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Mobile Productivity In Times Of Crisis

by William Laurent, William Laurent, Inc.Monday, June 7, 2010

It is only a matter of time before the world’s mobile workforce increases to almost one billion people, or almost one quarter of the workers around the globe.  Remotely enabled business applications, aided by the explosive growth and prevalence of wireless and satellite networks, have brought a prodigious new level of productivity to the world’s workforce and allowed many of them to perform their core job functions far from the confines of traditional work environs.

For some of us, smartphones and BlackBerrys have become the preferred platforms to carry out many important day-to-day tasks, sharply increasingly both personal and business productivity.  Case in point, Apple Computer’s iPhone has been, and will continue to be, a game-changing device, as more business processes and applications gravitate to a mobile platform.  As of late, many vendors of business intelligence (BI) applications have begun to develop performance-management dashboards and knowledge canvasses for mobile devices, positioning them as integral parts of their product suites and overall BI software strategy.

Remote decision making and data-processing capabilities must be facilitated if “business agility” (still one of the most favorite buzzwords of every executive) is to become a reality in the enterprise.  Although managers don’t usually refer of business agility from a literal frame of reference—the Webster’s dictionary definition of agility is “the power of moving quickly and easily; nimbleness”—it is quite keen to look at business agility from the perspective of physical movement.  Being agile means having the freedom to roam and conduct business anywhere, e.g., the ability for business managers to not only get real-time status updates and critical alerts on important topics (no matter where they may be physically) and to be able to run the same types of reports or do the same type of analysis (same interface, same data, same functionality) from a handheld device as they would be able to do from their work or home-office PC.

Recently, I was caught up in the middle of a brief but massive power outage while visiting a client.  As may be expected, the unanticipated outage resulted in an “all-hands-on-desk” scenario.  Construction taking place in the data center had knocked out power to a cluster of mission-critical application and database servers; then to make matters even more grave, the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) also failed.  Even though the outage itself was only a few seconds long (backup power and regular power was restored rather immediately), the damage had been done.

As would be expected, DBAs, SAs, network administrators, storage experts and infrastructure managers all scrambled to address the situation, bringing the servers and databases back online as quickly as possible, in accordance with the level of importance of each business application - and thus in accordance with any vital server-to-application dependencies.  

While an unplanned (and at the time, unexplained) outage of a few servers was devastating in itself, the timing of the incident exacerbated the crisis.  The disaster had occurred just after regular business hours, as most of the systems administrators and support staff were situated in cars, trains, buses or boats—in the middle of their commutes home.  Although most support staff could be tethered to their BlackBerrys, reading frantic emails and alerts for the rest of their ride home, they were helpless to react decisively to the developing situation.  During these precious hours and minutes, they did not possess remotely enabled administration tools that would aid them in addressing the outage crisis or bring their fate-stricken servers back into an operational state.  Many administrators turned back and returned to the office, while others remained on their journey home, where they could log in and perform their restoration duties.  (Because of a holiday in India, the global help desk and support mechanism were understaffed as well, further deepening the predicament.)

Most large and medium enterprises usually have a sizable investment in smartphone technology and mobile digital devices; however, they are still used overwhelmingly for email and basic internet messaging applications.  An audit of the installed application base will most likely uncover a dearth of mobile administration programs that support business continuity and disaster-recovery policies.  Some things to consider when architecting your mobile productivity solution:

  • Different Location, Same View.  When possible, mobile productivity and administration programs should offer the same look and feel—and the same functionality (depending on device memory and processing constraints)—as its desktop-based version. 
  • Look For Blended Value.  Messaging functions must be blended with situational awareness in order to achieve maximum value.
  • Explore Your Options.  Satellite technology offers a more robust alternative over wireless, better for overcoming the typical gaps in terrestrial communications infrastructure.
  • Strive For Security.  Having effective access control and permissioning models for enterprise mobile devices is even more important than it is in the desktop PC world.  PDAs and smartphones can get lost or stolen much easier than laptops or personal computers residing in a user’s office or cube.
  • Let Users View Data And Work Offline.  BI users will want to perform analysis on data when not connected to a network.  Enabling data compression on the mobile device will let them slice and dice large data sets when they are not online.


Business agility means mobility.  It means you are able to dynamically and decisively perform the tasks and transactions that are essential to your job description and to the operational continuity of your firm, no matter where you may be located physically.  Business executives and IT managers are finally looking at mobile technology as something that can deliver much more than simple email on-the-go.  It can be a key driver of business efficiency and business agility.  We are approaching an age in mobile technology evolution where remotely enabled applications will support just-in-time IT administration tasks such as UNIX and Windows systems administration, or Oracle database administration.  Business enterprises should be seeing better value from their BlackBerry and Apple smartphones (and now iPads.).  Soon there will be no excuse for not responding to a server power outage simply because you were on a train, away from either work or home PC.

About the Author

William Laurent is one of the world's leading experts in information strategy and governance. For 20 years, he has advised numerous businesses and governments on technology strategy, performance management, and best practices´┐Żacross all market sectors. William currently runs an independent consulting company that bears his name. In addition, he frequently teaches classes, publishes books and magazine articles, and lectures on various technology and business topics worldwide. As Senior Contributing Author for Dashboard Insight, he would enjoy your comments at wlaurent@williamlaurent.com

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