as a telecommuting worker in a home office, or do they travel among many locations?
- Do they require access to public or personal wireless or wired networks?
- What bandwidth is required for their use cases?
- How will the additional costs associated with remote access be funded?
- Does the network provider prohibit VPN access or require an additional fee?
- Does the network provider offer enterprise class problem resolution?
- How can the help desk provide support with neither physical nor network access to the user and the device?
- Do the devices selected and supported by the organization make sense for regular international travelers?
- Should you use VoIP and softphones to deliver enterprise voice services to your remote workers?
Although mobility solutions are taking many forms, voice, email, text, browser and personal productivity applications are converging into common devices. Personal applications and features such as music, video, games, Global Positioning, voice recorders, still cameras, and video cameras are available in the same devices. Some of these features have business applicability, as with cameras for claims adjusters. IT organizations need to think about how personal devices and personal application features can be integrated in the work environment and provide guidelines and solutions to users.
IT organizations also need to carefully consider the security implications of removable media, cameras in secure areas, and voice email attachments. They will need to consider the privacy concerns associated with location information reported by applications.
An additional consideration is the merging of personal and work environments. Should users be required to carry multiple devices or can they store their music library on the enterprise-provided mobile phone? It is OK to receive personal news updates via the enterprise text messaging system?
For many organizations, it is time to craft an application and infrastructure architecture with mobility built in. Networks will continue to improve in availability and bandwidth and bandwidth costs will continue to decline. Environmental expenses such as the cost and time to commute will continue to increase. Business recovery plans require provisioning for remote workers. User expectations are changing based on the availability of mobile solutions for their personal applications.
It will take some time to adapt your existing application base to a mobile, distributed environment. Now may also be a good time to decouple some applications into services under the assumption that they may ultimately be sourced from an external provider. Don’t assume, for example, that internally delivered email will remain the preferred solution for your organization.
As you look to enable innovation in your enterprise, mobility provides a key opportunity. Do you have employees or affiliates that work primarily outside the office? Could you? Are there logistics opportunities for wireless or RFID technology? Can GPS technology provide a stronger link to your customers? Are your web sites “friendly” to browsers on small screen devices? If you have retail locations, are they easy to locate from your web site (with driving directions and the ability to print and to transfer driving directions to mobile devices)?
Think about IT-enabled innovation based on mobility and what it can do for your enterprise.