Mobile workforce trends in tech

Natalie Lambert, senior director, workspace service marketing, Citrix
Natalie Lambert, senior director, workspace service marketing, Citrix

The mobile workforce is alive and well – at least in people’s minds. But a recent executive roundtable hosted by Natalie Lambert, senior director, workspace services marketing for Citrix, indicated that while the interest and intent are definitely there, the execution is weaker, especially when the numbers from Canadian and US executives are compared.

Lambert’s discussion drew upon multiple data points in Citrix-sponsored research from Forrester Consulting conducted in February and March 2015, which examined mobile workforce attitudes and deployment in global markets. While many of the general statements on concerns about security and costs came as no surprise to the customers present, there were some anomalies that helped to paint a more telling picture of the mobile workforce landscape in the two jurisdictions.

One of the more interesting outcomes of that research was the fact that Canadians were significantly behind in deployment of BYOD as a result of specific concerns. For example:

  • When it came virtualization, which is seen as a technology that is integral to supporting BYOD, 13 percent of respondents in the US think the technology is not ready as compared with 27 percent of Canadians.
  • When asked if they feel security is reduced with BYOD, 63 percent of respondents in the US think it is, as compared with 77 percent in Canada.
  • Twenty-seven-per-cent of US respondents feel that BYOD was not compatible with existing infrastructures as compared to 31 percent of .

“In other words, studies show Canadians feel that the technology to support BYO is not mature enough and there are still security concerns with this computing option,” Lambert said.

The tables turned when it came to questions around attitude and interest, Lambert noted. “Generally speaking, Canadian organizations are prioritizing BYOD projects – more so than their US counterparts. Twelve percent of respondents in Canada said other projects were a higher priority than BYOD, while for US respondents that number was at 18 percent; and 13 percent of US respondents said there is a lack of business sponsorship, compared to Canada where that number was zero. So it’s clear executives here are on board. It’s just a matter of getting it done.”

In other areas of the study, disparities were marginal to non-existent. In both countries, for example, more than three-quarters of organizations believe they have the skill set within IT to needed to manage mobility; and less than a fifth both respondent groups believe the mobility costs are too high.

While there is no quantifiable explanation for the differentials found between the US and global counterparts, Lambert speculated that a wait and see mentality combined with the stringency of security regulations both play some part, especially in jurisdictions outside of North America. A number of regions, for example, will wait to see what the US does first; or conversely are not willing to share their successes. “We’ve found that organizations in the UK or France don’t want to talk to the US about how successful they were with a deployment. They want to talk to people who are successful in their own regions.”

Privacy and security for their part have been key factors in making decisions on data access, especially when that access is from outside jurisdictional boundaries. “Germany, for example, has one of the most stringent sets of requirements around data sovereignty,” she said.

Attendees added their own thoughts during the discussion, raising technical issues that come into play in the mobile experience. A healthcare participant at the event added the fact that in connecting primary care providers who in turn are connecting with patients, networks have to support large files and video traffic in addition to dealing with concerns over personal privacy.

Another pointed out that complexity was a significant challenge, especially for professionals such as doctors or lawyers who barely have time to try something once, let alone twice. “If the devices are complex [to learn or use], it simply won’t fly,” he said.

Concerns were also expressed over financing and managing the “hand holding” needed through the adoption process. One organization addressed the latter issue by creating a community of super users or champions to provide support outside of the standard help desk platform, who reduced the burden on tech support as well as overall costs. “We found that employees loved the idea of sharing what they learned to make it all work easier for people,” he said.

For many enterprises, it’s a matter of finding common ground, noted Michael Murphy, VP and country manager of Citrix Canada. “The CEO sees mobility as opening the doors to productivity, profitability, operational efficiency and competitiveness. The CIO’s thoughts are on how to solve the challenges around information security. Do they have the staff to support the latest and greatest devices? Do they have the ability to support apps employees are bringing in?”

Despite these disparate interests, a number of mobile workspace tools have become table stakes, including support for all variations of mobile/virtual apps, instant file sync and share, collaboration, secure mobile access, and the ability to work with any device, on any network, in any cloud. “And all that has to be delivered without IT having to think about the devices,” Lambert said. “It just needs to work and be portable. 3G, WIFI, network, cloud – none of that should matter.”

Between the increasing numbers of devices, the complexity of business apps, security, workforce diversity and business volatility issues people are grappling with, enterprises are juggling all sorts of different expectations, Murphy said. “The old way was to throw down a VPN and give people access to support mobility. Things have changed fundamentally. We need to shift to the mindset that the user is the centre of the world and [provide] what they need to get their job done – and do it simply and seamlessly.”

Another challenging factor is the inability to quantify the intangible benefits of a mobile workforce. “There are things [around productivity] that simply can’t be measured. An enterprise may have started monitoring how often a worker logs into their virtual desktop and uses an app, but that’s not everything they’re doing when they are mobile,” Lambert said.

Employee satisfaction is another unknown, but critical. While direct links between technology and staff turnover may not be obvious, technology likely plays a significant role. Forrester’s Forrsights Telecom and Mobility Workforce Survey, Q2 2013 found that a majority of information workers did not feel that their smartphones provided them with adequate capabilities for their work-related activities; 62 percent stated that they were not satisfied with smartphones when it came to editing documents, spreadsheets or presentations. Similarly, creating, reading or viewing office documents and processor-intensive activities like analytics or modelling were all rated poorly.

The same study found that 44 percent of workers reported not having access to their work apps on their devices; and 56 percent said they were not adequately provided with all of the technology they need to do their job outside the office because of lack of support for personal smartphones and tables.

Given that 70 percent of information workers now work outside the office, logic would dictate that dissatisfaction with technology limitations can easily translate into turnover if another enterprise is further ahead on the mobile front. “You have all the millennials coming that don’t like the technology provided; and if they don’t have the technology they want, they might leave,” Lambert said. “That’s hard to quantify, but if you factor in that it can cost $100,000 to source, recruit and train an employee, and you find yourself having to do it over and over again, [better technology] could translate into huge savings. The reality is employers need to bring [the right] technology.”

IT administrators may have good reasons for approaching the new BYOD paradigm with caution, whether the stumbling blocks are cost, available staffing, device security or indoctrinating new users. Yet the fact remains, a properly executed BYOD strategy can deliver considerable bottom line results, ranging from cost savings (users pay for their own devices thereby eliminating a significant capital cost) and more productivity to improved collaboration and employee retention. Those who resist for too long stand to lose their competitive advantage over time.