Does mobility really improve employee productivity?

Many companies are still reluctant to get on the mobility train due to uncertainties about the return on investment. Today's tools have improved employee productivity, but there's still progress to be made.

Despite the major advancements in the market over the past few years, many organizations are still asking the same old question: Is it worth the extra cost to enable enterprise mobility?

The last few years have seen the rise of mobile device management (MDM), enterprise mobility management (EMM), secure containers, enterprise app stores and mobile virtualization. The pace of mobile evolution is such that there is a need for EMM vendors to provide product innovation quickly or they may be out of business, as evidenced by recent mergers. Now that EMM tools have had years to evolve, it's worth investigating whether they really improve employee productivity.

First, let's look at the ways mobility has evolved in the enterprise. Companies started by offering email, calendar and contact tools, usually as part of a BlackBerry deployment. As mobile adoption expanded to other platforms, they may have purchased an MDM suite or used something like ActiveSync to roll out this functionality to specific groups of employees.

This functionality has greatly improved over the last few years. From 2009 to 2011, it was plagued with downtime due to device compatibility and email syncing problems. For the past two years, vendors of EMM tools have reached the point where even upgrades to mobile operating systems have not impeded the uptime of email, calendar and contacts access.

The experience for the enterprise worker overall, though, has only slightly improved. It's still difficult to open, edit and then save a document from an email app to another location, for example. (This is another reason larger IT vendors have acquired many EMM players; EMM tools that integrate with existing enterprise infrastructure give workers a more seamless and productive experience, instead of having to send files to separate apps.)

Calendar apps still have no way to check colleague and room availability, although they can book meetings with coworkers through Active Directory. And enterprise contact tools have improved to the point where user contacts can be shared with native contacts, but they still may duplicate the contact.

In an informal study of 20 contacts working for financial services companies, I found that most users think of email, calendar and contacts tools as mandatory but only slightly improved from a couple of years ago. Furthermore, they say their productivity has improved only slightly. In a perfect world, they would still love to open a tablet or laptop at home, enter a device passcode and pick up where they left off in the office without using separate apps and tools.

Companies that have adopted EMM tools as a way of doing business are starting to use apps to improve productivity, from office and note-taking apps to, eventually, corporate applications like those for human resources. Most of the people I talked to were thrilled just to be carrying around a tablet, phone or phablet and loved the functionality their devices brought.

Enterprise tools have improved their reliability greatly over the past three years, but their functionality only slightly. It is hard to measure productivity, because it largely depends on the tools IT allows employees to use. Using apps productively in the enterprise is all about integration. The ability to open an app quickly, perform a task and then make that information available from anywhere is necessary.

This was first published in September 2014

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