Making the business case for mobile devices

A hot topic among my clients these days is defining a mobility business case. The rationale is simple: Mobility budgets have been rising more than 10% year over year for the past three years — even though IT budgets overall have been declining.

Also read: Your must-have telecom budget for 2010 | Top five tips for managing mobility

At some point — in fact, right about now — senior executives begin to wonder what they're getting for all that money. Sometimes the knee-jerk response is to crack down and reduce spending by any means necessary: Cap reimbursements for devices and services; switch to an employee-owned mobile device model; or reduce the number and type of users who can have mobile devices and services.

Although I'm all in favor of frugality — and I agree that most companies can probably wring savings from their mobility plans — I think this approach can be dangerously limiting. Properly deployed, mobility can and does provide measurable top-line benefits. That is, a properly-mobilized workforce can generate demonstrable revenue that more than justifies the cost.

The catch is to define properly. That means focusing on a few key concepts:

• The key benefit of mobility is making remote interactions richer and more effective. By remote, I mean any transactions that aren't conducted by someone behind a desk — whether it's a travelling sales executive, a shop-floor worker, or a doctor in the ER. By richer and more effective, I mean making them more successful by providing real-time information that improves heir success rate. That is, the right way to measure mobility is to look at improvements in remote interactions — whether that's an increase in sales, fewer errors on the assembly line, or more successful medical operations. It's best to explore use cases that already have clear, crisp metrics.

• The flip side of this perspective is that mobility is not just about cell phones (or cell phones and e-mail). To work effectively, mobility means bringing a range of applications out to the remote user.

• Delivering a range of applications effectively requires a certain amount of infrastructure — doubly so if the goal is to deliver them to a broad portfolio of devices. And although a Web browser can provide an acceptable common interface some of the time, it's not necessarily going to work all the time — mobile devices vary considerably in their ability to provide effective browsing. Therefore, it's wise to assume your mobile initiative will require investment in application development and support, at the very least. It may also require an investment in hardware and services.

Crafting a mobility business case thus boils down to locating use cases that feature remote transactions, defining how those interactions can be improved through mobility, computing the investment required to deliver the hardware, software, and services, and determining the difference between dollars invested and dollars generated through increased productivity.

That sounds simple, and in some respects it is. But it's also challenging, which is what most organizations haven't done it yet.

Here's the kicker, though — it's also quite a lot of fun. So if you haven't started yet, what are you waiting for?

Johnson is president and senior founding partner at Nemertes Research, an independent technology research firm. She can be reached at johna@nemertes.com.

Read more about lan and wan in Network World's LAN & WAN section.

This story, "Making the business case for mobile devices" was originally published by Network World.

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