Enterprises everywhere are going all-in with mobility. They are arming their sales force with tablets, setting up enterprise app stores, enabling BYOD, and developing a mobile policy. But what does it get them? Sure it’s cool and hip, but do they know what value mobility is intended to bring? What is the real return on investment in mobility?
There are some straightforward and obvious answers depending on one’s role in the organization. The road-warrior sales force is usually the first justifiable use-case to come to mind. These men and women, who spend 85% of their time away from the office, can easily demonstrate a return on investment that the (near) ubiquitous connectivity mobile brings to such tasks as CRM, documentation, and expense reporting.
But what about the rest of us who spend much of our time in the office? If your organization’s idea of mobile value is e-mail, calendar, and contacts, it is just scratching the surface. Yes, there is a convenience factor when it comes to being able to dash off that quick e-mail while at the kid’s soccer game, but that’s just an example of doing things faster, not necessarily better. There is a much greater opportunity in store for those ready to go beyond faster, to go beyond business as usual.
Conducting business differently can be easily summed up in one word: innovation. Innovation is doing and seeing things in a whole new light. Organizations that innovate become leaders, while those that don’t will stagnate. But innovation doesn’t magically appear; it has to be fostered.
How does an organization foster mobile innovation? It first has to be cultivated and supported at the top levels. In a recent interview in Hemispheres (United Airlines, Feb. 2013 issue) Fareed Zakaria had some great insight on the topic of innovation. When asked, “When you see an innovative idea, what’s usually behind it?” he responded:
I think that at a very fundamental level it’s the interaction between human beings. That depends on openness, because open systems tend to be much more innovative. It’s no accident that the Renaissance began in the Mediterranean. I’ve always wondered what brought the Middle Ages to an end, and what you see is that trading began in the Mediterranean when Italy became the center of commerce. Trading took place in Venice and Genoa, and then you start to see it happening in Holland and England. Because seafaring cities were not as brutally suppressive of the merchant class, seaports have always been open and cosmopolitan, and hubs of innovation.
Mobility creates the opportunity to open your systems to much larger networks; to connect, collaborate, and create in ways never before accessible. Historically the enterprise network was a closed and tightly controlled system with the CIO as the ultimate gatekeeper. However, mobility represents an opportunity, for those that embrace it, to tear down the historic boundaries of the network. Do you need the best of the best on a certain project? With an innovated and open organization, that subject matter expert could just as well live in Maine as Manhattan.
Innovation has to start at the top. Specifically, CIOs need to mimic the government of seafaring cities. They should cease acting like prison wardens, setting up an impenetrable perimeter that is meant to keep everything in. Top-down control of every movement of the inmates (employees) will only lead to riot or submission, neither of which will foster innovative environments.
Rather, CIOs should function more as conductors in a symphony, keeping track of the overall picture, guiding the members along in a harmonious fashion. But the notes and expression come from the individual players. If everyone’s part of the whole is valued, they will each be driven to play as best they can with the tool that they have. Employees will discover ways to use mobile devices that you never even dreamed of.
What return you will achieve from the optimal environment isn’t always crystal clear at the start, either. Perhaps your sales team will find better, deeper client engagement opportunities. Perhaps your project management team will manage more with less. Perhaps you will figure out how to combine service offerings with another business to better serve your clients. But for any of this to come to fruition, the organization must be structured in such a way that allows for it.
Whatever return evolves from your open and connected organization, the point is that ideas can come from anyone, anywhere, anytime. Your vision isn’t limited to, and riding on, one executive or limited group of people. It has the potential to come from the level that understands the problems best. It will come from those who look at these tasks on a day-by-day basis knowing there is a better way to do things. Then and only then will you achieve the real return on mobility.