Mobile workers are people, too

Commentary: It may not be easy to provide IT support for mobile workers, but Jonathan Spira says it's essential to make sure they have the vital information and tools they need.

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Last week, we discussed how companies are not managing their mobile infrastructures and the price they pay for doing so. Continuing the discussion, it is equally important to point out that with the move toward the mobile enterprise burgeoning, corporate managers need to realize that workers have been categorized into two distinct classes: mobile and in-office.

Given that the traditional IT culture has geared itself to the office-bound, mobile users have found themselves without access to vital information and tools.  
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 Only Rip Van Winkle might not realize how mobile the enterprise world is becoming. At meetings and conferences, BlackBerry and Palm devices abound. People check e-mail while attentively listening to conference keynotes (as a conference keynoter myself, shame on you!). The concept of going to the office every day, for some, is foreign.

But while the corporate IT department is lavishing attention on those in the home and regional offices (those workers with desks, chairs, and phones wired to the corporate phone system), the mobile knowledge worker is frequently without such support.

It is exactly there that corporate networks develop vulnerabilities. A home office user -- who shares a broadband connection with family, but does not have an up-to-date firewall -- can place an entire corporate network at risk. A handheld device user -- who loses a device purchased without help from IT, and who did not deploy any security measures on the device -- might allow carte blanche access to corporate documents and data. In fact, there have been several highly publicized cases of this occurring.

About the author
Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and chief analyst at Basex, an analysis firm that specializes in collaborative business knowledge in the enterprise. Click here to contact Basex.

 By 2006, more than 40% of knowledge workers will work somewhere else than the traditional office environment on a regular basis. This includes working at home, working from a client location, and working as a perennial road warrior.

In reality, there are two types of "mobile" workers: those who are truly itinerant and those who are simply remote workers, such as telecommuters. Each has a different set of requirements. Further, some workers straddle both classes; they are deskbound some days, and are remote the others.

Workers who travel regularly may not be in one place long enough to wait on hold for IT support. Even if they are, their IT environment (e.g. connectivity may be broadband one day, dialup the next, and GPRS tomorrow) makes traditional IT support a challenge for those providing the support. Traditional support usually assumes a static environment, allowing the tech support advisor to pinpoint one problem without other environmental conditions influencing the analysis.

Given that the traditional IT culture has geared itself to the office-bound, mobile users have found themselves without access to vital information and tools. I recently attended a conference where a senior manager -- from an enterprise software provider yet -- spent the majority of the day at a payphone trying to get technical support. She found the entire experience frustrating and she missed several hours of the event as well.

Opportunities exist for managers to remove these artificial barriers while addressing the unique challenges that the mobile work environment presents.

Managers can take several steps to support mobile workers on the same level as those who are deskbound, ensuring that their remote and mobile IT infrastructure meet the specialized needs of the mobile knowledge worker:

  • Recognize mobile workers as an equally important class of worker.
  • Develop IT policies tailored for remote and mobile infrastructure management.
  • Improve training for remote and mobile workers, and for those who support them.
  • Develop specific security policies for remote and mobile workers.
  • If companies begin to treat their remote and mobile knowledge workers as equals, far more employees will be able to access the information they need when they need it, ensuring that the business of business continues without interruption.

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