Knowledge workers increasingly do their jobs from anywhere—the local coffee shop, during flight, in the backseat of an Uber ride, or that old favorite, at home in their pajamas. In fact, many businesses are finding that keeping mobile workers happy is critical to the success of the overall organization.
We used to blame the Internet for eroding the line between work and our personal lives, and now mobility appears to be on the cusp of erasing that line completely.
According to research from Forrester, "anytime, anywhere" employees grew from 11% of the workforce in the U.S. and Europe to 29% in one year, from 2011 to 2012. Similarly, IDC predicts that the worldwide mobile workforce will hit 1.3 billion by 2015, representing close to 40% of all workers.
This is both a boon to business and a major challenge. While plenty has been written about how mobility boosts productivity but at the cost of hampering your ability to do things like focus on a specific task and execute long-term plans, another major problem is often overlooked: ease of use. If your mobile workers find it difficult to access the resources they need while they're on the go, performance will suffer.
3 Pressing Problems
As your mobile workforce grows, here are three pressing problems IT organizations must overcome to support these always-on mobile workers, along with tips to solve them:
1. The inability to easily access important resources. If you can't access corporate assets in a safe and secure manner, that fancy iPhone or Galaxy Note won't do you much good. Mobile users need frictionless methods to access the data they need when they need it.
Some enterprises have rolled out mobile apps to solve this problem, while others have migrated critical applications out from behind the firewall and to the cloud, making them easier to access for always-on workers. Both are valid strategies.
However, many companies have complicated on-premises applications that just can't be encapsulated as an app and can't be easily moved to the cloud. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t figure out how to mobilize at least part of the workflows attached to those application.
Could key tasks be rolled into a more focused mobile app, or could you migrate certain tasks to cloud-based applications? Mobility doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing affair. Follow the 80/20 rule and figure out which 20% of what the legacy app encapsulates will provide you with the biggest payoff. That’s where you want to focus your mobile efforts.
2. The complexity of mobile security. With workers able to do things like post status updates on Facebook while they’re in the middle of an important, confidential meeting, security seems like an almost impossible problem to solve. There's no magic bullet here, but at a minimum, your organization needs a solid BYOD policy, a data-use policy and enforced endpoint security.
That's right, enforced endpoint security. Don't rely on individuals to secure their devices. Do it for them. Any device connecting to corporate assets should, at minimum, have antivirus, encryption, and DLP on the server side.
Another security consideration is the network layer. Many businesses rely on MPLS to connect branch offices, remote workers, and mobile employees to centralized resources. Many of these same businesses believe, falsely, that MPLS is a secure transport mechanism. It is not.
Unless IT has taken steps to secure data running over an MPLS network using VPNs, data travels in clear text, which is a huge risk. For sensitive data, ensure that data is encrypted from the device all the way through to the server—and back.
3. The difficulty of ensuring mobile application performance. As more assets move out of the corporate data center and into the cloud, mobility places more stress on the public Internet. Any number of networking problems—congestion, packet loss, latency, etc.—can grind cloud-based applications (and, thus, your mobile workforce) to a halt. The public Internet was not designed to support all of this traffic, nor was it designed to support real-time traffic, which is a growing slice of traffic these days.
Enterprises must investigate ways to ensure application performance, including but not limited to CDNs, WAN optimization, and network performance monitoring tools. In the past, most of these were too costly for all but the largest enterprises. Today, the irony is that one of the cloud's biggest problems is actually being solved by the cloud, with these complicated networking technologies now being delivered as services.
For mobile workers, ensuring application performance is critical. It's one thing when you're sitting at your desk when you can't access an important sales document or contract. You just call over IT. It's quite another if you're two time zones away sitting in front of an important potential client. As you investigate ways to ensure application performance, just be sure the solution has a strong mobile component. Not all of them do.