IDC expects the global mobile worker population to increase to roughly 1.2 billion in 2013, representing nearly 35% of the worldwide workforce. Growth in the number of mobile workers worldwide is being driven in large part by advances in wireless networks, mobile devices, applications, and remote access technologies, along with the security and management tools for IT administrators.
The U.S. workforce is highly mobile in nature and, as such, its enterprises have been more aggressive in adoption of mobile technologies than have other regions. In the U.S., the mobile workforce will grow from 109 million in 2008 to around 120 million in 2013.
Mobile workers are in virtually every industry, but a few sectors are driving overall growth. Healthcare, for example, is projected to add more than 4 million jobs in the next five years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This industry has a high percentage of mobile workers of various types, including on-location mobile workers (doctors and nurses) and field-based mobile workers (home care and medical delivery workers).
Professional services (legal, real estate, technical services, etc.) will add nearly as many jobs as healthcare, including many office-based and home-based mobile workers. There are mobile workers across other industries driving the U.S. economy, including finance, government/public safety, and transportation. Even retail and manufacturing, two of the largest U.S. verticals, employ many mobile workers.
We have yet to scratch the surface when it comes to empowering these workers with the technologies to be most productive while mobile. For instance, despite the success of BlackBerry and the availability of low-cost mobile email clients for Exchange and Lotus Notes, the number of corporate mobile email subscribers is a small fraction of total corporate email subscribers.
Other promising mobile applications, such as CRM, conferencing, travel expense management, or collaboration software are even less penetrated than email. Many ruggedized devices used by mobile workers in the field do not even leverage cellular networks for real-time interaction with corporate networks.
The reasons for this adoption gap are related to issues around cost (both deployment and maintenance), security concerns, internal resource and skill-set restraints, and issues pertaining to business culture.
Such barriers to adoption are breaking down, as interest in mobile devices and applications is high among both mobile workers and IT purchasing decision makers. Furthermore, vendors continue to improve on the quality of their offerings.
It will still be some time before even corporate mobile email reaches a level of saturation, but the transformation towards the mobile enterprise is under way.
Sean Ryan is Research Analyst, Mobile Enterprise Software, with IDC in Boston, MA.