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Two Questions to Consider For Mobile Workforce Management in a BYOD World

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The decision to implement a mobile workforce management system for your field workers involves more than mere replacement of technology. It is a rethinking of the design and utility of IT systems to make them suitable for mobile use. There are several questions that IT managers must consider while designing such questions. Here are two such questions that are often overlooked but are important in their own right. 

Do your IT processes have an operating systems dependency? 

Operating Systems dependency refers to the need for enterprises to design their IT systems around the features and functionalities of an operating system. Typically such situations occur when a single OS dominates the market, as Microsoft Windows did during the 1990s and early 2000s. During that time, procurement departments within organizations moved in concert with Windows releases and generally purchased products, such as databases and servers, that integrated with the Redmond company’s products. 

Apple and Google broke the Microsoft monopoly. But greater choice was not necessarily good news for organizations. As technology systems incorporate greater functionality, operating system dependency has become a risk. 

An example of this risk is the competition between iOS, Apple’s operating system, and Android, the operating system promoted by Google.  Both are focused on creating a platform for their services. Signing onto one operating system creates the risk of a lock -in into their ecosystem. That lock-in can create constraints in operation. For example, consider a situation where the field worker has an Android phone but the app used to update internal systems runs only on iOS. 

While it is true that the days of a single OS dominating the market are over, the time when departments within an organization communicate with each other seamlessly across multiple operating systems are yet to arrive. Very often, the application and environment determines the choice of operating system utilized in such situations.  

There are a couple of ways in which organizations can mitigate the risk of OS dependency. Some have chosen to deploy applications in the cloud to remove the mismatch between operating systems. Others have opted to go the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) route in which they integrate legacy systems with brand new systems that reside in the cloud. Still others are using third-party Application Programming Interface (API) connectors, such as Mulesoft, between their systems to integrate them into a single cohesive system. Some third-party systems also have their own operating systems, meaning that entire datasets will need to be migrated and personnel will have to be trained on the new systems. 

There are trade-offs involved in each approach. For example, the most notable risk among cloud-based systems is that of security and connections with legacy systems. Enterprises are also hesitant to import critical data to SaaS systems because it involves a split in security responsibilities between cloud service providers and their own team. Then there’s the question of scalability because cloud-based applications may have latencies associated with connecting to databases.  

What is your Total Cost of Ownership? 

For an asset-intensive industry like the utility industry, calculating the total cost of ownership (TCO) for a field software solution not be difficult. After all, mobile devices and associated software are assets, aren’t they? 

But the equation becomes complicated in an age when Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) and cloud-based solutions are on the march. The most important problem is that it is impossible to estimate the exact costs associated with operating and maintaining a mobile device. 

Typical asset lifecycle management planning incorporates planning, deployment, operational and support costs. But generational shifts are not aligned with this cost accounting structure. As personal and professional personas blur, more workers prefer to bring and work on their own devices. Networking giant Cisco has calculated that companies favoring BYOD make an annual saving of $350 per employee per year. For utilities which have hundreds and thousands of workers on their payrolls, that can translate into a substantial saving. Presumably, the savings are similar for cloud-based solutions because they eliminate other costs. In the face of such changes, IT managers at utilities need to go back to the drawing board and recalculate the total cost of ownership. 

For starters, they might want to bring their planning and procurement costs down to zero because such systems do not require analysis. The deployment phase for such devices should take into account the costs of integrating the devices. As far as possible, the integrations should be automatic and not involve extensive reconfigurations of existing systems. Here it might help to consider third-party systems that already have this functionality. For example, several Mobile Device Management (MDM) systems already possess this functionality and integrate with multiple devices across different operating system ecosystems. 

The maintenance of BYOD and cloud devices adds another wrinkle to the total cost of ownership for devices. Mostly it is for the positive. A Gartner study addressed the sharp differences associated with ticket support for BYOD versus company-owned devices. Eighteen percent of the study’s respondents said they would open a support ticket for their own device versus 42 percent who were amenable to opening a ticket for company-supported devices. The result translates to a significant reduction in support costs. The final phase of retiring devices also differs in the new TCO structure.  This is primarily because the IT administration costs associated with retiring devices are absent. Most BYOD owners prefer to maintain and retire devices on their own.

Rakesh  Sharma's picture

Thank Rakesh for the Post!

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