Mobilising the business troops

31 Dec 2008

What is the bread and butter of the business person on the go? Simply put, connectivity. The ability to stay connected on the move and essentially get the same functionality as you would if you were in the office is of paramount importance.

Two big trends this year that have really revolutionised the mobile office space have been mobile broadband (with increasing speeds) and the continued evolution of the smart phone and its powerful mobile office applications.

On the one hand, mobile broadband has really taken off in Ireland with almost a quarter of a million subscribers signalling a 400pc increase in subscription in the last year alone, according to a recent ComReg (Commission for Communications Regulation) report.

The increasing ubiquity of the smart phone in the business world is evident with the success of the iPhone 3G, the huge demand for the new BlackBerry Storm and the innovative re-imagining of the trusted Palm PDA with the Treo Pro.

Not only does the business person appreciate the seamless combination of voice and data on one device with robust security for remote log-in, but also the fact that the smart phone is now as consumer friendly as it is conducive to business makes it the ideal device for managing a work/life balance.

Looking at mobile broadband, Billy D’Arcy, head of business sales and services for O2 Ireland, says that in several aspects it has moved on quite a bit in the last year or so. Firstly, it has moved from the dongle to a more compact memory stick, which is extremely convenient and can be put on your key ring, he explains.

Secondly, with the stakes being what they are in business, if a 3G signal is not available you can fall back on EDGE connectivity because O2’s EDGE network fully overlays the 2G network, and this connection will still suffice for accessing application service providers and CRM packages such as Sage or Salesforce.

“However, the network has really moved on and there is much more confidence surrounding the use of data card devices,” adds D’Arcy.

While a laptop and mobile broadband combination is a life saver for the mobile worker or road warrior, the biggest demand from business users, according to Vodafone, 3 and O2, is email, and this is where the smart phone really comes into its own.

“Email is still the killer app and the key requirement moving forward. I’ve been in this industry for 10 years and even then businesses had a requirement for mobile email. It was more difficult and expensive then but now the scenario is that, simply put, if you have a phone you can get mobile email,” says Darragh Fitzgerald Selby, corporate sales manager at Vodafone.

“When we talk to customers with this requirement, we have three solutions: push email on the BlackBerry, a Windows Mobile device and Vodafone’s business email service.”

While email is a key driver to attracting the business user to the smart phone, it is by no means the only mobile office functionality on these devices: “The smart phone has become so much more sophisticated. Now you have the situation where salespeople can update information from their smart phone device while they’re out and about,” adds Fitzgerald Selby.

This is something that Kieran O’Toole, sales manager for Palm Ireland, is noticing too: “We are seeing a huge amount of growth in the smart phone market, which seems almost paradoxical in a recession, but as organisations are letting people go, companies that have been mulling over the purchase of smart phone’s for months have finally decided to go for it.

“Equipping your mobile staff with smart phones can mean less time spent travelling back and forth to the office, as well as spending less on kitting each and every worker out with a laptop.

“Companies are looking at the budget and working out how to make staff more efficient. Some companies Palm has worked with are using the Palm Treo Pro to take and process orders on site, so you can have a guy taking the order at 11am which hits the system by 11:30am and is shipped by 12:30! This is adding hugely to overall efficiency,” explains O’Toole.

This is essentially having your smart phone as an extension of the office. “With devices like the Treo Pro, you have the ability to receive email that is pushed out as soon as it arrives, and alongside that the ability to access corporate data. An application called Remote Desktop allows you to set up a shared folder on the laptop/desktop in the office, where you can store Excel spreadsheets and the like.

“There is an appetite to access documents from a mobile device without downloading that goes hand in hand with the ability to be connected to the office while you’re out,” says O’Toole.

However, this functionality is nothing without security. The new BlackBerry Storm, while having a big, beautiful touchscreen and multimedia capabilities, is also strong on security.

“The Storm is a fully secure solution, so while it is a device that has consumer applications and internet access, it is also rubber-stamped by IT, which makes it extremely relevant in a corporate space,” says Fitzgerald Selby.

What are business users getting from these converged devices, apart from the standard applications? D’Arcy  points out that a big touchscreen is not necessarily all about watching movies and YouTube on the go.

“While smart phones have reduced in size and got touch functionality and QWERTY, in and of themselves the interface of these devices is improving. Take, for example, the iPhone 3G and the GUI (graphical user interface), which has its unique uses in a corporate environment.

“Many businesspeople like the fact that you can expand the screen when say, looking at numbers on a PowerPoint presentation. Being able to expand the screen and move it around can be very useful,” adds D’Arcy.

If all this business on the go is making us more efficient, is it destroying the work/life balance that makes for a happy and productive worker?

Funnily enough, the latest smart phones on the market are genre-spanners in that they serve the dual purpose of checking into the office, but also allow for some rest and relaxation while stuck in an airport or waiting for a meeting to start, with the ability to bring your music collection along with you, store TV shows and catch up on news and podcasts.

“The smart phone has not only become a work tool but also one used for leisure. The beauty of the latest handsets is that the road warrior doesn’t have to have an iPod with them, and brands like Nokia and HTV are working hard to bring this work/life experience to market,” says Damien Gallagher, head of business markets and new initiatives at 3.

By Marie Boran