Mobile computing has changed the way of most us work. For instance, thanks to a notebook and mobile phone, the interviews for this piece and its writing have taken place in an office, a kitchen, a living room and a train.
In fact, without the flexibility of mobile working, constructing this article in the time allotted would have been a much more stressful affair. It is the same for many in the channel, and elsewhere, when working to a strict nine-to-five timetable is no longer possible.
In terms of productivity, mobile working has helped fill all of that 'dead time' created by being away from your desk, at home, or on the road.
Mobile technology is not new, but it has come of age. It has gone from being the privilege of a few to being a viable option for many employees. According to analyst IDC, it is no longer a case of evaluating which employees need notebooks, it's about deciding whether there are any employees that still need to be chained to a desktop PC.
So understanding the benefits of mobile solutions should be second-nature to any reseller hoping to convince more conservative customers that introducing some mobility to their business will have tangible benefits.
From IT to telecoms manufacturers, everyone has gone mobility mad. There is so much convergence in this arena - combined with a rapid roll-out of infrastructure and wireless-enabled devices - that the concept of becoming mobile is desirable to many.
More than two-thirds of all companies will have implemented at least one wireless application by 2007, according to research from the Meta Group. The researcher claims that messaging will lead the way, with half of businesses facilitating wireless email in three years and three-quarters taking the plunge in four years.
Meta Group also says that email is just the start of enterprise wireless application roll-out. So what's the big deal, and what information should you be armed with for a pitch?
First, wireless LAN (WLAN) equipment and notebooks cost more than wired networks and PCs. The customer generally understands this, so the role of the channel is to offset this idea of 'more expense' by outlining all of the benefits. Many of these benefits will actually offset the initial cost within a year or two.
Second, wireless technology is becoming much cheaper, with competition in the market driving costs down all the time. New wireless protocols (802.11i), introduced this summer, will go a long way to easing the security fears of many businesses.
WLANs are more convenient than wired networks, not only because there are no cables but because they are easy to scale up by the addition of more access points. For non-technical people, particularly teleworkers and SMEs, wireless networks are an ideal solution because there is no hard-wiring required.
And finally, wireless hotspots are appearing in greater numbers around the UK. They are in airports, service stations and train stations, but more importantly in cafes and hotels. For instance, in separate deals Hilton International and the Radisson SAS have teamed up with BT and iPass respectively to offer wireless broadband in every room across their hotels.
This is not because they are interested in the technology but because the clamour from business travellers has become a deafening roar.
"A lot of companies have altered their travel polices to restrict employees from staying at hotels with no broadband access," says Doug Loewe, vice-president EMEA at remote technology access provider, iPass. "This has given the hotel industry a real incentive to get broadband-enabled."
Starbucks offers wireless access via T-Mobile in 225 of its cafes, and McDonald's has signed up to BT's Openzone wireless service in 500 outlets (many of them are drive-through because they are more popular with business travellers.) Wherever you look, the wireless infrastructure is becoming more widespread, if not more robust.
Carolyn Nguyen, director of technology and strategy at Avaya EMEA, says: "It's easier to be productive if you are mobile today. Hotels I have stayed in now have wireless broadband access. UK hotels have quite some way to go, though.
"Also, even though there are meant to be hotspots in certain places, they sometimes don't work too well.
"I spend a lot of time at Heathrow and I often end up walking around just trying to get a signal. Right now, I am at Waterloo train station in London and I am expecting there to be a hotspot, but there's nothing. Considering all of the delays, someone could make a lot of money selling hotspots in train stations."
Notebooks might still be more expensive than PCs, but the prices are now at a level where most companies can justify the spend. Most employees desire some form of teleworking, and it has been widely proven that people with notebooks that occasionally work offsite often work more productively.
There are now a greater choice of mobile devices available to users. The notebook might still be the dominant mobility tool, but it has now been joined by PDAs, Smartphones and the current fashion icon, the BlackBerry.
For those companies that just want to allow people to stay in touch, these smaller and cheaper devices can prove to be an easier sell for resellers.
As with any technological shift, the rise of mobility has involved more than just the technology changing. Giving employees the option to work away from the office - whether allowing teleworking or equipping them with devices for life on the road - has involved a cultural shift, too.
The vast majority of companies have always operated by paying you to show up to work, where you can be seen to be working, and then go home. Then suddenly, they are being asked to spend thousands of pounds on expensive notebooks, allow access to their core systems from outside the company and trust that when you say you'll be working from home today, that you'll actually be doing some work.
For some, the trust is still not there, but for a growing number the benefits of mobile working are finally being understood.
"Just look at how resistant businesses were to mobile phones not so long ago, but now that market is booming," says David Watts, general manager of the PC systems and peripherals division at Computer 2000 (C2000). "Most companies will now offer a mobile phone with the job. It is heading that way now on the mobile working front."
