How Mobile Devices Became a Key Enabler of Productivity For Today's Dynamic Workforce

Joe Boyle, CEO, TRUCE Software

Businesses are turning to mobile devices to boost productivity as an evolving work landscape has changed how, when and where many of us do our jobs. According to a national workforce study of 1,500 U.S.-based workers we commissioned at TRUCE Software, 62% of respondents agree mobile phones or tablets play a key role in helping them be productive at work. Over a third (about 36%) said their mobile device usage at work has increased more or significantly more than a year ago.

Though mobile solutions have been a driving force behind the success of companies for some time now, the pandemic has really put a spotlight on the many ways they enable productivity. This comes at a time when the pressure on businesses and employees to perform at peak efficiency is perhaps more critical than ever.

But it hasn't always been the case that smartphones and other mobile devices at work were embraced like they are today. And in some cases, we're still not where we should be in terms of adoption. So how can businesses most effectively advance the role of mobile in contributing to real bottom line business impact?

Where we were

Workforce mobility has its roots in the idea of taking traditional desktop computing and making it "mobile" through the introduction of laptops. This allowed the employee to take their office work with them, no longer tethering them to a single location to do their job. Now they could work remotely, albeit still in a static location (e.g. their home or hotel room). The privilege of using this technology though was reserved for the knowledge worker and was company-driven via the use of company assets. Because of this, the business was very much in the driver's seat.

While other devices like pagers and even early cell phones also enabled a means of connection while away from the office, it was the growth of laptops that drove the need for management tools to help control access to the company network and data in order to protect the security of their intellectual property (IP).

Fast forward to the arrival of smartphones, devices often more powerful than computers. This is where we started to see the shift from company- to employee-driven mobility, with employee assets being used and thus, employees taking control. As usage shifted in focus from personal to business use, existing management tools were adapted to accommodate the new type of devices accessing company networks. The companies that won big in this phase were the ones who embraced these changes rather than resisting them. They allowed employees to illustrate how the business could be advanced through use of mobile devices built for their personal lives. Businesses started to think about the guardrails through which to manage this type of mobile use without stifling the innovative ways they could add value to employees' work lives. Employees were now charting the path forward while businesses followed suit by finding ways to safely and securely enable them.

The evolution away from single-purpose company controlled assets continued as the enterprise embraced more readily the idea of multi-purpose devices that were always on and always connected as the user went about their lives.  For the business, it was no longer just an issue of controlling access to the company’s network from a static location. The context of what was happening around the employee while their mobile device was being used created new safety and productivity challenges for the business.

Mobility on the frontlines reaches critical mass

The need for mobility and effective management solutions for the workplace is only continuing to grow. According to the IDC, nearly 60% of the U.S. workforce today are mobile, frontline workers -- employees who don’t require a desk or an office to do their work. This is today’s frontier for workplace mobility, and it presents a critical opportunity for organizations to capitalize on the innovations and lessons learned from the earlier phases of mobility. The explosion of mobile apps aimed at shifting traditional workflows to digital environments reinforces the growing reliance companies have on mobility to improve operational efficiencies, quality, productivity and customer satisfaction.

The existing mobile device management solutions supported by a company’s IT function are optimized to solve for the security of the network and data, but not the productivity, safety and security of the worker using the tools. As a result, mobile device functionality is often limited or locked down as the only way to safeguard both the network and the employee.

This leaves operational leaders with the tough choice between not investing in further expansion of mobility into their work processes, or limiting functionality in order to solve for the inherent risks that have arisen from mobile technology.

Making devices work with respect for business security and safety and employee security and safety

The tug of war between IT needing to closely manage security of the network and safeguard data, and operations pushing for wider permissions of mobile to enable more functionality, still remains today in many organizations. Thankfully, it's become clear that it doesn't have to be one party or the other that wins when it comes to using smartphones and tablets at work.

What's needed to get to the next level of device use at work to enable true mobility are dynamic policy tools that take contextualization into account  as the employee moves  throughout the day. Context allows businesses to solve the need to maintain control but in a situationally aware way. It takes into account the human aspect of mobility. That is, who is using the device at a given time, where is the individual located, what are they doing, what’s going on around them and how is their environment changing as the day goes on. 

Contextual mobile device management enables devices to be managed based on how the individual user's environment changes throughout the day, with the understanding users aren't static. The ability to provide access only to the right applications and functions for the task at hand at a given time is key. When a worker's environment changes, the settings do, too, in real time.

Contextual management is not at the expense of network or data security. Rather, the safeguards of traditional mobile device or endpoint management solutions are enhanced through the addition of a contextual layer to improve enforcement of company usage policies.

Our integrated lives won't become more separate

There's more at stake when use of mobile devices at work is restricted than when it's embraced. The companies that can recognize the power of mobile solutions at work, regardless of where that is, and implement the next generation of technology to adopt it will outpace the competition.

Joe Boyle is CEO of TRUCE Software, the first platform to offer a contextually-aware and responsive mobile device management solution for businesses.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.