With the explosion of newly-available mobile computing options, many companies now support their employees’ smartphones and tablet computers. With employees increasingly ‘always on,’ new opportunities abound for better and more efficient collaboration. But this requires a shift in how people work together, and the ways we support people on-the-go.  

Porting desktop collaboration tools to mobile devices won’t work. The unique needs of the mobile worker and mobile devices’ form factor mandate for a fresh look at what it means to collaborate on the road. For example, mobile devices:

  • Offer a convenient way to view documents ‘on the run,’ but they are not appropriate for editing documents.
  • Provide a simple way to connect with people working remotely on joint projects -- as long as there is a clear context for that connection. Case in point, if a team is working on a contract proposal, it would be great to reach out to one of the contract negotiators via IM, when both parties can simultaneously see the same version of the same document.
  • Allow people to follow what their colleagues are working on with “Twitter-style” updates, within the secure confines of the corporate communications environment.

Challenges Facing the Mobile Workforce

While freeing employees from the tether of the office, these new opportunities bring fresh challenges for business users, as well as application developers and IT staff supporting them. For example:

  • Being ‘on’ all the time means employees have to develop new ways of working that allow them to be effective, without burning out from a lack of downtime.
  • Making it easy for typical business users (as opposed to technically-savvy ones) to see what interests them, without overwhelming them with information overload, is really tough. Relevant contexts need to be created for information sharing and consumption. Since people work in different ways, this is a daunting task to make simple.
  • Getting applications to run smoothly and securely across multiple operating systems and a plethora of mobile devices is not trivial.

Opportunities to Build On

Here are some recommendations for taking advantage of opportunities while overcoming the challenges of using mobile devices in the enterprise:

  • Initially, support a limited number of popular mobile devices. Learn as you go. Start with a few devices built upon two different mobile operating systems.
  • Augment internal social networks with the capabilities of public social networks that connect business people, such as LinkedIn and Twitter. 
  • Employ new cross-platform technologies for achieving a uniform user experience across multiple devices. HTML 5, for example, offers a lot of promise in overcoming the difficulties in supporting multiple mobile operating systems.

Final Thoughts

The rapid proliferation of tablet computers will create many new opportunities for businesses in 2011. With many new devices available and application developers feverishly cranking out new applications on a daily basis, the way enterprises work is poised to change forever. Exciting times…

Editor's Note: Additional articles on Enterprise Collaboration you might be interested in include: