Mobile computing might not have reached its full potential yet, but we've certainly come a long way
Have you noticed how archaeology seems to be in vogue on television at the moment? In the past month I've seen programs that have uncovered some of the mysteries of the Mayan dynasties of Central America and of the Pharaohs in Egypt. I often wonder what future archaeologists might make when they uncover remnants of our own civilization. I pose the question because of a cartoon someone sent me. This is titled "Future Archaeology" and here the dig has uncovered the obvious cubicle-oriented office of today. One archaeologist turns to the other and says: "Our best guess is that it was some sort of late 20th century prison!"
As balancing work and lifestyle becomes an increasingly important social issue, many might feel imprisoned by their offices. However, the evidence is that technology is freeing the modern worker from this confinement. Each year IDC tracks trends in the adoption of technology in the Asia Pacific region through its Forecast for Management survey. Since 1996 there has been a steady but consistent increase in almost every one of the applications and technologies associated with worker mobility. The access of central data by remote workers rose by over 51 percent in this period, while telecommuting increased by 49 percent. However, perhaps as an antidote to all these travelling technologists, the use of videoconferencing grew by 116 percent during the same time frame.
Everything That Rises Must Converge
One of the big drivers in this movement is the versatility of much modern IT equipment. Portable computers have come a long way from the "luggables" pioneered by Compaq in the 1980s. In particular, the convergence of the mobile phone and PDA has opened up the ability of staff to carry one appliance to address their phone and computing needs. In fact, I have encountered a significant number of InTEP members who are replacing their laptops with such devices. They are cheaper and pose less of a security risk than traditional notebooks. Moreover, they provide e-mail, calendaring, contacts and a mobile phone, which, in reality, are the important application needs of most staff who work in the field.
Recently, IDC explored the drivers for enterprise mobility in Australia. As might be expected, the dominant business catalysts for using mobile devices were productivity and customer service. Interestingly, large organizations also recognized that cost savings were likely to result from these benefits. On the other hand, however, a number of respondents to the same survey also identified costs - along with security and standards - as a major inhibitor that prevented their organization from harnessing greater enterprise mobility.
As someone who spends a significant part of each month travelling, my biggest frustrations have to do with access and uptime. It never ceases to amaze me how many supposedly four-star hotels in Australia do not have broadband Internet facilities in their rooms. To me, this is a reflection of how little they know about the needs of their business clients. I am unable to work effectively on a dial-up line and prefer to go without accessing the Internet if this is all that is available. Similarly, battery life on laptops is still limited. This means that I seldom use a laptop on planes or away from a regular power source. In my mind both these challenges need to be overcome for enterprise mobility to become ubiquitous.
However, while these are still challenges we should not lose sight of how far we have come in the last twenty years. It's now commonplace for many people to spend some part of their working week operating from home, and I expect such trends to continue. Maintaining a balance between work and home is one of the key issues of modern times; the ICT industry should trumpet technology as the way to free the workers of the future from the shackles of their offices.
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