Enabling A Mobile Workforce: Technology is Not Enough

4 minute read
Joe Shepley avatar

When folks talk about mobility and the enterprise, they most often mean mobile technology -- smartphones, mobile-enabled websites, downloadable apps and so on.

But mobility should be viewed much more broadly than this, because mobile technology is not an end in itself, it’s simply the means to an end (i.e. enabling a mobile workforce).

Looked at in this way, the key challenges facing organizations around mobility are not primarily technological, they’re organizational and revolve around the following questions:

  • Who needs to be mobile at the enterprise?
  • What does mobility help them achieve at the individual level, workgroup level, department level, enterprise level?
  • How will the enterprise enable their mobility?

You’ll notice right away that only the last one has anything even remotely to do with technology; but even in this case, technology is only one method available to an enterprise for enabling mobility. Policies and procedures, process engineering, organizational design -- these (and others) all contribute to the mobility of an enterprise workforce as much as, if not more than, mobile technologies.

And while the technology challenges around enterprise mobility are formidable and important, solving them is made much more difficult (and ultimately much less valuable), if an enterprise hasn’t solved some key people-process challenges first.

1. End-user Segmentation

Even a small organization has far too many end-users to address individually, and one-off efforts to address the needs of highly-visible end users (executives, those with informal influence, teams with funding, etc.) are inefficient and often ineffective.

It’s far more effective to group end users into meaningful categories based on characteristics such as their function within the organization, travel profile, need for collaboration, technical aptitude and so on. What results from this kind of end-user segmentation exercise are user types (e.g., executive traveler, knowledge worker commuter).

By calling attention to the general classes or categories of end-users represented by user types, end-user segmentation enables an organization to streamline its approach to delivering mobility to its employee population while avoiding the rework and waste often associated with one-off efforts.

2. Supported Use Cases

Once you know what user types require mobility, you need to determine what parts of their day-to-day jobs will be most impacted. Developing business use cases are a great way to do this.

Basically, for each user type, you make a list of all the business activities they’ll need mobility to accomplish. For example, an executive traveler might need to check email, access a report center, update items in a budgeting application and publish blog posts -- while a knowledge worker commuter might need to check email, access assigned items in a workflow application and participate in a user community.

Learning Opportunities

Once you have these built out for each user type, you need to begin the process of prioritization, because typically an organization isn’t able to support every use case for mobility that’s required. Instead, they pick and choose those that make the most sense to support in the short term, laying the remainder against their near- and long-term roadmaps for mobility.

3. Capability Stack

At this point, the rubber hits the road for the mobile workforce at an organization -- you need to determine what capabilities will be required to enable the supported use cases identified for each user type.

As I mentioned earlier, this includes, but is not limited to, technology. Things like general organizational readiness, existing policies and procedures, process engineering maturity and the overall design and structure of the organization are critical and set the stage for how deeply technology will be able to impact the mobility of the workforce.

For example, let’s say an organization wants to enable innovation among line workers in a factory. They could view this as a mobility problem and give line workers in a factory smart phones to allow them to submit innovation ideas.

However, because there’s likely no organizational or process scaffolding for integrating a smartphone into the day-to-day jobs of the factory’s line workers, smartphones might be less successful than simply having a way to access the innovation portal from existing shared PC terminals on the shop floor.

The Final Word

Ultimately, the technical excellence of a mobility solution won’t prevent it from failing if there’s no other compelling reason to adopt it; in the same way, a lo-fi mobility solution can be successful if it fits solidly into current organizational patterns and ways of working.

The important thing is to make sure you understand the wider context for mobility at the enterprise and don’t fall into the trap of assuming that mobility is synonymous with mobile technologies. Just like enterprise content management and customer relationship management are much more than simply the ECM and CRM systems that support them, mobility is a way of working that benefits from, but extends beyond, the technology that supports it.

About the author

Joe Shepley

Joe Shepley is a strategy consulting professional living and working in Chicago. In his current position as Managing Director at Ankura he focuses on helping organizations improve how they manage Privacy risk through improved processes and technology.

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