Keeping mobility on the road

Keeping mobility on the road

Mobility is everywhere, and more! So keep it working, keep users happy, and for heaven’s sake make sure that your people know how to deal with those people.

Reaching the state where mobile technology covers any application, any device, anywhere for every user is no mean feat. Mobile technology and its use in business is increasingly widespread, but because of the differing levels of technological sophistication among users, there is a ‘market’ need to access applications seamlessly.

In reality, however, this means the onus is on the users to fall into line and come to terms with underpinning technology, a situation that can prove difficult for them and their IT departments.

These were the themes of a discussion at a recent CIO roundtable held at Melbourne’s Comme restaurant. Application delivery networking company, F5, sponsored the event.

Adrian Noblett, F5’s solution architect, says, “The consumerisation of IT has brought with it the side effect that consumers are now delivered seamless hyperconnectivity.

Opening their personal computing devices, they are immediately presented with access to email, instant messaging, file sharing, video calling, and all manner of information and content feeds.

“As this capability becomes a natural extension of their everyday lives, users are now looking to the enterprise IT department to provide the same level of service for corporate applications.

“Unfortunately, traditional remote access technologies based on network connectivity place an onus on the user to understand when and how they should connect to the enterprise network, launching VPN clients, authenticating with tokens, etc, prior to accessing their corporate applications.

This is predominantly because traditional access technologies are developed as a point solution focused on connectivity rather than what is truly important to users: the application.”

Presuming you’ve got your mobile technology strategy in place, how then do you make sure the users are happy with the technology solutions on offer?

Joanne Stubbs, CIO for Bakers Delight, puts it succinctly: “We make sure we offer alternatives to any products that we cannot install, and involve users actively in piloting new software/hardware.

“We also involve them in the project from day one and allocate user reps from each department to be the trainers/power users for their respective teams. We run competitions during the project implementation encouraging users to learn more quickly in return for prizes.”

Christopher Topp, IT director with the Luther College in Melbourne, gives a good reason for ensuring users are happy: “If they aren’t happy with what any IT department or the organisation offers, it’s quite simple – they will work around it to get what they want.

In a modern environment where people telecommute and have remote access to resources, they won’t sit around for five years waiting for IT to do something they perceive to be simple – they will go to the shop, buy the device that suits their preferred working style, and implement software that complements all the above.

“We take a collaborative approach, which means the users of our systems feel they are engaged with the bigger picture and are at the forefront in helping to create an environment where they are using modern technology.”

Victoria’s Royal District Nursing Service operates almost entirely in a mobile environment. Rohan Manuel, RDNS’s general manager of IS production services, says that the organisation takes “a shop type approach”.

It offers a range of products to meet customers’ needs. “Each solution has pros and cons. These are called out and users are encouraged to try before they select. In addition to this, with product testing we have super users who are called upon to assist with testing.”

Chris Howard, manager of energy company SP Ausnet’s ICT business office, takes a formal approach to assess user reaction. The company has formal service desk feedback following the closure of a request or an incident, a bi-annual customer satisfaction survey, informal channels such as site visits, participation in the business strategy and planning function, and, as is often the case, the “organisational grapevine”.

Frank Italia, IT director for consulting engineers Norman Disney & Young, says that his organisation takes a pragmatic approach, recognising that the people who know the most about these devices are the people who rely on them to do their job.

“As such, we provide services where users can communicate with each other about what works for them using a combination of wiki, RSS feed. We are also investigating internal corporate and public based social media technologies to support this self service and user support trend.”

But having happy users is one thing. How do you ensure that the IT department keeps pace with users’ needs?

Topp puts it down to “A lot of communication – primarily informal”. This takes place with all business units. “We let them tell us – they are, after all, the ones who want to use these new devices, and if we can make it work for them, we will.”

Italia also follows the communication line, as “our users make the IT team well aware of what their needs are at every opportunity they have, and they do that extremely well. Our issue is really making sure that our IT staff understand the business reasons of why our users are taking the time to talk to us on these matters.”

Manuel says each IT staff member over the course of a two year period must spend at least one day with a field nurse.

And Stubbs makes sure all requests for new technology and new projects come through IT and project work is communicated and governed through a steering committee.”

Happy users and informed staff sounds ideal, but does the technology work well with both groups, or is there a compromise that must be made?

Howard admits that his user population does not have a full appreciation of the technology limitations that exist when people are in remote areas with limited mobile coverage, which means a gap between what is wanted and what can be delivered.

“We expect that there will continue to be a level of ‘playoff’ between the user perspective versus the technology, and these compromises typically fall into the areas of security requirements that inhibit what a user wants to do, application capability (some applications are not yet mobile capable), and the performance of an application over a 3G network (especially in remote areas with poor coverage).”

Stubbs adds that, in her case, there is only a compromise if a user wants to install unapproved apps on their smartphones, and this usually results in finding a safer alternative. The best fit might not necessarily be the best tech, but it works for everyone.

She says her greatest priority with mobile technology is “the need to grow organisational efficiency, but this can sometimes be constrained by the stability of the technology available and the cost to implement.”

Italia agrees. “By light years, our greatest priority is always ‘grow organisational business and efficiency’. For the IT group, this must and should always be the case, no matter what the issue or technology it is that we are assessing – if there is an opportunity to grow the business and ultimately grow profits then the IT people have an obligation to make the tech work.

Sure, that needs to be balanced against the possible introduction of new risks to the business, but it’s only a profitable business that can implement new technologies and maintain existing technology. Really, what else are the IT people in a company there to do if not that?”

Italia recognises one final and pertinent situation which impacts on all aspects of mobility, and that’s about the person not the device: “Mobile devices are the first dual-purpose user device where the personal value of the device is seen as having higher value than the business value, but the business value is how they are justified.

In most cases, even if say email is not working on the device, the phone will still be working so the device needs to stay operational in the users’ hands while you fix the email.

It’s funny but there seems to only be three ways to provide support for these devices: replace it completely before they hand it in to be fixed; fix it remotely if you dare; or fix it with the users standing there watching you and asking you what you are doing while you fix it. These are seen as very personal devices and users feel lost without them.”

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