Forrester: Define corporate policies to manage the mobile workplace

Organizations should create a formal mobile workplace strategy before losing control of how employees use personal devices for work, according to Forrester Research Inc.

The mobile workplace will be here soon, if it hasn’t arrived already. Get used to it.

That’s the message being spread at various IT and content and collaboration industry conferences of late. While mobile workers are nothing new, their numbers are increasing rapidly, and especially so among knowledge workers. In addition to the growing number of employees are bringing devices originally purchased for private use to work and using them for their professional tasks, many are now purchasing their own devices specifically to use in their professional lives.

Workers in all lines of business are adopting the devices, as are partners and suppliers who look for useful mobile applications from each other. Finally, customers are adopting them as well and using them to interact with companies across multiple channels. Because of this, organizations should put together a mobile strategy before they miss the opportunity to control how their employees use the burgeoning technology, says a recent report from Forrester Research Inc. of Cambridge, Mass.

A well-designed corporate approach to mobile technology will take pressure off the IT department’s operating model as it scrambles to accommodate mobile users and help steer IT efforts away from chaos and redundancy, according to Build an Operations Stairway to the Mobile Future.

As recently as 2009, this wasn’t necessary because most companies issued IT-controlled BlackBerrys to their mobile employees. But then something happened.

“Obviously, the success of the iPhone has done a lot to spark this phenomenon,” said Christian Kane, a researcher with Forrester who worked on the report. As the iPhone matured and when Apple introduced the iPad in 2010, the expectations of both executives and employees were “redefined,” the report says. “But,” Kane said, “Android has very much helped, and then Apple responded and pushed the market and that has [in turn] pushed this phenomenon.”

Smartphones are almost ubiquitous among employees and corporate partners. Customers use them as well to interact with businesses and organizations of every stripe. Tablet computers are quickly giving laptop computers a run for their money among people who travel for work, and workers are footing much of the bill. More than half of all North American and 36% of European information workers pay all or part of their monthly data plans on personal devices used for work, according to the report.

“A lot is going on,” Kane said. “First you have the consumerization of IT. Workers are now much more aware of these technologies. [Increased use] also comes from them seeing the power of these devices in the hands of their friends.” Once an information professional realizes that a smartphone or tablet computer can be used for work, “Whether IT approves of them or not, they are finding ways of using the devices. … And with a much better user experience than IT has provided.”

“This really is signaling a general trend that all firms are struggling with right now,” Kane added, “but it is really relevant for people who are information managers.”

The challenge is for companies to come up with plans for the “bring your own device” phenomenon that ensure employees can work with their content while maintaining control over it. As knowledge workers share and collaborate with new devices and a host of different mobile applications, the concerns go beyond just managing content and maintaining security.

After speaking with hundreds of customers, Forrester came up with seven steps to set up a formal corporate mobile program that establishes policies, procedures and governance for using smartphones, tablet computers and other devices for business. The report suggests organizations do the following:

  • Segment employees according to their mobile needs and security risks. This will help establish a service program and prioritize applications and processes that must be “mobilized.”
  • Divide device management based on applications and security risk. While employee-provisioned Android phones might get email and a VPN-enabled browser, BlackBerry devices running business applications might get a complete management suite.
  • Take a multi-technology approach to deliver business applications. This means buying or building applications for high-value tasks, building browser applications for lower-value tasks and virtualizing core applications that don’t have actual mobile versions yet or others that apply only to a small group of users.
  • Master multiplatform development. Use a comprehensive toolkit with applications from vendors, native application development, HTML5 for mobile websites and desktop virtualization applications that must be ported to tablets. There is no “one size fits all” approach that works.
  • Fund mobile network, access and security infrastructure separately from the existing IT budget. One idea: Calculate the per-user cost for application and infrastructure support and charge business budget holders for each person supported.
  • Adopt reimbursement policies that align costs with benefits. It sounds simple, but is actually a complex proposition. At least ask these questions: Which employees should get full reimbursement or partial and why? Which budget should reimbursement come from? Are there tax implications attached to these reimbursements?
  • Plan for an enterprise application store for employees. Apple has built a business-to-business extension into its consumer store and Cisco made its AppHQ part of its Cius tablet strategy.

The report also suggests IT leaders designate a “mobility czar” and charter a mobility council to establish an organization’s mobile policy. “A lot of it has really stemmed from our conversations with clients, and we’ve looked at how their mobile strategies have evolved,” Kane said.

Enterprises should put together a decision-making council or committee (not an advisory group) headed up by a leader with a VP title to establish the company’s mobile strategy. It’s important for this council to meet frequently to stay on top of changes in the technology.

Create a cross-departmental group that, at a minimum, includes someone from legal, someone from security and someone with an IT architecture background, Kane said. It should include representatives from every discipline and business function.

“High-level employees have also come into IT and said, ‘OK, support me,’ ” Kane said. “You can’t really say no to those executives. [And] because executives see the value of mobility [on personal devices], it only makes sense to explore ways for potentially more employees to use these devices for their jobs.” 

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