The Rise of Mobility Redefines the Engaged Worker

Published on: November 19, 2012

The way in which we access information is radically different today because of mobility. Access to knowledge and information is no longer tied to a PC, to an office, or hard-wired Web connection.

Information and business processes can be tapped everywhere because of mobility. Because of that, the very nature of what it means to be an information worker is changing, becoming more real-time, more democratic, and more engaged with consumers.

When the power of computing first became evident some 40 years ago, visionary thinker Peter Drucker coined the term “knowledge worker” to describe the role of people who processed information for others. With the advent of the PC in the early 1980s, access to information became more widespread, and we began hearing the term “information worker” to describe the many people in organizations who used PCs and desktop or enterprise apps to process or manage information.

As powerful as those earlier revolutions were, the information worker existed in a tethered environment. People would sit at their PCs and process information, trigger transactions, or generate reports. These were and still are useful actions, but the nature of the work tended to be transactional and focused on processes carried out by back-end systems.

The advent of Web computing and better networks including WIFI improved access to enterprise information, and vastly improved the speed and nature of collaboration. Sales people and others not formerly considered information workers began lugging laptops to access corporate systems on the go, but network access wasn’t fully mobile.

Today, because of much better mobile networks and devices, mobility is pervasive. It’s also expected. Everyone from teens to CEOs is using smartphones and tablets as indispensable tools.

The popularity of mobility’s popularity has grown so quickly, that we tend to forget the scope of the change.  Let’s consider a few findings:

  • More than half of all mobile phone subscribers are now wielding smartphones, according to Nielsen, an increase of 38 percent in smartphone ownership in one year.
  • Twenty-nine percent of American adults own a tablet or e-reader, up from two percent less than three years ago, according a Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield Byers research. The KPCB report also notes that in May, global mobile traffic as a percentage of total Internet traffic topped 10 percent, with that proportion growing rapidly.
  • One in four people check their mobile device every 30 minutes, and one in five people every 10 minutes, according to a mobility poll of 5,000 people by Time magazine and Qualcomm.

In the enterprise, this sea change means that everyone — employees, executives, suppliers, customers, channel partners — all have high expectations around mobility. For instance, Time’s poll found that 44 percent of respondents said mobility allows decisions to be made more quickly at work.

But enterprise mobility cuts deeper than fulfilling expectations driven by the consumerization of IT. Enterprise mobile apps can enable new ways of engaging with customers, partners, or anyone else outside the enterprise.

An enterprise mobile app might help an employee land a customer, help a consumer make a decision while out shopping, or serve as a way to instantly poll customers on their product desires. Instead of just having employees log onto back-end systems from laptops, mobile apps carry out a dynamic process of engagement and discovery that remains connected to underlying systems.

Mobility can be seen as changing the very nature of the information worker. In one sense, it expands the variety of information workers because there are mobile apps suited to nearly every role. The right mobile apps also engage partners and customers as part of executing business processes, giving them answers in near real-time. In essence, in today’s mobile environment, we’re evolving towards “engaged workers” rather than traditional information workers.

For enterprises, having engaged workers means that there is less of a gap between the business processes you need to carry out internally or externally, and the technology support for those processes. The engaged workers simply pick up a device wherever they are to execute a process or engage with a customer.

Many of the tech-dependent steps we used to go through to obtain business process support— such as waiting to get in front of a PC, or waiting for network connectivity, or navigating a cumbersome user interface on a back-end system — are vanishing, due to the rise of mobility. Now we can quickly log-on with a mobile device, open an app, and engage with business processes whenever and wherever we need to.

There always will be work involved in carrying out business processes, but because tech-driven procedures are minimized, using a good enterprise mobile app should feel liberating, not laborious. You are free to carry out business processes more quickly, or present customers with answers the moment they need them. The engaged worker ends up feeling more like a participant or a team member in worthwhile process, rather than a “worker” manipulating an IT system.

After all, shouldn’t using enterprise mobile apps feel less like “work,” and more like a window into the information you need, when you need it to impact your business?

Let me know what you think.

Arny Epstein is the chief technology officer at Verivo Software.