Bringing IT mobility to the workforce

With mobile computing now reaching wide scale enterprise level deployment status, Adrian Bridgwater examines the technical challenges for companies seeking to truly mobilise their workforce.

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By  Adrian Bridgwater Published  August 3, 2008

With mobile computing now reaching wide scale enterprise level deployment status, Adrian Bridgwater examines the technical challenges for companies seeking to truly mobilise their workforce.

Modern Arab enterprises have been rolling out mobile computing technologies in a bid to raise their employees' productivity for some years now.

But as recently as a decade ago users were still largely concerned with how small a mobile they could get their hands on, while laptops and PDAs (personal digital assistants) were still in their relatively early ascendancy. But times have changed.

Mobile devices have now come full circle and encompass diary, camera, text edit and telephony capabilities. Laptops have become ultra thin, ultra light and sometimes even ultra small.

Unless a significantly higher level of security provisioning is put into place, businesses risk losing the benefits of mobility as their systems are hacked, infiltrated and plundered for the equity that exists in their corporate data.

Connectivity channels have evolved and bandwidth has broadened to accommodate the pressure of the corporate data stream. In short, companies no longer have mobile devices per se; they now have a ‘mobile device strategy'.

Although it may sound like marketing-speak, the ‘strategy' element is crucial here. For most businesses in the Middle East this means planning and provisioning.

It's not just a question of placing an order for 250 new laptops and a few dozen mobile phones and making sure they're fully charged up before sharing them out. There are many concerns and potential problem areas to provision for, if the deployment is to be successful for long-term use.

It is sometimes argued that this is the point at which the responsibility for technology crosses over from hardware to software. It is easy to talk about the ‘robustness' of mobile devices if they are built with shockproof cases and ergonomically designed exteriors.

But robustness at the core comes only from software-driven systems designed to be resilient to viral attacks and hacking.

In practice this is more than firewalls, anti-virus packages or corporate spam controls and access privileges. Think a league or two up from this baseline and start considering intrusion protection, anti-spyware software or perhaps even ciphers and encryption keys.

Unless a significantly higher level of security provisioning is put into place, Middle East businesses risk loosing the potential benefits of mobility as their systems are hacked, infiltrated and plundered for the equity that exists in the corporate data that they hold.

Given that these new security concerns raise their head as more workers need access to the corporate data centre and its protected data, it is the database vendors themselves who have had to raise their game. Companies like Sybase have, over the last 10 years, made successful corporate acquisitions to bring in this kind of ‘provisioning' where expertise may not have already existed inside the organisation.

"Given the prevalence of large scale mobile device deployments here in the Middle East and elsewhere, enterprises have to build in a new strategic layer into their IT plans.

Terms like ‘robust' and ‘secure' may be somewhat over-used, but they do express the key factors that modern businesses need to consider for their mobile workforce, especially if the work in hand is of a sensitive nature or defence-related," says Sevag Kalayjian, Sybase regional manager for the Middle East.

The still nascent nature of economic development across the Middle East and the Gulf in particular lends itself to a plethora of application scenarios for sophisticated mobile technology. Whether it is traditional Windows or Linux-based computing devices, hybrid devices or specialised purpose-built machines there is a demand for data on-the-go.

In healthcare, surveying, construction, utilities, or even the oil business, companies do not want their workers to operate without access to information all the time, irrespective of whether they are sitting at a desk or not.

Commenting on the growing implementation of mobility systems by enterprises, Nimer Ghazal, Middle East regional sales manager for Secure Computing says: "Enterprises in diverse industries are increasingly realising the benefits of a mobile workforce; they have maximised the productivity and efficiency of their operations and staff, while providing employees the flexibility to work outside their office environment."

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