Why Go Mobile?

(WebHost Blog) I realize that there is a growing trend for mobilizing the work force, but no one has told me why this has become an all encompassing necessity for business. We have PDAs, smartphones, cellphones, UMPCs, Tablet PCs, laptops, netbooks, portable media players, PNDs, readers, and I imagine the iPad will open a new category of hybrids, looking at Microsoft’s Courier, this is already coming to pass. We have a huge amount of devices to service how much of the workforce? Where are the killer business apps that are mobile only? Which employees really need to be mobile?

First let’s get rid of the obvious, if your job means you are away from any sort of office type location (be it a corporate building or your own home office), then mobile of course is right for you. However, of those types of jobs that do require travel, how much travel has been reduced by things such as video conferencing, online collaboration software, and the like? Those who do face to face sales, how many require instant access to real time inventory data at the moment of sale as opposed to going into the meeting already knowing the information you need?

Customer support? No, customer support is best served at ground zero. No need for mobile tech there (unless of course you do onsite support). Engineers, technicians, mechanics? Maybe, but most engineers I’ve known will write out ideas on anything they can get their hands on or use the audio message recorder most cells have. Techs and mechanics, like customer support, do a better job with all their tools in front of them and the device that needs to be worked on is physically at hand.

I have been reading statistics on why every business needs to go mobile and the bulk of them center on the premise that the mobile market is huge, selling hundreds of thousands of units each month, which means your competitors are buying. And if they are buying you need  to buy too or get left behind! Oh really? I have some six or seven mobile devices I use (what can I say I love technology), but for day-to-day use I use only one of them. In fact, for the most part, even with all the travel I do, the amount of use I get out of the mobile devices is probably about 20 work days per year. This is of course where I absolutely need them and can’t use my desktop computer or my office computer. Now if I didn’t travel a lot, if I didn’t need to go to conferences and the like I wouldn’t need any mobile device to do my job. Sure, they are nice I could go outside and write if I liked (which I do on occasion), but I don’t need to go mobile.

The one area where I can see mobile devices consistently increasing productivity is by replacing the clipboard. In fact, any instance that requires a clipboard (inventory tallies for instance… which I seriously hope people are not still using paper for this but I know that hope is in vain) could do better with a mobile device.

A few weeks ago when I was making changes to this blog, I had to use my cell phone to do it. I did everything I would normally do from my desktop using my cell. It took a while since I can’t just type at super speed on the phone, but I was thankful for the device. That is when it hit me. Businesses like mobile cause it means they can make their salaried employees work during their off time. A while back, when you left the office, that was it, work was done. Even if you took some work home with you, you can work on it at a leisurely pace. Now with all the devices we have, we pretty much take the full offices with us. I was having lunch with a friend of mine and he got a call saying the servers are down, fix it. Although he was not working, he immediately used his cell to check the server and reboot it. Heck who needs to hire more employees when you can have all your current staff on call 24 hours a day 7 days a week? Just pay them an annual salary and you have an offices of slaves at your beck and call.

Will this stop me from buying mobile devices? Course not. But let’s be real here, the uses for mobile devices is far less than the hype. In order for a device to truly change the workplace two things must happen: 1) that device must have something nothing else has, it must have a killer app 2) that device must be able to force change on business culture. Mobile devices do neither of these.