How 'mobile first' businesses will gain the edge on competitors

Mobile workforce
Forward-thinking organisations are encouraging mobility among employees

Within the office, technology is helping practices to evolve, and nowhere more so than in the meeting room. Real time collaboration applications, personal screens such as tablets, and high definition flat panel display communal screens are making the boardroom more dynamic and efficient.

The cost of all this equipment may hold it back from being used in every meeting room in every business, but at the C-Level it is making meetings more efficient and helping board members to make decisions in real time. Colleagues, partners or clients that cannot make the meeting in person are able to do more than just dial-in – video allows them to both see everyone in the room and be seen by them, giving them a virtual presence.

The boundaries between physical and virtual are being blurred: near field communications (NFC) technology allows for data and documents to be transferred between devices in real time, enabling users to literally swipe information to each other as they would a piece of paper.

Combined with real time sharing through cloud-based services, this means that meeting attendees can have a vast range of information at their fingertips, enabling better collaboration and decision-making.

Better environment, better results

All of this interactivity between devices, data and people, combing real world and virtual activity, points to the future of working practices – it makes life easier for all those involved and speeds up the process of sharing and acting on the growing amount of information that business leaders and workers across the business all have access to.

For many workers, the idea of sitting in the same place at the same workstation every day is becoming out of date and dropping sales of desktops to businesses are an indication of this trend.

There is no longer a need to be tethered to a particular location or terminal, as tools, content and services are more easily accessible through the cloud and from multiple device types. Laptops, tablets and smartphones pack enough processing power to make them perfectly viable tools for everyday use, and allow employees to be more flexible, whether they are in the office or not.

There is an increasing trend towards workstations simply being a docking terminal, where users can plug their mobile device into a larger screen when they happen to be in the office.

Mobile devices share the workload

Undoubtedly, there will continue to be a need for desktop PCs in certain scenarios, but the overwhelming trend is for a range of more mobile computing devices to take over in the workplace. Some people work sat down, others work while standing up, and some work while on the move.

A mobile first approach enables easy transition between the different modes of working. Mobile access to corporate applications is also changing the way that office space is configured, enabling flexible working whether employees are at home, travelling or in the office, making them more efficient as well as helping the business to cut costs.

For the majority of businesses, the need for office space is not going away. It is possible to conduct more meetings remotely of course, but face to face contact and interactions with clients and colleagues is, and will continue to be, an important part of doing business.

Having a central hub to meet and work makes sense, even if not all employees are based there all the time, and as travel is expensive it does of course make sense to work from a single location.

Changes already being made

As remote working means that not every employee will be in the office every day, businesses can make better use of the space that they would previously have filled, and simply make sure that there is adequate room for the average number of employees in the office at any one time, rather than basing it around individual, fixed workstations for every employee.

Mobility allows us to cut the ties to the desk, and forward-looking organisations are already making office space much more open to enable better employee collaboration.

This means that employees and guests can be mobile while in the office, moving around to find the right people to talk with or to find a quiet spot when they need to concentrate. And such flexibility also has an impact on the costs of hiring office space, with businesses able to downsize offices while maintaining the same number of workers.

As the manner of office working changes and employees become more mobile, there will be heavy demands placed on the campus WLAN. The increasing number of mobile devices used by both employees and guests creates a bandwidth and access challenge, slowing down the network, and if this trend continues networks will not be able to cope with the demand, drastically reducing the efficiency of every worker in the office.

Meeting this challenge requires several steps:

  • Firstly, upgrading the campus WLAN is a priority in order to provide the required extra bandwidth.
  • Secondly, there will likely be a need for some kind of traffic management, as personal devices used in the workplace will also be used for personal applications.
  • Thirdly, the increasing number of mobile devices accessing corporate data and applications across the WLAN will require an accordant level of network security. Strong network access control (NAC) features are important in terms of dealing with any threats at the network layer, before they get close to any devices, applications or data.

Looking ahead, biometrics and face recognition will also have the potential to transform not just digital security in the workplace, but also physical security. Smartphones, tablets and laptops are increasingly capable of sophisticated biometrics through integrated finger print or iris scanners, and facial recognition is possible with any connected device with a high resolution forward facing camera.

These new authentication factors create the potential for a workplace that is not only physically more secure, but also creates a less disruptive flow through the workplace for authorized personnel.

To summarise

The future of work is going to be shaped by the tools we use, and these tools are becoming ever more mobile, smart and inter-connected.

New connected screens keep us constantly connected to cloud services, meaning that it is becoming possible to do work any time, anywhere, as long as there is a connection. This flexibility and agility offers a step-change in terms of making the average worker more productive and efficient, both inside and outside the office.

But it also creates a range of challenges for enterprise IT – which must proactively embrace the pace of innovations and engage with lines of business to make the most of the opportunities that these new technologies provide around improving or completely transforming business processes.

Becoming a truly mobile first business is a huge challenge, but will ultimately give a huge competitive edge to those who make the move first.

  • Richard Absalom is a Senior Analyst of Enterprise Mobility and Adrian Drury a Consulting Director, both at Ovum. The Future of Work report was produced in partnership with Samsung - follow the links for Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.