Mobilising the workforce is becoming a lot easier because of new technologies, but challenges remain. Ian Campbell and Quinton O’Reilly report.

Despite the ubiquity of smartphones and people’s seemingly insatiable appetite for all things mobile, businesses are still struggling to find the best way to empower employees with anytime, anywhere access to corporate applications and services. Strategies are surprisingly unclear. A Gartner survey last November concluded “that mobile device adoption in the workplace is not yet mature”. Desktops, not even laptops, are still the most popular corporate device among businesses.

 Another piece of Gartner research predicted that, by the end of this year, the demand for mobile app development would be five times greater than the capacity to deliver them. One conclusion that can be drawn from very different messages is that organisations understand the productivity benefits of mobilising their workforce — they want employees to access business applications remotely — but they are not sure of the best way to go about it.

 There are other mixed signals. The Garter survey said that two-thirds of respondents use a personally owned device or devices for work, but, closer to home, BYOD (bring your own device) is by no means a given.

“COPE [Corporate Owned Personally Enabled] is definitely more popular with businesses in Ireland,” said Nicola Mortimer, Three’s head of business products, marketing and operations. “BYOD tends to come into play around tablets. The corporate enterprise might not provide them but employees are able to bring them in and use them as part of their working environment. Mobile phones are more likely to be handed out with policies in place on how they are used.”

Kevin O’Loughlin, chief executive of Nostra, agreed: “BYOD is certainly a buzzword but it’s not particularly common. We have more COPE customers than BYOD, probably 95 per cent to 5 per cent.” He made the point that companies have always owned the laptops they issue to employees so it’s a tried-and-tested model. And increasingly attractive mobile bundles make it a cost-effective strategy that gives organisations more control. “When you can pay as little a €25 a month for unlimited calls, texts and data, it becomes a no-brainer for a business to issue the devices,” he said.

Tara Gale, client solutions marketing manager at Dell EMC Ireland, cites VMware research that highlights how mobile strategies are falling short. “Around 60 per cent of employees will do some work on a personal device, whether it’s mobile phone or a tablet, but only 14 per cent of them will be properly managed. Companies are not always aware of what their employees are doing,” she said.

For organisations to assume greater control, they need to address three big challenges, according to Gale: applications, devices and security. The first is partly about the difficult migration to Windows 10, a cornerstone of mobile strategies for Microsoft-based businesses.

 “A lot of large corporates use legacy applications, and are looking at a year’s work for the IT department to make them work on Windows 10. Some never will,” she said.

Security challenges

What Gale regards as the biggest challenges of all are compounded by GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) coming into force next year. She said there has been a spike of activity in the last six months as organisations look to get their house in order. “Not only will they have to report on how they are securing data, they have to be able to prove it. You have to be able to track where it goes — whether it’s to a data centre or an external cloud application like Dropbox,” she said.

Mobile technology has been giving IT departments a security headache long before GDPR came along. Smartphones and tablets are seen by cybercriminals as a weak link in network security, not least because they extend the traditional office perimeter and provide more endpoints that can be exploited. The upshot is a flourishing industry in Mobile Device Management (MDM) and Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) solutions.

Typical MDM functionality is the ability to “lock and wipe” lost or stolen devices, while EMM is more about the endto-end integration of mobile applications and services into the business. Data management, compliance, and identity management are part of it, ensuring mobile activity is aligned to company polices with a clear understanding of where data is stored and who has access to it.

Dell covers all bases, according to Gale, from endpoint devices like laptops with fingerprint/smart card readers, biometric security and facial recognition software, to an enterprise management solution like VMware Airwatch, a file sync and share application.

“Around 95 per cent of breaches happen at the end-point device; it is much easier to secure the back end,” she said. “The other thing that needs to be done is to persuade big application developers like Salesforce, Concur and Workday to make the cloud more of a security friend than a foe.”

Meanwhile, it’s about balancing the risks with the productivity gains. “If you have an app on a phone accessing corporate information, you are obviously creating more risk,” said Three’s Mortimer. “Even with email on a phone, there are attachments and information that has been transferred internally and externally that has to be protected. Organisations have to weigh up the benefits and decide if it’s worth it.” She makes a compelling case that it is, reeling off a list of benefits that include greater productivity — not having to wait to get back to the office to file an order, for example — and being able to address a customer’s needs, there and then, as you’re sitting in their office, rather than being tied to a PC at a desk. If the advantages are too tantalising to miss, the challenge becomes finding a way to mitigate the risks.

Mortimer said this was particularly the case with smaller firms. “More work could definitely be done in that area. We’re working closely with phone manufactures like Apple and Samsung to improve security solutions that are native to the device,” she said.

Levels of complexity

Nostra’s Kevin O’Loughlin said that the requirement from mobile management and security solutions would depend on the complexity of the business that’s being mobilised. “Office 365 comes with some MDM tools that have limited functionality — you can enforce policies such as having password/PIN protection on your device — but in a lot of cases it might do the job and tick all the boxes. Other companies might need Microsoft InTune, a good, all-round solution that includes antivirus and patch management along with device management.”

