Linda W. Perkins

Strategically Managing the Virtual Workplace

Percento Technologies - March 03, 2016

At a recent technology conference, one of the sessions was titled “Your Workplace is No Longer a Place.” The speaker made an excellent point, which was that the workplace is no longer where we go; it’s what we do. Industry analysts agree: the workplace is moving rapidly out of the office.

A five-year forecast by International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts that by 2020, the US mobile workforce population will surpass 105 million, almost three quarters (72.3 %) of the entire American workforce.

According to IDC, one of the driving forces behind this trend is the affordability of smart phones and tablets, along with a growing acceptance of corporate “bring your own device” (BYOD) programs. This enables mobile workers to be able to easily connect from home, on the go, or from remote office locations.

The benefits to employers are significant, from a reduction in operating costs and capital expenditures to the ability to employ people residing in multiple geographies. That said, with the growing rise in mobility, there is an increased burden for employers to enable mobile productivity for workforces, in order to stay competitive.

“Phones and wearable devices are now part of an expanded computing environment that includes such things as consumer electronics and connected screens in the workplace and public space,” David Cearley, Vice President and Fellow at Gartner, Inc. said. “Increasingly, it’s the overall environment that will need to adapt to the requirements of the mobile user.”

A 2015 report issued by Gartner states that by the end of 2017, market demand for mobile app development services will grow at least five times faster than internal IT organizations’ capacity to deliver them. That means most organizations will need to rely on external sources for their mobile applications.

“Mobility is such a huge issue for companies because it is rapidly changing the way they interact with employees, partners and customers,” said Percento Technologies President Bobby Davidson. “It’s not just about cultural change, but also about applying the right technology changes to make it work.”

Most small to mid-sized businesses use commercial software packages, rather than custom applications developed in-house, making the transition to mobile a little easier. Many of the major application developers such as Microsoft and Oracle are beginning to offer cloud-based versions of their applications, enabling the software to be accessed via the Internet.

Still, platform support can vary. An application may or may not be available for both iOS and Android, and even then, tablet and cell phone applications may not work at the same level of performance. Wearables and other unique mobile devices make it an even more complex puzzle to solve.

A simple example of this challenge is in website development. In the evolution of web design, Adobe Flash became a popular way to incorporate animation and video into web pages without requiring a downloadable plug-in such as QuickTime. Since most corporate computers ran on a Microsoft Windows platform, with Flash already integrated, executives didn’t worry about the small percentage of Apple computer users that wouldn’t be able to see the Flash elements.

What they didn’t anticipate was the explosion in Apple’s market share – and associated usage – as a result of the popularity of the iPhone and iPad. Suddenly, customers and employees of companies that might be able to view Flash websites and applications via their desktops who were wanting to have the same experience on their cell phones and tablets got nothing but a broken link to a Flash component.

Savvy web developers today utilize a variety of new technologies to ensure compatibility with multiple desktop browsers and mobile devices. With the advent of content management systems (CMS), it is even possible to develop websites that use “sniffers” to detect the web platform a user is on, and to display content in a way that is most appropriate for that device, whether a computer or tablet or cell phone.

Using mobile devices to display websites isn’t the same as running actual applications on mobile devices, however. Each app must be built for the specific device operating platform and must make sense from a usability standpoint for the specific devices it is being designed for. Data security is another consideration, as data “leakage” from mobile phones and security risks from lost or stolen mobile devices are very real threats.

As with any business venture, corporations must approach mobility strategically. The more specifically requirements can be defined, the more effective the rollout can be. What applications are business-critical to be used remotely? Can the company standardize on a mobile platform or will it employ a BYOD policy, requiring greater flexibility and interoperability? What data security measures can be put in place to protect against data leakage? What auditing tools should be used for monitoring compliance?

One virtual workforce basic is utilizing cloud storage and cloud-based applications that can be run on remote desktops and laptops while employees are traveling. Integrated communication systems that tie in email, calendar, desktop and file sharing, and even video conferencing can also be deployed in order to foster communication and collaboration among team members in multiple locations. Taking these systems to the next level on mobile devices, however, is the next step.

Many executives are turning to vendor-neutral IT consulting firms like Percento to help them dig into the maze of mobile options and to develop technological roadmaps for achieving their specific business objectives. From providing technical expertise to deploying solutions, this takes the burden off overtasked and under-resourced IT departments, enabling faster and more effective rollouts that can result in a quicker return on investment (ROI).

Strategically Managing the Virtual Workplace