Mobile collaboration: Bringing new-world communication to the enterprise
Mobile collaboration depicts a wondrous image for employee and client communication, but challenges remain in skills, networks and connectivity
Short of time?
Businesses have found themselves in catch-up mode in the realm of collaboration.
The proliferation of smartphones with video calling capability and the emergence of social media as a preferred form of communication have made traditional methods of workplace collaboration appear increasingly irrelevant.
At the same time, changing perceptions about flexible working have forced IT departments to rethink their collaboration strategies as employees demand the ability to communicate efficiently with colleagues and clients on the move.
Such a realisation has created a market for next-generation mobile collaboration solutions that enable employees to join video meetings wherever they are – so long as they are carrying a smartphone or tablet.
However, adoption remains in its infancy. CIOs, after all, are still trying to get their heads around what mobility strategy to roll out to ensure both productivity and security.
But organisations must keep it on-radar if they want to attract the best talent from younger generations entering the workforce.
‘This is still quite a young technology, with dedicated, business-focused mobile collaboration solutions only just coming to the market,’ says Phil Lewis, senior director, solution consulting, EMEA at Infor.
There is a strong appetite, however – much of that down to a refinement in understanding by end-user businesses. Previously they thought social and mobile were new additions to the technology mix rather than a wholesale reorganisation of how they can get their work done.
‘When you start talking about workflow improvements instead of social media, or uninterrupted processes because of mobility, you see a much quicker take-up.’
The evolving workplace
Mobile apps and social platforms have undoubtedly shaped the way that people communicate in their personal lives, but less understood is how they have influenced the way they want to work.
Increasingly, employees are bringing their technology habits and expectations from their homes into the workplace. This has given rise to shadow IT, which exposes businesses to security risks, a lack of control, decentralisation of knowledge and a fledging awareness of best practice policies.
This is most prevalent in organisations that have yet to grasp the fact that they need to adopt an IT strategy that speaks the same language as their workforce.
‘We have found that people do their best work with technology that adapts to their way of working and personal habits, not the other way round,’ says Wim Stoop, senior product marketing manager at Jive Software. ‘This is because it’s not just technology and processes that build businesses – people build businesses.
‘The most successful companies know that capturing the best of what every person has to offer – through technology that adapts to employee work styles and habits – results in a unified workforce, clearer business processes and fewer headaches for IT.’
This is particularly the case for millennials who, according to Deloitte, will make up 75% of the global workplace by 2025.
As the first generation to grow up using technology throughout their lives, this group expects to be able to connect, communicate and collaborate with colleagues, partners and customers seamlessly at all times.
Companies will need to support these flexible working styles with the right tools to help their employees work better together and ensure best business practices.
However, enterprise applications remain far behind the excellent design and functionality that users have become accustomed to on consumer services.
In the application economy, app performance can be the make or break of an organisation. Yet, many enterprise apps lack the usability and functionality that consumers expect.
Martin Ashall, UKI CTO at CA Technologies, puts this down to rigid corporate cultures and a ‘one skill in a box’ approach.
‘Software development and operation functions are often separated in those organisations, meaning that they often don’t even report to the same places,’ he says. ‘This results in employees who don’t work well together, software that doesn’t work reliably and customers who are thinking about moving to competitors.
‘Shifting the mindset and adopting a DevOps approach can help put organisations on the right track. Breaking down the barriers between development, production and operations presents a pathway for these two functions to work together seamlessly and deliver the user experience that matches or surpasses that in the physical stores, on social networks and on websites.’
In a world where customers are far more likely to experience a brand through a software application than a live person, taking a DevOps approach could indeed be the turning point for many enterprises.
But skills aren’t the only barrier – the networks built over the past few years were not designed for the pressures of today’s IT demands.
There has been a massive shift in the demands being placed on networks – more devices, new application delivery, increasing use of multimedia, and mobility.
Traditional networks are just not ready to support the real-time requirements of a multifaceted communications approach.
‘Networks need to be able to handle an increase in bandwidth, but it’s more than just a case of cranking up the capacity of the network,’ says Manish Sablok, head of marketing, Central, North and East Europe at Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise. ‘Networks need to be intelligently and dynamically managed to ensure a high-quality experience on real-time communications.
‘The quality of service should not be jeopardised by less essential traffic competing for network resources.’
The results of investing in both skills and network functionality will be fruitful. Whether it is linking geographically distributed teams, highly mobile workforces or ensuring that clients and customers have access to the right people with the right information, collaboration can transform business performance.
Research has shown that true collaboration enabled through unified communication and collaboration (UC&C) optimises productivity by eliminating up to 75% of the time wasted by the average employee looking for the right information, needlessly duplicating communications, attempting to schedule meetings or receiving unwanted communications.
It can reduce sales and project cycles by up to 40%, and minimise lost business opportunities by keeping employees connected across multiple devices and platforms.
‘It would not be a stretch to say that enterprise mobility, when done right, can transform the way a business operates at its core,’ says Andy Bushby, technology director, mobile and information security at Oracle. ‘A mobile approach allows people to collaborate more effectively across the organisation and work more flexibly.’
It also encourages inventiveness and creativity, particularly once companies start developing their own enterprise apps and services.
If anything, a mobile enterprise is in a good position to actually redefine its business objectives and be truly disruptive in the market.
‘Companies such as Uber, Spotify and WhatsApp have achieved extraordinary levels of success in the past few years because they’ve recognised that enterprise mobility doesn’t just offer a means to an end; it puts companies in a position to rethink the boundaries within which they work.’
Not the easy option
It falls to CIOs to make this happen. But achieving a common enterprise-wide architecture and common management for all kinds of communications – including voice, mobile, video, instant messaging and presence – is not easy, and it’s certainly not cheap.
Where many enterprises go wrong is in relying on outdated communication architecture or attempting to solve the problem by beefing up the Wi-Fi network.
Mobility ultimately relies upon being connected at all times, and while pushing wireless users onto the Wi-Fi network may seem like a great solution – since the technology is already in place – there are several different types of users, and Wi-Fi administrators cannot serve them all.
‘Enterprise connectivity is now a key element of a successful business, and relying on outdoor 4G networks to provide indoor service is just not enough,’ says John Spindler, VP of product management at TE Connectivity. ‘Businesses need to move with the times and take greater responsibility for their communications.’