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Employees using their own mobile devices are a growing challenge

Shamus McGillicuddy
IT executives are dramatically underestimating how many mobile users they have to support, according to Forrester Research.

Enterprises are doing a fine job of accounting for the mobile task workers and knowledge workers who have traditionally been supported with smartphones, laptops and other devices. But there is a faster-growing segment of the mobile workforce that may be going unnoticed by most companies, according Michele Pelino, senior analyst at Forrester. Forrester calls them the "mobile wannabes."

"[Mobile wannabes] are a category of individuals within an enterprise that tend to want to use their own personal mobile devices in a work situation," Pelino said. "And they may want to use them to get email access and basic kinds of applications to stay in touch with calendaring and things like that. They tend to have already made their purchasing decisions for the device they're using. And they're expecting some level of support from the IT

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organization."

Forrester recently surveyed 432 workers who have their own smartphones to see whether or not they use their devices for work. Fifty-seven percent said they use them to make work-related phone calls, 48% said they use them to check corporate email, and 42% said they use their smartphones to search the Internet or a corporate intranet for work-related information.

Pelino said mobile wannabes are often office workers who are traditionally tied to their desks and whose job responsibilities don't require them to work outside the office -- receptionists and administrative assistants, for example. Enterprises have not recognized any value in mobilizing these types of employees, but the employees themselves see that value. They want the ability to check their calendar, for instance, or make a last-minute phone call while riding the train home.

According to Forrester data, 6% of enterprise employees are mobile wannabes today. That number will grow to 25% by 2012. These employees are often not supported by IT organizations. In fact, many IT organizations are not even aware of them. Pelino said these mobile wannabes are growing at a much faster rate than the mobile knowledge workers and mobile task workers that IT already supports. Today, for instance, 22% of all enterprise employees are mobile information workers. That number will increase to 34% in 2012, a much slower rate of growth than the mobile wannabes who are largely invisible to IT.

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"The mobile wannabes tend not to be information workers or task workers. They tend to be administrative assistants or folks that may be at their desks most of the time," Pelino said. "But that doesn't mean that they wouldn't want a mobile device that would help them do things away from their desks that are work related. It's just that the enterprise organization does not consider them to be in a high-profile user category. When you're an enterprise and you're trying to figure out who should get mobile devices to help them be more productive, [generally] you look at the top – the managerial level, the executives, the individuals who are on the road a lot."

Pelino said IT executives need to understand that pressure for mobile support won't come just from managers and executives now. The rank-and-file user base will be demanding mobile support as well. In response to this, IT will have to establish corporate policies and strategies around how they deal with mobile wannabes.

"If you're talking to a large organization, they may already support certain types of mobile operating systems," Pelino said. "But do they have enough [resources]?"

Adding consumer-bought BlackBerrys to a BlackBerry Enterprise Server is not so simple, she said. The server might not have the capacity to take on more devices. The IT organization would have to purchase additional licenses for these additional devices to run on a server. And with more devices, IT will need to add staff to support them.

"You need the budgeting in place to support this," Pelino said. "It's going to come down to asking questions in terms of how important it is for the administrative assistant to the managerial team to have a smartphone and [whether] that's a value proposition that makes sense."

Ron Maillette, executive vice president and CIO of the for-profit higher education company Education Corporation of America, said he recently equipped the administrative assistant to his company's CEO with a BlackBerry.

"Our executive assistant for our CEO is a pretty good knowledge worker herself, so she has a BlackBerry and she uses it extensively to manage his calendar," Maillette said. "She didn't have to push for that. We had a conversation with her and decided that this would be something that would enable her to be more effective. It made a lot of sense."

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Maillette said that about 20% of the employees at his corporate headquarters are mobile -- equipped with BlackBerrys that can be tethered to corporate laptops for broadband access. Almost all of those mobile workers are managers, knowledge workers and task workers.

Overall, Maillette said, he hasn't experienced any sort of push to support mobile wannabes at his company. He restricts mobile access to corporate data and applications to users with mobile VPN clients on sanctioned devices. He has recognized, however, that some employees who aren't traditionally mobile need some support.

For instance, employees in the admissions departments of some of the company's schools have requested cellular phones so that they can conduct business after hours. "A lot of our students work during the day, so the best way to talk to them is in the evening," Maillette said. In response, he has contracted with T-Mobile to purchase phones centrally for these employees when they need them.

Pelino said that many companies will have to incorporate the mobile wannabes into their mobile strategies over the next three to five years. She said IT doesn't have a choice. This trend is coming whether companies are ready or not. This is especially true as members of the millennial generation enter the workforce. These younger workers will be accustomed to ubiquitous information access on their personal mobile devices. And they will expect the same from their employers. Companies that want to compete for top young workers entering the labor pool will have to consider broader support of mobility.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Editor

Related Topics: Mobile Policies, VIEW ALL TOPICS

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