At first blush, many business executives may not think much about the need for an email deployment strategy for mobile workers. There are mobile devices in abundance at management meetings and on executive retreats, in airports and on commuter trains. And of course, everyone in the company has an email account.
Is there really wireless email everywhere, though? More importantly, do you want all of your mobile workers to have wireless access to their email?
"Less than 10 percent of business email has been fully mobilized," says Jim Judge,
a principal of Cambridge Consulting Solutions, a technology marketing consultancy. "Only in certain functional areas, such as field engineering and sales, do you see larger penetrations. Many mobile workers use remote hotspots or their hotel rooms to get access to their email."
David Heit, senior product manager at RIM, concurs. "There are market segments that don't use email, or even require an account: field service workers responding to job tickets, truck drivers receiving their schedules, orderlies, nurses and doctors. Most police officers don't have unique email--they share devices. Mobile communication is important, but email is not a big factor."
Could this low penetration be attributed not to a lack of need but to the fact that organizations are unwilling to give all mobile workers wireless email because of price, particularly among smaller businesses and government entities? Philadelphia CIO Dianah Neff states that, "Right now we pay for cellular wireless for a number of field workers to access data, such as those in public safety, building inspectors, health inspectors and social workers. It costs $70 per employee per month. Because of this we have limited the number of people who have access."
With municipal wireless projects such as Philadelphia's driving down the price of carriers' data services, now is a good time to re-visit the price issue to see if wireless email is more affordable. That said, you can still see an increasing need when you consider that over the years people have changed the way they use email.
"Email now is almost like wireless instant messaging (IM)," states Steve McDonald, CIO of Optimus Solutions, a technology consulting firm. "Two years ago I'd send an email from a laptop to a vendor and it would be really in-depth because I wanted to give as much information as possible to the person. Now I send a one-sentence question and expect to get a response quickly."
Look at how your mobile workforce operates. Are there increasing numbers of people who need to communicate in quick bursts? Can productivity increase noticeably with this capability? There may be 101 daily operational issues that can be resolved with quick email exchanges both within your organization and with numerous outside parties.
Removing the Security Barrier to Increasing Email Adoption
Ben Gibson, director of wireless and mobility marketing for Cisco, observes that, "Some industries are very conservative in terms of security, such as insurance and other financial services companies. So IT is having workers use docking stations for PDAs or laptops connected to dedicated lines."
The logical course of action here is to increase the steps that are taken to protect access to the network, such as using a top-notch VPN (virtual private network) application. Organizations also must take into account that many mobile workers are not "technology sophisticated" and often work in situations where they have to connect quickly, upload or download what they need and then move on to the next project, customer visit, etc.
"Security needs to be more simplistic to be used by individuals and more uniform in its use across the various types of mobile devices," continues Gibson. "You can't get workers to take proper security measures if they have to go through multiple steps." Your success in this regard will depend heavily on the vendors you select.
Cisco, for one, provides equipment and a platform that facilitates workers' mobile email access from many locations, whether from
coffee shop hotspots, access points in homes or other options with a focus on simplicity, uniformity and scalability. Companies such as Intellisync and Good Technology are well established at providing applications that tackle the security and remote device management part of any email strategy plan.
Developing Trends that Can Influence Strategy
Steve McDonald's comment about wireless email being similar to IM begs the question: Will IM software become a replacement for email?
RIM has dedicated IM capabilities on its newer devices, but the company doesn't feel IM will replace email. Heit states, "The problem with IM is that for a long time [it was] consumer oriented. Workers were using it inside the organization, but IT realized that there was little control of information security and banned IM. This led to IM products and services with complete audit and control features specifically for corporations. However, it's relatively young in IM's maturity cycle, so adoption is still slow."
WebMessenger is in the IM business and it, too, sees IM as only a supplement to email. "Presence [knowing who is and isn't on the network and available to talk] is going to have the biggest impact, enabling instant text and voice communication," says Joe Naylor, the company's chief marketing officer. "It's not going to replace email, because there's a need for more formal communication. But for quick productivity-enhancing, time-saving messaging, IM is very popular."
Hosted email applications are also becoming popular. Judge notes that "large and small enterprises are using hosted email, though the faster growth is in small and medium-sized companies that do not have the internal infrastructure such as Microsoft Exchange and IBM Notes."
"These are definitely the target," adds Naylor. "All a person has to do is go to the Web, download mobile client software and pay either a monthly or annual fee. At a later point the user can put in a regular email server behind the organization's firewall."
As you look at the changing landscape of mobile workers and how they are doing their jobs, it's certainly time to carefully examine your email strategy, or create a plan if one is not in place. Just because everyone has email doesn't mean your mobile workers are getting the most that email has to offer.
Craig Settles is president of Successful.com and the author of Fighting the Good Fight for Municipal Wireless.