IP Telecom has invested heavily in the development of proprietary anti-fraud products, believing that when it comes to securing the network, the buck should stop with the provider. “We take the view that if our customers gets exposed, then part of our service is to ensure our product recognises fraudulent activity and locks it down automatically,” said Anthony Tattan, commercial director.

Soft options

IP Telecom provides hosted PBX services in conjunction with VoIP and SIP trunk offerings. The pitch is for feature-rich, enterprise class telephony over the internet, using softphones to free employees up from the constraints of the traditional phone-on-the-desk.

The company is seeing a spike of interest in how it can incorporate mobile into a VoIP solution. “Pretty much every installation or migration that we carry out currently has a mobile consideration,” said Anthony Tattan, “whether it’s just for a couple of individuals who travel a lot or work remotely, or else the business wants to shift their focus to a more agile solution for the workforce, while at the same time future-proofing the communications infrastructure and ensuring business continuity against disaster possibilities.”

IP Telecom's mobile applications can be used over 3G and 4G networks, filling a hole left by fixed line services. “Connectivity is still the biggest issue for lots of businesses. They still don’t have good enough options for quality broadband services,” he said. “We have mobile applications that business customers can utilise to help mobilise a customer’s workforce. We are experiencing a lot of growth in this area right now.”

Tattan described his firm as offering best-in-class, business-wide solutions that include mobile and remote workforce integration. “And we can easily add devices — a softphone on a laptop or PC, deskphone or smartphone. Your extension number stays the same and you can pick up on whatever device you choose.” The benefits are a combination of greater productivity and cost savings. “We’ve got clients that have basically stopped paying their staff mobile bills. We give them a VoIP application and they have a softphone,” he said.

One of the obstacles to adoption is an old-school mentality, according to Tattan: misplaced loyalty to traditional telephony providers and the deskphone. He believes the ability to add new services quickly and cost-effectively, including a suite of unified communication tools, will eventually persuade even the most sceptical organisation to make the move.

Access anywhere

Nostra is an IT services company built around Microsoft products. It frequently uses Microsoft Direct Access to mobilise clients, allowing remote users to securely access network file shares, websites, and applications without connecting to a virtual private network. “It’s a really user-friendly way of connecting into corporate networks,” said O’Loughlin of Nostra. “A smartphone or SIM-enabled laptop with Windows Enterprise Edition will connect every time it’s turned on. And it’s secure because it’s encrypted out of the box.”

The company also provides hosted PBX systems that combine with applications like Microsoft Windows Remote Desktop Services or Citrix XenApp to connect phones and softphones from anywhere. “You can have your office extension wherever you are, or even be part of a call-centre. Using a remote app with a laptop, you can probably have as good if not better experience from home than you would in the office. So we’re eliminating technology from being a blocker to working from anywhere,” O’Loughlin said.

BT doesn’t sell mobile services directly in Ireland but will integrate with it as part of its unified communications suite. It takes the bigger picture view that it’s all part of becoming a digital business. “We’re very much about digital businesses, digital employees, and digital customers,” said Joe Walsh. “From a digital employees perspective, it’s about making sure they have mobility if it’s required, and the right communication and collaboration tools like Skype for Business or Cisco platform.”

For the customer, he said, it’s increasingly about omnichannel contact centres that incorporate mobile chat and social media. “We provide a number of solutions to make sure companies can deal with the digital customer. You’ll see a lot of this coming out of BT in the coming months; solutions for the three pillars of a digital business.”

One-stop providers

There has been a lot of market consolidation among telco providers, with large players acquiring other companies or becoming MVNOs to provide the full range of communication services to businesses — fixed, mobile, broadband and unified communications.

So is the one-stop provider with a single bill the way to go? Not necessarily, according to IP Telecom’s Tattan. “Bundling of services can make sense if the individual elements of the offering are superior or at least as good as standalone offerings available, but I would always look for the best service offering available in your location,” he said.

 “Our customers’ requirements are for the best broadband connectivity available, so they are not going to choose DSL over fibre broadband just because you might be able to bundle it with your mobile service and get a single bill.”

Three is a one-stop fixed and mobile provider, and Nicola Mortimer is very clear about the benefits. “If you can get what you need at a good price, and the customer experience is managed end-to-end, then there are advantages to it,” she said. “And there’s none of the finger pointing you can get with multiple providers, where one blames the other if something goes wrong.”

She is not, however, arguing for an all-encompassing arrangement with a single provider, recognising that different technologies demand different levels of expertise. “There are natural bundles that go together that wouldn’t necessarily include servers or other IT functions.”

On the wider issue of how the mobile market will evolve, Mortimer doesn’t believe the proliferation of wifi and VoIP services will damage the future of mobile operators.

“Not one individual technology solution will fit everywhere, but the future is definitely IP, which will make it a level playing field,” she said.

Full article can be found on The Business Post

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