BACKGROUND IMAGE: iSTOCK/GETTY IMAGES
For many organizations, mobile devices have become an integral part of everyday business processes. IT admins that want to mobilize workforces should first understand the mobile device types available, why workplaces are adopting these devices and the challenges that come with adoption. They should also familiarize themselves with various use cases to better understand the benefits of mobile devices for conducting business.
Types of mobile devices
In today's enterprise, the primary device types that employees use to conduct business fall into two categories: smartphones and tablets.
The differences between the two are primarily related to size, which not only determines the available display area, but can also play a role in battery life, processing power, memory, storage and other factors. However, it is the display area that is often one of the top considerations when evaluating a device.
The display area in today's smartphones generally runs between 4 and 6.4 inches, with those at the larger end of the scale sometimes referred to as phablets. In contrast, tablets are much larger, with a display area that falls between 8 and 13 inches.
Despite the differences in size, mobile devices are similar in terms of their ability to run apps and connect with cloud-based services and back-end systems. Tablets offer more processing power and memory, which can help deliver better performance than smartphones. Many tablets also support the use of keyboards. Because of their larger form factor and superior performance, tablets better host certain apps than smartphones. But apps are not the only consideration. For example, battery life is often longer with smartphones. And within the smartphone category, phablets usually have a longer battery life because they can hold larger batteries. Some phablets also support a stylus, just like many tablets.
Why the workplace is adopting mobile devices
For many organizations, the benefits of mobile devices mostly pertain to conducting business. They offer workers greater flexibility, enhance workflows and improve communications, helping to make users more efficient and productive, while providing organizations with a competitive edge.
The benefits of mobile devices make it possible for users to work wherever and whenever they need to, while still providing them access to corporate resources. They can take their offices with them, whether traveling, commuting, working in the field or sitting at home.
Mobile devices also enhance workflow by extending business processes and making them more efficient. They simplify processes, hence eliminating duplicate efforts, so workers can complete tasks more quickly.
For example, an account rep can update customer information while on a sales call, rather than having to make a note and then submit the information when back in the office. Not only does this save time and effort, but it can also reduce errors that might occur as a result of extra steps. This is one of the benefits of mobile devices.
Streamlined business processes also reduce paperwork; no one has to wait to print or fax documents or to maintain hard-copy files, which reduces the efforts necessary to manage these systems, while saving on paper, ink and power consumption.
Mobile devices can also streamline communications. Workers are more readily available to do the following:
- quickly review time-sensitive material;
- collaborate on documents in the field;
- respond to requests for resources or information;
- participate in social networking; and
- maintain communications in a variety of other ways.
This flexibility and portability can also lead to organizations better serving their customers. For example, field support technicians can be more responsive to customer requests, whether through email, text or a messaging app. Technicians can also send or refer customers to specific information, take photos or videos and interact with clients in real time.
Mobile devices can also potentially give an organization an edge over its competitors and generate new revenue streams faster. They can also enhance the corporate image because the organization can appear more cutting-edge and thriving within its industry.
Challenges that come with mobile devices
As with any technology introduced into a business setting, mobile devices come with their own challenges. The most important of these are the potential security risks, which often result from user behavior.
Unfortunately, mobile devices are susceptible to many of the same vulnerabilities as personal computers. Users might visit rogue websites or respond to phishing emails, inadvertently downloading malware, which can jeopardize not only the devices, but also the corporate network and all its resources. Hackers and cybercriminals can also intercept cellular and Wi-Fi communication, a particular concern when users communicate over unsecured Wi-Fi networks.
Not all risks fall on the user's side. IT teams that deploy mobile apps without thoroughly testing them for security issues can put their entire organization at risk. Ignoring device vulnerabilities or failing to apply operating system patches in a timely manner can also result in a compromised environment. Even poorly deployed back-end systems and ill-managed security policies can lead to risks.
Challenges also come with supporting multiple device types. IT now has many more endpoints to manage, sometimes exceeding the number of desktops. If the devices contain personal information, management becomes even more complex. Even if an organization plans to implement an enterprise mobile management platform, IT must still make certain that all implemented devices can work with that software.
IT teams must also ensure that back-end systems are adequate enough to handle the additional workloads that come with mobile devices and that those devices and their apps can integrate with the back-end systems. In fact, system integration is often one of the greatest challenges that organizations face when mobilizing their workforces, especially when it comes to legacy systems that don't support today's open standards.
Organizations must also consider compliance and industry regulations when mobilizing their workforces. For example, an IT team might need to ensure that implementing the devices doesn't result in violating standards such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act or PCI DSS.
IT teams must also take into account the carrier service plans that go with implementing mobile devices. Some plans might limit the number of calls or texts or the amount of used data. There might also be regional restrictions, such as traveling out of the country or calling another country. IT might need to put a system into place for monitoring and controlling usage.
Another challenge worth noting is the importance of getter the right devices to the right users. For example, a technician working in the field might need to keep one hand free when working on a system, in which case, a tablet would be too cumbersome and could actually decrease productivity. At the same time, the selected devices must be able to handle all the apps they need to run, or those devices will end up being of little use to anyone.
Business use cases for mobile devices
There are numerous benefits of mobile devices for employees in diverse business roles.
Consider account managers who work directly with clients. With the right mobile devices, account managers can perform numerous tasks without have to return to their offices, such as the following:
- checking available inventory;
- placing orders;
- updating customer information;
- making notes about their meetings;
- retrieving pricing and discount rates; and
- forwarding product information to clients.
Another example is the real estate agent. When out visiting properties or clients, a realtor can use their mobile device for the following:
- view inventories;
- refer to maps;
- submit listings;
- find local comps or take pictures and videos of a property; and
- provide clients with virtual tours or show them various listings, without having to carry around a trunk full of flyers.
Then there is the building inspector, who can use a mobile device for a number of applications:
- reference checklists;
- view customer information or incident history;
- use GPS to locate a building site;
- fill out and submit an inspection form; and
- have the customer sign off on an inspection.
In fact, mobile devices can help most field workers perform their jobs more efficiently.
Human resource departments can also benefit from employees using mobile devices. HR apps might assist employees in a number of ways:
- submit timesheets;
- request vacation days;
- view their payroll information;
- access corporate directories;
- fill out expense reports;
- confirm training schedules; and
- receive companywide announcements.
Employees across all types of industries can use mobile devices in countless other ways as well:
- view or manage work orders;
- generate support tickets;
- access client accounts;
- get signatures on documents;
- take payments;
- confirm information;
- give presentations;
- share documents;
- track or generate orders;
- access corporate resources; and
- participate in approval processes.
Mobility in the enterprise
A wide range of organizations are already using mobile devices to conduct business, believing that the gains in productivity and overall benefits of mobile devices are worth the risks. Given the increasingly large presence of mobile devices, the bigger issue might be that organizations can no longer afford not to mobilize their workforces. If they don't, they stand a good chance of falling behind, a prospect no company wants to face.
With extensive research into mobile devices, TechTarget editors focused this series of articles on vendors with considerable current market share who offer both smartphones and tablets available in the U.S. Our research included Gartner and TechTarget surveys.
Learn the latest trends for managing mobile devices in the enterprise
The challenges admins face to protect data on mobile devices
Read about the feature available in mobile device authentication