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Working remotely — are we really there yet?

Working remotely — are we really there yet?

Executives still lack access to corporate data and functionality when mobile

If you are an executive who regularly uses a smartphone or tablet for business, it’s likely you can identify with the challenge of not yet having access to all the data you need to run your business while mobile or travelling.

Without the same access to your corporate network and your multiple calendars as you would have at your desk, even the day-to-day tasks of scheduling meetings, managing your time and co-ordinating with colleagues and their calendars becomes an onerous task.

Many smartphone and tablet solutions are still missing this kind of integrated scheduling capability but after 10 years of wireless technology things are finally improving in this regard.

A few products are emerging to address multi-calendaring and multi-contact capability on wireless smartphone or tablet devices, some better than others. There are three types on offer: Standalone shared data systems, overlaying shared data systems and enterprise multi-data access solutions – each with different levels of benefits.

Standalone shared data systems

These solutions were the first to market. They have expended the most marketing efforts to-date and have the highest market share but unfortunately don’t answer the real need of key executive offices. These are usually marketed as the group or department calendar type systems that purport to provide multi-calendar data for your phone.

However, what is really going on is that you are looking at a new and separate shared calendar, which is maintained completely independently of original executive calendars. It’s easy, but it puts the onus on support staff to maintain a separate calendar for sharing purposes, and is vulnerable to erroneous entries and delayed updates.

Overlaying shared data systems

For small and medium businesses, an executive assistant can find the market has some ‘add-on’ tools to simulate a shared calendar. These actually ‘modify’ his/her own native calendar by overlaying one or two executives calendars and merging it into their own data.

Does this work? Sort of, but it’s not suitable for enterprises. It’s really a fudge solution and it means your own calendar fills up with ‘copies’ of the boss’s real data and can get very messy. It’s also more for reading rather than updating as the copied entries are simply not the true appointments that can trigger chairperson and delegation activities.

This could possibly work for an executive assistant who has one boss who is not all that active and only wants to read, not edit, the information. But imagine an executive assistant who looks after six senior executives! His/her native calendar would not be readable.

Enterprise multi-data access solutions

These are the new breed of third-party solutions and there may only be two of these worldwide, but they do fulfil the need at the enterprise level. These systems access the real enterprise mail system data via your smartphone or tablet and, if you are entitled, you can see and update real calendar data online. These may work for enterprises who host their own mail systems in-house but they are not that suitable for small businesses or hosted computing solutions.

The benefits of the new breed of enterprise multi-data access solutions come not only with direct access to other data such as multiple staff calendars but they also come with additional features, such as auditing and extra security. This is because the extra calendars are fully synchronised or replicated copies of the real calendars held in the third-party service. Additional features and rules can be applied to the copy that does not have to be applied to the native copy. For example, delegation rights to the native calendar do not have to match.

Don’t forget the DRM

In addition to an enterprise multi-data access solution, a Diary Resource Management (DRM) System can provide a failsafe capability to capture deletions and audit whether items were altered on a phone or tablet device, or via the native messaging system. This feature is popular with government officials who need to audit every event on their personal programme. Staff can detect if the boss has accidentally deleted or moved an appointment and simply put the item back into the diary in a seamless and audited manner.

This DRM can also alter the colours of items on the phone or desktop so a user can see at a glance whether an item has been touched within the last hour or so. These relatively small features are a boon to executives and admin assistants who are remote, as it saves verbal phone calls trying to determine who changed an appointment and when the change was made.

Jed Johnson is director of Random Computing Services, an ISV and Research In Motion partner developing solutions for staff of executive and senior government offices.

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