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SA hesitant mobile adoption

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South African businesses are taking cautious steps forward towards adopting a mobile workforce.

This is the view of Dr Andrew Hutchison, head: process, quality & IT at T-Systems SA, who notes that many organisations abroad have been quick to adopt the mobile workforce in order to leverage the associated benefits.

According to Hutchison, some of the benefits of the mobile workforce include increased productivity; business flexibility and a general change in pace, as some tasks can be finished off at a home office or remotely instead of spending an unproductive hour in traffic.

He points out that various analysts are forecasting the existence of up to 1.2 billion mobile workers by 2013.

In SA, he says, while most businesses acknowledge the abovementioned gains, they are hesitant to relinquish control.

“The reality is that there is good reason for such hesitancy - one can't rule out that while an employee might claim he or she has been spending hours at home working, this might not be the case.

Control versus freedom scenario

“We are faced with a control versus freedom scenario. And, like most things in life, establishing a balance of sorts will undoubtedly provide an answer,” he says.

Hutchison urges organisations to establish policies custom-developed to their own needs that will enable them to relinquish some control without jeopardising the effective running of the company.

“The reality is [that] mobility is not going to disappear - if anything, it will become more and more pervasive as time goes by, to a point where not allowing your employees to work remotely could negatively impact your business,” he says.

He also adds that many companies that have got the balance right, and have created an effective mobile workforce, are already benefiting greatly from the competitive advantage this has created for them.

This said, Hutchison maintains that employees also have to establish balance that for one will ensure that they do gain the most from working from home or remotely, proving to their employers that it is a viable decision and secondly; not falling into a pattern where work completely consumes their lives - stepping away from work to enjoy some much needed downtime is crucial.

Hutchison also cites connectivity as another perceived barrier to local mobile workforce entry.

“The validity of this argument is dwindling; while cost may still be a factor, connectivity is increasingly less of an issue.”

Mobile broadband investments

Hutchison argues that as more and more households adopt ADSL and 3G/HSDPA type options, and mobile operators invest in mobile broadband, connectivity issues are gradually diminishing.

“Uncapped solutions are also ensuring that transfer of data files, remote videoconferencing and company phone extensions mapped to 'soft phones' on laptop or desktop machines allow workers to operate from mobile locations as if they were in the office,” he notes.

He is also of the view that the evolution of smartphones, and tablet PCs such as the iPad, has also given workers a further window into their workplace, whereby employees can connect to their corporate networks and messaging systems from almost anywhere.

However, he says security may also be raised as a valid barrier to entry for mobile working. “This area remains a concern, particularly if organisations allow private devices - that aren't necessarily up to corporate specifications - access to the internal network.

“Already we're seeing iPhones, Android and Windows-based devices exploited for malicious gain,” adds Hutchison.

To counter this, he says, organisations must ensure that they have a strong and up-to-date security infrastructure in place, which can deal with a myriad of mobile devices accessing the network, as well as policies for how information should be handled on these devices.

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