The growth in the range of devices that allow users to access information on the move is opening the flood gates for business people to work just about anywhere. It is providing then a plethora of options of where they can work, when they can work and how they can work. However, to many companies, especially small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), the vast options available can be a daunting prospect to deal with.

Many companies find themselves getting too wrapped up in the technology and confusing terminology such as 3G, GPRS, Bluetooth, UMTS, Roaming, HotSpots and Wi-Fi, rather than actually focussing on the benefits that mobile working technology can bring to the business.

These benefits have been widely documented, from increased productivity, faster response times to client or new business enquiries, flexible working etc. But what do these benefits actually mean to a business and how are they achieved? Let’s dig a little deeper…

Increased productivity

By providing staff with mobile working solutions, it enables them to have more control of their time and can significantly reduce the amount of paperwork that they face as data can be entered and processed electronically. There is no longer the need to take notes at meetings and then enter them onto a company’s system on returning to the office – this can be done at the time of the meeting, freeing up time at the office to focus on other more important tasks.

Faster response times

Mobile working enables staff to make more effective use of their time 'dead time' – be it waiting at an airport for a flight, travelling to a client site on a train or just simply waiting for a meeting to start.

By being able to connect to the internet, email and office systems such as intranets through the use of a data card or simply using a BlackBerry, staff can check email, continue to work on documents etc. Being able to do this on the move is providing invaluable for companies, by giving them the opportunity to respond to new business, to check the latest information before an important business deal or respond to existing customer enquiries. A rapid response to enquiries from potential or existing customers suggests an organisation is on the ball and able to deal with all eventualities.

Greater flexibility

By enabling workers to access information regardless of location, this enables staff to work how they want, where they want and when they want. By finalising tasks throughout the day when they would otherwise not be able to do so until they returned to the office, this can enable staff to finish tasks quicker, helping to address and improve their work/life balance.

Flexibility in the workplace will become increasingly important, especially when the EU working hours directive is put in place. By enabling staff to work where they work best, companies can benefit from a happier, more motivated workforce. This in turn can lead to further increases in productivity. The benefits have come full circle.

Choosing the right options for your business

So it's clear to see what benefits mobile working can offer to your business. Now comes the tricky part – what devices do you opt for? More importantly, how much should you pay for using these devices?

Too often companies offering mobility solutions have been guilty of offering business customers the most expensive option and inappropriate devices simply because they are the latest product on the market. Mobile working solutions for businesses should very much be about ‘smart simplicity’ – offering the right device, at the right price for each business, given their own individual situations.

For example, it may be more appropriate to provide workers with a BlackBerry if they spend a lot of time out of the office in meetings and if all they want to do is be able to respond to emails rather than supplying them with an expensive laptop that has Wi-Fi connectivity.

However, a laptop will be significantly more beneficial to someone that spends a lot of time travelling and needs to be able to work on a large number of documents, presentations etc at any given time. The use of a data card combined with wireless connectivity now enables the laptop to become an extension of the office, as it is possible to connect remotely to an organisation’s intranet, email and applications wherever the user is.

For field service personnel, a PDA may well be the best option, enabling workers to keep in contact with the office so that they can see where the next job is located, whilst enabling them to capture signatures from customers using the device's stylus and touch screen. Again this reduces paperwork and duplication of effort as there is only one set of information to be inputted on the PDA. This can then be emailed directly to the office ensuring that field staff have to return to the office less often, enabling them to conduct more jobs each day.

There are of course a great deal more options available to businesses and the right choice will very much depend on their circumstances and area of expertise.

Summary

In summary, today's increasingly competitive market place demands that businesses should seriously consider the role that mobile technology can play and the benefits that this can bring.

However, it is critical that companies understand what 'mobile working' actually entails and the benefits it delivers to the businesses' bottom line – simply giving staff BlackBerrys in the hope that it will improve productivity is not enough – a BlackBerry is an effective tool for responding to new business opportunities whilst on the move but other devices might be more suitable to different skill sets.

Once organisations have a grasp of the benefits that each mobile working option can provide to their workforces, and understand the different options available, they are a step further towards a more productive, flexible and reactive future.

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© Crimson Business Ltd 2006