Push email is pretty much expected as part of modern smartphone capabilities, but what are some of the other applications and integrations that can help an SME extend its corporate data and applications to mobile users – including social networking applications — helping them boost productivity and collaboration opportunities? CBR reports.
Perhaps one of the most significant developments in enterprise mobile technology in recent years, push email enabled workers to keep up with their emails in real-time while out of the office. But for business users, mobile email is almost a given. The new mobile productivity frontier is deeper integration with enterprise data and applications, and even with social networking applications such as Facebook.
Yet whatever a company’s intention with mobile productivity tools, challenges remain. Choosing the right approach for mobile messaging, handling the complexity of integration with back-end systems and the issue of security must all be addressed. Meanwhile when it comes to social networking applications, companies will also want to be sure that they are used in a way that boosts, rather than hinders staff productivity.
Pushing things forward
These days, push email is a standard feature on most smartphones. People away from the office need to be able to access their emails, and this is one of the most convenient ways of helping to ensure that workers remain productive when out and about.
For smaller enterprises that cannot afford the cost associated with running a dedicated mail server to push email to mobile devices, there are still options available. The BlackBerry Internet Service, for example, can be configured to send emails from a Yahoo! or Google web-based email account to a user’s mobile device.
For businesses that do not only have BlackBerry devices, Orange provides what it calls Orange Mail Internet Service (OMIS), with which Web-based emails are automatically forwarded to a mobile device. Prices start at £8.51 a month for a 12 month deal, falling to £5.11 a month for 24 months.
OMIS also offers users the chance to opt out and disable the service month-to-month, so they only pay for the months they use. This is particularly ideal for businesses with a smaller workforce that perhaps does not require constant mobility, or needs it during some projects and not others.
It is quite likely that larger enterprises will have their own mail server, in which case BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) is probably the best tool to enable users to keep up with emails on the move. It integrates with a wide range of email servers, such as Microsoft Exchange, Novell Groupwise, and Lotus Domino, as well as enabling access to a company’s databases and corporate applications.
But it’s not all about BlackBerry: Orange also offers ‘Microsoft Mail from Orange’. Windows Mobile has the added advantage of familiar functionality and usability, meaning that additional training for users is less likely.
As with BES, Microsoft Mail from Orange enables users to access the global address book so they can look up contact information from the company’s directory.
Services like this offer users much more than just email on the go. The ability to consult a company’s address book, contact list, calendaring and so on means a worker can operate more effectively away from their office.
A more immediate way of doing business
Michael Liebow, CEO of business mobility firm Dexterra believes that the key to a good mobile strategy at a company is enabling users to access business-critical applications on their devices.
“A winning mobility strategy is task-centric,” says Liebow. “It is built on the processes already in place and plays to the way employees want to work. Mobility lets people complete the things they need to do every day, as they happen, instead of having to find a place to connect a laptop, disrupt an office worker, or return to the office.”
As well as enabling people to keep up with emails, Leibow also believes that a good mobile strategy could help a company build stronger relationship with its clients. The ability to work ‘in the field’ should not be underestimated, he says.
“Allowing employees to use smartphones to quickly complete business tasks in the field improves efficiency and brings companies closer to customers,” he said.
Windows Mobile enables users to access Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents on their mobile device, so for example sales reps waiting to see a customer can easily access the latest news about that customer on their handheld, and can quickly update that information after the meeting.
Matt Bancroft, CMO at device management firm Mformation Technologies, says that this opening up of corporate data has benefits for every part of the company: “A lot has happened in the mobile world over the last four or five years, and it’s now realistic and available for people to do as much on the road as in the office.
“CIOs are seeing a huge opportunity, but they’re also scared to death because it’s complicated and changing fast and there are many things they don’t understand and they are looking to their mobile operator to help,” says Bancroft.
It is also the smaller features that can help productivity on the go. For example, Orange business customers can dial 240 and receive live traffic updates direct from the RAC. Their location is automatically picked up and traffic information for routes in that area is relayed, including motorways and major ‘A’ roads.
According to Bancroft, companies employing such devices effectively can anticipate 20% to 30% productivity gains.
Securing devices and data
If corporate data is going to be opened up, then it is vital that the data is protected and controlled. That requires the IT department to grab control over usage, not least because companies are under increasing regulatory pressure to manage and store their corporate data responsibly.
Rules, policies, strategies and countless other methods of control have been in place for laptops for many years, but extending those strategies to smartphones presents enterprises with new challenges.
Many of the mobile devices people use come from a consumer background and are not specifically designed for corporate use, even if their owners use them in that way. Research commissioned by Mformation found that 79% of the CIO respondents were worried that mobile device usage was becoming more complex as more sophisticated applications were used on mobile devices.
Platforms to control mobile devices are beginning to emerge on the market. One such offering is Orange Device Management, which enables administrators to remotely apply different applications, security policies and settings to different user groups’ smartphones and PDAs.
For more information on mobile security and device management, see the CBR feature article Securely Yours (http://mobility.cbronline.com/news/securely_yours_030209).
Social networking: distraction or business enabler?
As the use of smartphones in the consumer market exploded, workers began to demand the same devices in their business lives. Now it is fair to say that the same is happening with social networking.
The lines between professional and private lives are becoming blurred. Using sites like Facebook and Twitter is an important part of everyday life for millions of people, and they now expect to be able to use the same tools at work.
When BlackBerry released a MySpace application in November 2008, it shattered download records during its first week of availability, with over 400,000 people installing it on their devices.
RIM president and co-CEO Mike Lazaridis told CBR recently that social networking would play a very important role in the development of the smartphone market over the next few years.
“The exciting thing right now [on the market] is the conversion from a feature phone to a smartphone, a device that has a very comprehensive communications and multimedia experience and apps capabilities,” said Lazaridis. “That’s starting already with social networking — Facebook has been incredibly successful on BlackBerry and MySpace is following in the same footsteps.”
But what are the business benefits of embracing social networking? A 2008 report by thinktank Demos called on enterprises to encourage staff to use such tools at work.
The report, produced in conjunction with Orange, suggested that social networking in the work place can enhance company cohesion and even improve staff retention rates. It says that, “Smart businesses recognise that ‘social’ networking is not neatly separable from ‘professional’ networking”.
It is perfectly understandable that enterprises are wary about the mobile revolution. Alongside the security issues, companies may not feel that they can trust workers to do their job if they are away from the office. But with today’s technology, it is possible for workers to operate just as effectively when out on the road, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that productivity can be increased, offering genuine business benefits from embracing mobility.