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Mobility: What businesses need to know

The importance of mobility in the workplace has grown significantly in recent years, driven by technological innovations like smartphones and web-based applications. The traditional office confines have been eroded and now customers, clients and employees demand the tools required to work whenever and wherever they need to. Businesses that are unwilling to embrace mobility, or do so ineffectively, risk being overtaken by a competitor that is able to provide the flexibility required by the modern world of work. There are legitimate concerns when it comes to business mobility, but fortunately there are also a number of solutions that allow organisations to adopt innovative technologies without introducing security problems and other issues.

Mobility benefits

Mobility is viewed as a key concern for IT teams and businesses generally, primarily because of the many advantages it provides. According to a recent report by Harris Poll, enterprise mobility is set to top IT investments this year, with 87 per cent of IT leaders viewing it as a critical aspect of their operations. In order to understand why businesses are so keen to embrace mobility it is important to understand the kind of benefits it can offer:

  • Employee freedom – When businesses have a mobile workforce they give their employees the trust and freedom to work at a time and location that suits them. Through cloud-based applications, staff can access work resources wherever they are, whether they’ve just rushed out to attend a meeting or are responding to an office emergency while on holiday. Having the freedom to access work resources remotely also results in a happier workforce, which generally leads to high levels of productivity.
  • Reliability – In today’s ‘always on’ business world, customers don’t look kindly on businesses that aren’t easily contacted. Recent research indicates that UK businesses are losing as much as £31.6 billion a year as a result of failing to answer calls. Mobile technology, including the likes of smartphones, tablets, unified communications and cloud based applications enable businesses to be reached across more channels than ever before, even when employees are out of the office. By enhancing your connectivity through mobile solutions, organisations can prevent customers from joining a rival, and gain a reputation for having reliable and easily accessed members of staff.
  • Collaboration – Business mobility enables workplace collaboration to take place regardless of where partners, teams and individuals are based. Many organisations have facilities located all over the world and mobile solutions enable them to work together on company projects. It’s not only about smartphones either. Cloud-based enterprise collaboration software is specifically designed to allow anyone with an online connection and the relevant user credentials to collaborate on work projects.

Mobility challenges

Despite the benefits provided by enterprise mobility, there are also challenges that need to be addressed, most notably those regarding security. Mobility and security are often viewed as being at opposite ends of the spectrum, with remote access to work resources leading to a greater likelihood of vulnerabilities and an increased threat of data breaches. Although it is an oversimplification to say that mobility leads to security risks, there are a number of reasons why this perception has emerged. Firstly, smartphones have generally not been subject to the same level of scrutiny when it comes to security as desktops. This means that company data accessed and stored via mobiles could be targeted by cybercriminals.

In addition, some businesses are reticent to store applications or data with a third party cloud vendor, as they must then trust an external body to protect their resources. Although many cloud suppliers adhere to the highest possible security standards, it may take time for cloud solutions to be as trusted as those that are hosted internally. Mobility also means that work applications and data is more fragmented, making securing it a challenge. In the past, sensitive data would have only been available via office PCs and perhaps an in-house server. Now, data can be accessed from smartphones, tablets, laptops, wearables and IoT devices all over the world. This means that companies are not tasked with securing devices, but the data itself.

Away from security issues, businesses will also need to ensure that their network infrastructure is reliable enough to allow employees to access data from company servers remotely. Similarly, businesses may need to invest in application development to ensure that critical business software works efficiently across mobile platforms. There’s not much point in employees being able to access a business application on their smartphone, if it is buggy or poorly suited to touchscreen controls and a smaller screen.

How to embrace mobility in your business

Of course, the first step that businesses must take in order to embrace workplace mobility is ensuring that their employees have mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets. Many businesses are introducing BYOD, or bring your own device, policies to give staff the freedom to work with a smartphone of their own choosing. This can help cut IT budgets and lead to happier employees, but it also means companies giving up control of work devices. However, many organisations are reclaiming this control, without hampering employee mobility, by embracing mobile device management (MDM) software.

MDM tools give businesses visibility regarding who is accessing work applications and data and from what locations and at what time. In addition, businesses can set bespoke security protocols so employees only have access to the information that is relevant to their work. There are also a number of other ways to embrace mobility without putting sensitive data at risk. Encryption can help secure information, particular if it is in transit between your business and a cloud vendor. Organisations may also need to drive a cultural change amongst their employees in order for them to remain productive outside of the office.

With high profile data breaches all over the news in 2015, it is understandable that businesses would not want to embrace mobility if it could compromise their security. However, mobility and security are no longer polar opposites. With the right tools and training, businesses can embrace mobility without putting their data and reputation at risk.

Image Credit: Sergey Nivens / Shutterstock

Barclay has been writing about technology for a decade, starting out as a freelancer with IT Pro Portal covering everything from London’s start-up scene to comparisons of the best cloud storage services.  After that, he spent some time as the managing editor of an online outlet focusing on cloud computing, furthering his interest in virtualization, Big Data, and the Internet of Things.