The increasingly ubiquitous nature of mobile devices is creating new opportunities for businesses and their employees from a productivity perspective. With smartphones, tablets, laptops and other connected devices available to professionals, allowing them to work at any time in almost any location, it has never been easier to bring people together and benefit from shared knowledge and experience. Businesses of all sizes are turning to mobile devices to facilitate collaborative working, helping employees to work together effectively across multiple sites and off-premise locations.
According to IT analyst Gartner, the evolution of mobile devices, and the way businesses manage their technology fleets, is also making a difference. The firm believes the increasing standardisation of mobile tools - partly driven by the evolution in the cloud - is helping companies to create more collaborative and easily-managed environments.
Gartner says that, at present, a variety of apps and services are used for mobile content access, collaboration and productivity, and this fragmentation of options "creates complexity and challenges for the IT organisation". But over the next three years, the analyst expects most collaboration applications to become equally available on desktops, mobile phones, tablets and browsers.
Evolution of mobile platforms
Monica Basso, research vice-president at Gartner, said that, in the past, collaboration on mobile devices meant interaction through wireless messaging and voice calls. "But today, smartphones and tablets have larger screens, touch-based user interfaces, location support, broad network connectivity, enhanced cameras and video support, VoIP and so on," she stated. "Such features enable a range of applications - both traditional and new - for employees to better communicate, collaborate, socialise, create and consume content."
The consolidation of collaboration tools can be seen in the availability of online productivity suites such as Office 365, which offer access to files, documents, data, software and communication tools from any connected device. Employees can access Office 365 from up to five registered devices, meaning that wherever they are - and whichever platform they are using - they are still able to complete work-related tasks.
Key trends in mobile collaboration
Ms Basso said mobile devices are enabling "a new generation of collaboration" in businesses willing to embrace the technology. In her view, three trends are rapidly boosting mobile collaboration strategies and investments in organisations - bring your own device (BYOD), personal cloud file sharing and the increasing availability of mobile applications.
Gartner says the BYOD trend is already affecting organisations and will continue to drive new mobile and client computing strategies in the coming years. "Employees who bring their own consumer smartphones and tablets to work, initially ask for and receive support for corporate email, calendar and contacts," the firm stated. "Before long, they begin to use other apps that make it easier to get their jobs done."
In addition, personal cloud file synchronisation and sharing services are "expanding in scope and capabilities", Gartner claimed. This is being driven by smart devices and tablets, the firm said. It expects that, by 2016, the average personal cloud will synchronise and orchestrate at least six different device types - giving employees total flexibility to work using the platforms they feel most comfortable with at the time.
Where mobile applications are concerned, Gartner believes they have transformed the internet from a web-centric to an app-centric model. "Regardless of what technologies or architectures are used to build them, mobile apps have become the primary entry point for individuals to access and consume complex information and functionality," the firm noted. It said mobile collaboration can also take place in specialised corporate apps for selected workforces that use mobile devices heavily in their job.
Adding value through mobile collaboration tools
But why are businesses and organisations so keen to capitalise on the emergence of new mobile technologies? According to Ms Basso, it is all about empowering employees and enabling them to reach their full potential. She said delivering mobile collaboration capabilities through smart devices, personal cloud sharing and mobile apps is "a smart move" for organisations, since it can help them innovate in the workplace and stay competitive.
"Nevertheless, a number of challenges can arise from piecemeal, poorly-architected implementations," the expert warned. She said successful deployments of mobile collaboration will need a thorough analysis of business requirements. This means understanding the potential risks and restrictions, while assessing existing investments and trends, Ms Basso said.
But there is no doubting that mobility solutions have the potential to be game-changing for businesses, particularly as the world becomes more globalised and the demands of consumers continue to increase. The more agile and flexible organisations can be, the more likely they will be able to meet expectations. Equipping employees with mobile solutions, and enabling them to work together more effectively on the front-line can only be positive in this regard.
Find out how Microsoft mobility solutions can add value to your organisation.
Posted by Alex Boardman