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.

In these situations, employees can use tablets and smartphones on the go to manage projects by monitoring task lists and calendar activities, updating project plans and meeting minutes, as well as reaching out to colleagues to confer on project status. Done properly, this case truly delivers on the promise of working anytime, anywhere. The productivity gains are clear: less downtime and fewer mistakes since everyone is working from the same up-to-date project plan and task list.

Industries that can take advantage of this use case include professional services (architects, accounting, engineering, etc.), military/defense, manufacturing, and government.

Case #4: Paperless Initiatives

While "going digital" promised to reduce the amount of paper used for business, global paper usage has actually increased over the last several years. Paper costs are enormous, so many organizations have launched initiatives to reduce paper consumption. A tablet is a perfect tool to effect this change.

Using a tablet to record and then distribute meeting minutes in real time is a simple way to reduce paper consumption. Streamlining operations manuals represents another big cost savings opportunity, particularly when manuals need to be updated often. The cost of printing, distributing and destroying/recycling manuals can be slashed by automating the distribution of manual updates directly to worker tablets, without manual intervention.

While this can already be done for PCs, the inconvenience of using PCs in non-office settings has made this impractical. The "anywhere" nature of a tablet makes it a natural extension to an employee’s paper notepad, particularly when coupled with cloud file storage and sharing capabilities. Any company with a green initiative can easily take advantage of this use case.

Getting Started

The good news is that these four case studies can be implemented using the tools you already have. Without the need to test and install new infrastructure, you can literally get started today.

To help you get started, here are some tips from companies that have already made first steps on their road to realizing the mobile enterprise.

  1. Select a use case and apply it to your business -- Define how a use case would work in your own company, identifying specific departments, document types, collaboration partners and business processes. The more specific the case, the faster you will see business results.
  2. Prepare a short presentation -- Use the presentation to build consensus and gather feedback. Putting ideas on (virtual) paper does wonders for fleshing out missing details and trouble spots, before you get going.
  3. Pick your tools -- You probably already own most of the tools you will need to realize the business cases listed above -- tools like Office 365/SharePoint, Connections, Box and Google Drive/Apps.
  4. Define the user experience -- The success of the project depends directly on your ability to get users to adopt the mobile solution. It’s well-known that changing user behavior is the most difficult part of any such project, so getting this right is critical. Make user experience an integral part of the project, not an afterthought.
  5. Define a preliminary pilot project -- Select highly-motivated individuals from different departments to participate in a limited pilot and to provide feedback. Select a business process that users need to perform often. Actively collect feedback.
  6. Extend the pilot -- Implement lessons learned from the preliminary pilot, while adding less motivated individuals to the project.
  7. Roll out to the broader workforce -- A common mistake made by organizations is assuming the results of a limited pilot are easily replicated in a rollout to the general workforce. Unlike pilot volunteers, most people are reluctant to try new tools, so it is important to articulate the business value of the project via executive sponsorship, adequately train workers and provide superior help desk support.

Good luck. Share your experiences by commenting below.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic LicenseTitle image by  Jinx!