Advances in mobile technology eclipse strategic planning efforts

July 30, 2010
| By Pete Daly |
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John W. Hey is geeked on mobile technology, as many people are these days. He’s got a Droid wireless smart phone that lets him talk, text, take photos, surf the net, check if his desk is level, name the song he’s listening to, find his car in the parking ramp …

“These are all neat things,” said Hey, but he’s the first to admit that some of them “aren’t going to help me make more money today with my business.”

Hey, senior vice president at Trivalent Group, said the advancements in technical capabilities of mobile phones have exploded on the scene today, with thousands of applications available, “and only a very small minority are what you’d call truly business-focused applications.”

Trivalent is a Grandville company that offers hardware, software and consulting services to help businesses and organizations manage their data and communications.

According to industry analysts, by the end of this year 1.2 billion people will carry hand-held communications devices, but the high-tech capabilities of these devices are advancing so rapidly that management can’t keep up with them.

“It’s almost getting to the point where it’s more of a reactionary situation,” rather than one where top management is carefully analyzing potential investments in technology to improve the bottom line.

The scenario at many companies now is this: Somebody shows up at work one day with the latest iPhone or BlackBerry and goes straight to the IT department.

“They say to the IT guy, ‘Hey, make this work so I can get my e-mail.’ Then the poor IT guy has got five different people coming to him with five different devices and is being asked to integrate these things,” said Hey.

In discussing the problem with IT management at their client companies, Trivalent staff have learned that the IT department often does not have any control over the situation “because a lot of times the biggest problem people are the executive team. They’re out doing errands on a Saturday and they stop in at the Verizon store and pick up these latest gadgets,” he said.

“You must look at your business applications, what you run (as software), and what you are using for e-mail and calendar, and then make sure the device you are using is consistent with and integrates with what you have,” he said.

GPS is one example of a capability that is fun to have, so more people are getting it on their mobile phone. A General Positioning System obviously does help make some types of employees more efficient, and those companies probably have a network that runs software for that function. But a typical employee doesn’t need GPS unless the boss needs to send that person to a particular cedar tree in a swamp on North Manitou Island.

“Right now, in my view, it’s still almost more of a problem stage, in that these devices are just showing up — being procured without any standard process. The challenge of integrating them into the business structure is still pretty significant.

“Many of those apps have not been ported to use on a hand-held device,” said Hey, although slowly coming along now are “true native applications that are fit for hand-held devices that work with your business applications.”

So far, the mobile device industry does not really have “a good set of standards,” said Hey.

“There are some, but it’s not prevalent yet, so the pressure is really on each business to make sure they’re true to themselves and that what they get is something they can integrate without causing too much hassle,” said Hey.

More devices now have the ability to scan a bar code in order to download data, according to Hey. That means new apps can be downloaded from the Internet without requiring the device to be tethered to a PC.

Other mobile devices that can add to the complications facing an IT department are laptops and netbooks, which are really mini-laptops.

Mobile devices can make employees more efficient — or more inefficient.

“For example,” said Hey, “say I have to take off work for a doctor’s appointment. I can be stuck in a waiting room for an extra 20 minutes that I hadn’t budgeted for. In that waiting room, I can get my e-mail completely caught up, set appointments; I can even use some of my corporate applications from a mobile device. So, except for any face-to-face activities or something that I need that is physically in my office, I’ve not lost any productivity. In that respect, these are tremendous devices.”

“But I can also make the choice to surf the Internet on my phone, check out the latest songs, look for new apps, see if there’s an open table at my favorite restaurant. So it all comes down to the choice of the individual on how they use their time,” he said.

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