Making mobile a core component

18 Dec 2003

New technology provides businesses with an unprecedented opportunity to integrate mobile communications into their enterprise infrastructure. But are they taking advantage of that opportunity? The answer, according to Paddy Collins (pictured), head of messaging and business solutions at Vodafone, is a resounding ‘yes’.

“More and more businesses are starting to do that now as evidenced by the solution sales we have seen in the past 12 to 18 months,” he says. “Three years ago we would have been out selling the advantages of mobility, in other words voice and data. People were listening but not implementing, but over the past 18 months they are seeing the benefits of having a mobility strategy.”

The driving force behind this, he says, is the fact that work is being seen more as an activity than a place. More and more companies are looking at a mobile strategy and are asking themselves how can they allow their people to work away from the office more effectively and productively.

“When we talk about mobile remote working, all that means is how can people working away from the office access the company network using a laptop or a mobile phone with a Wap screen. In conversation with customers what we also say is that unless their mobile strategy is doing one or all of three things it’s not working properly,” he says.

The three factors Collins identifies are: increased employee productivity; improved communications; and increased employee flexibility.

“What do we me mean by increased productivity?” ask Collins rhetorically. “It’s all about people working away from the office decreasing their downtime. There’s no need to go back to the office to pick up email and there’s no need to drive back to the office to process an order you’ve just taken. A lot of mobility talk is around email but it’s not just about that.”

The second factor, improved communications, relates to the ability of the field worker to make better decisions in front of a customer, particularly from a sales perspective. According to Collins, a better informed employee is able to make decisions on the spot and can close deals more quickly than one who does not have all the relevant information to hand.

The third factor, increased employee flexibility, relates to the changing nature of work. “The line between work and life is becoming blurred,” says Collins. “By giving people remote access to applications, they don’t have to come into the office. By giving people the flexibility to work when they want to, they will work longer hours. By increasing employee flexibility, companies get greater productivity without asking for it.”

These advances are being made possible by a convergence of mobile and networking technologies, but this is the last thing that Vodafone discusses with a client, according to Collins. “Yes, technology is absolutely important but it is the last thing we talk about. Instead we ask what the issues are. There’s no point in talking about technology until you understand the issues. We understand that we are just one piece of the jigsaw. Mobile networking is our area of expertise and what we have done is form strategic alliances at both a global and local level. We would have alliances with Microsoft, Cisco, Compaq, Dell and IBM and then at a local level, we would have alliances with system integrators such as Tara, LanComms, Datapac and so on,” he says.

“Typically we would get into dialogue with the IT manager and hardware supplier. For instance, in the finance sector we enabled more than 200 sales staff at Acorn Life to access the back office remotely. There were three parties at the table: the customer, LanComms as systems integrator and Vodafone. Once the need was identified, we ended up working as a virtual team hand in glove with Acorn’s IT staff and with LanComms to address how to install a seamless solution.”

Vodafone is also driving solutions around the traditional voice handset allowing the company to position the mobile phone as the primary phone in a business environment. “Why invest in a new phone system when you can use the mobile phone when you are away from the office. And when you are back in the office, it becomes part of the network. As the market changes, we are looking to target fixed line business and make a paradigm shift from the phone stuck to the desk to the phone you carry with you.”

By David Stewart