The mobile enterprise has some roadblocks standing in the way from moving from an ideal to a reality. I recently wrote about how a lack of enterprise mobile apps will prolong the realization of the anytime, anywhere workplace. But the dearth of apps is only one reason for the delay. Another reason is a lack of clearly defined business use cases for mobile devices. Organizations are sailing in uncharted mobile enterprise waters today, with few proven successes to emulate.

The bulk of use cases that have surfaced emphasize generic mobile device capabilities, but do not demonstrate clear return on investment (ROI). Some examples include enabling executives to access documents or videoconference with colleagues when away from their desks, and enabling mobile employees to "connect" from coffee shops or from home.

The broad nature of these cases makes them appropriate for almost any organization, but also makes it hard for companies to quantify the business value. And without obvious business value, mainstream organizations are sitting on the sidelines, waiting for proven business cases.

Mobile Business Use Cases

IT innovators are starting to identify business use cases that provide demonstrable ROI. In particular, IT leaders in industries that have many mobile field workers -- such as construction and transportation -- are generating particularly compelling cases. Learning from innovative IT leaders across a broad range of industries, I have selected four real world use cases that provide obvious business value and can be rolled out today.

Case #1: Offline Access to Standard Operating Procedures

For emergency response personnel, a tablet is a godsend. These workers need to act quickly to save lives or avert disaster, often in remote areas where network coverage is unreliable. Having access to the latest operations manuals or emergency procedures can mean the difference between saving lives and catastrophe.

Providing field workers with tablets loaded with the latest emergency operations documents and contact lists is a use case with enormous -- and visible -- ROI. In addition to emergency response, this case is equally compelling for the transportation (rail, air), defense, oil and gas, energy, and government sectors.

Case #2: Remote Access to Construction Plans, Drawings, Photos

Even in non-emergency situations, remote access to operational documents is necessary to carry out business in the field. For example, engineers, contractors and builders often need to update construction plans, drawings, and photos while present on construction sites. Editing documents on a tablet makes field workers productive by reducing errors caused by referencing out-of-date documents, while reducing the overhead associated with working with paper. Enterprising companies are even using GPS coordinates of photos taken with a tablet or smartphone at construction sites to automatically tag photos and upload them to customer records in project databases.

In addition to construction, industries that can benefit from this use case include oil and gas, energy, government, insurance (for claims handling), real estate (for managing properties), and healthcare (for accessing medical records).

Case #3: Remote Project Management

Remote work does not always refer to being "in the field." Often remote simply means being away from the office PC. For example, workers are remote when attending meetings on the company campus, when traveling to and from the office, or when visiting remote workspaces, such as manufacturing plants or distribution centers.