David Hobson, managing director of security distributor Ellipse, says: "Businesses are becoming more aware of the benefits of mobility. There is demand for almost permanent connectivity. Email is the driving force for this at the moment.
"Also, there's an external pressure on companies to allow more mobile working. The government is pushing for it, and the green lobby claims that the less you use your car, the better. We are finally moving beyond the salesman on the road representing the mobile workforce."
Loewe says: "Businesses are keenly aware of the mobility concept and their need to dive in, but there is still a vacuum in the knowledge of how to get there. We definitely still see some enterprises that believe if the person is not at work then they are not working.
"But a growing number already allow their people to work remotely because they can see the benefits. Many believe if you give the employee the tools to work remotely instead of commuting for two hours a day then that person will be more productive. This has been the big change over the past two years."
"A mobile worker is now defined as an employee that is out of the office for one day a week," adds Bob Brace, vice-president of mobile solutions at Nokia Enterprise Solutions. "Most organisations have about 30 per cent of their workforce already mobile, according to market analysts."
To date, the increase in mobility has been driven primarily by the need for remote access to email, contact management or calendar information. Staying-in-touch applications are set to remain the engine of this drive to be both mobile and connected, but they are essentially the tip of the iceberg.
True mobility has yet to be achieved, because while businesses might allow for remote access to communication applications, many are less comfortable with allowing access to their key corporate applications. It is in this smaller but growing sector that the real mobility money is to be made.
As a reseller, you need to be able to prove that you have a way for them to do this securely.
"This is slowly changing," says Nguyen.
"Most companies are still at the accessing email level, but more want to start opening up access to their enterprise applications. There's a lot more that needs to be done at the back-office end. If someone is teleworking from home they may already have this level of access, but it is not so common among mobile users.
"There are always security concerns, which depend on what you want to do on the mobile front. For example, if you are in the financial industry, nothing happens without security. For other companies though, security is not so extreme."
For many businesses, it's a 'benefits versus security' balancing act. Mobile working has many positive things to offer to a business, but at a price. A significant number of early adopters of mobile solutions who used less than robust WLAN technology and poorly secured notebooks found out the hard way that security was an issue in this sector.
Tales of hackers snatching data from the airwaves, stealing passwords from insecure wireless devices - or even stealing the devices themselves - have become synonymous with mobile working. So even if mobile computing is taking over the world, the security concerns can still slow the buying process.
Watts firmly believes the benefits now outweigh such concerns.
"With wireless you can have as much or as little security as you want," he says. "You don't have to give a lot of access; just open up email, for instance. Resellers should look at providing systems to make conservative firms comfortable.
"Security is still a prime concern, especially for the other non-technical people in management. We need to be able to reassure IT managers so they can reassure the others.
"Also, there is a growing use of wireless technology in the consumer market. Many of those that are slow to use it in business are now using it themselves in a consumer sense. This will help break down the barriers in the business sector."
To the experts, the advantages of mobility are clear. In a survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, companies were asked where mobility solutions helped most. Nearly 85 per cent claimed it helped to support flexible and remote working, reduced 'dead time' while travelling and boosted workforce productivity.
More than 75 per cent claimed being mobile helped enable better collaboration between dispersed teams, half said it reduced operational costs and 45 per cent said infrastructure costs were lowered.
A recent IDC survey of enterprises found that the top priority when equipping employees with mobile devices and systems was to increase worker productivity. This ranked higher than any other potential strategic benefit of mobility, including reduced field service time, increased revenue and market share, and reduced costs.
Of those surveyed, more than a third currently provide wireless access to their back-end servers, applications, and/or data for mobilising corporate applications. A further 28 per cent are planning to do so by next summer.
Even though better productivity is highest on the wish list of enterprises, resellers need to come up with more tangible arguments to sell mobile products.
Nguyen says: "Boosting productivity is among the top benefits. But, while customers say that is what they want, it's hard to pitch a mobile offering to them on that basis alone.
"Increased productivity is not easy to measure, and while it may start the conversation it will not be the reason you sell the product. Return on investment is important to customers, so decreasing operational costs and increasing revenue is key."
Hobson claims there is an upsell opportunity for resellers on the back of mobile hardware, especially security solutions. "But frankly, most resellers do not want to educate a customer," he says. "They just want to be able to sell and move on."
Brace concludes: "There's a big opportunity for system integrators because while it's simple to sell a customer a basic mobile device, they are a lot less useful to that customer without a solutions wrap.
"From a reseller perspective, solutions mean a lot on the margins front. You are looking at a longer-term relationship that covers everything from consultation, installation and upgrades to servicing."
Avaya (0800) 698 3619
Computer 2000 (0870) 060 3344
Ellipse (0870) 871 0771
iPass (020) 7317 4400
Nokia Enterprise Solutions (0870) 055 577
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