There has been a perceived generational gap as to adoption of mobile technologies, with younger professionals choosing bleeding-edge gadgets like the iPad and iPhone, and older generations going for laptops and Blackberry smartphones. Recent studies indicate however, that this generation gap is a myth.
Mobile devices -- notebooks, netbooks, smartphones and tablets -- are enjoying an increasing level of importance in the workplace. As employees go mobile, enterprises are adopting infrastructure and services that will support the need to collaborate and keep productive while on the move.
According to the recent Mobile Workforce Report, published by enterprise mobility provider iPass, personal liability plays a bigger role than age in adopting mobile tools. While younger professionals have a higher likelihood to own and use mobile devices, overall mobile worker preferences and behaviors are similar across all age groups. However, productivity is largely affected by personal liability -- meaning who gets to foot the bill when it comes to these mobile gadgets.
The New Laptop
In a survey among 1,100 mobile professionals, iPass determined the mean age of the mobile workforce to be 46. Moreover, 84.6% of mobile employees use smartphones in both personal and work-related capacities.
37% of the respondents surveyed believe that laptops have been replaced by more portable devices, and are increasingly being left at the office. Workers are carrying their smartphones and tablet computers instead, as these offer added mobility and convenience. 27% of the respondents believe that by 2011, tablets, like the Apple iPad, will become the mobile business tool of choice, replacing the laptop for general business purposes.
Personal Liability is a Productivity Killer
Meanwhile, even if workers are increasingly adopting mobile tools like smartphones and tablets, not everyone is keen on using these to do business while on the go. Mobile tools offer access to information and quicker collaboration, but workers will often shy out of it if they are expected to foot the bill. 34% of mobile workers do not use their smartphones for work-related purposes if the company will not reimburse them for expenses.
Still, if IT departments will provide easier access to the corporate email or other messaging system, mobile users who use their personal equipment will likely take advantage of this opportunity.
Security and Standardization
Along with the convenience that mobile access brings, there are also risks involved in providing access via multiple platforms and devices. For instance, 14.3% of the mobile employees interviewed say they have had their smartphones either lost or stolen. Meanwhile, 3.9% have contracted a virus or malware. These could expose sensitive company information, such as emails, documents and passwords.
According to iPass, 58.2% of mobile workers have used a personal device at work, such as a laptop, netbook, tablet or smartphone. iPass says that two thirds of mobile employees use a personal device for work purposes, but unknown to their IT departments. This means that IT managers might not be able to enforce full control over which devices can gain access, and should find ways to include personal devices in their security policies.
While IT departments cannot fully control what devices an employee brings in or out, businesses should seek to use more secure standards and protocols. Corporate IT can enhance mobile security by enforcing stricter usage policies for personal devices that employees bring in to the corporate network. For example, using a virtual private network and using secure HTTP for webmail will help increase security. Even a reminder to use strong passwords will help reduce security risks.
Mobile devices present an opportunity for businesses. Even if not all companies are willing to issue smartphones and tablets to employees, helping mobile workers gain easier access to their productivity resources like email, collaboration and unified communication will give incentives for them to use these systems. This can include taking responsibility of the expenses by shouldering the cost of a smartphone or tablet, or providing an allowance for the monthly connection charges.