How to Use Smart Phones to Cut IT Total Cost of Ownership

By William Anderson  |  Posted 2008-11-20

How to Use Smart Phones to Cut IT Total Cost of Ownership

Most businesses today have field and remote staff who use laptops, cell phones and other mobile devices. The number of employees doing so is escalating dramatically. Enterprises will see a major increase in usage by year's end, while small and midsize businesses will see a significant increase as well. This means that when centralized policies, management or administration around mobility don't exist, organizations' costs can quickly get out of control.

Adding a mobile tier to your IT infrastructure might first be perceived as adding complexity or cost. But consolidating this under your IT umbrella is a must-do with today's rapidly advancing mobile-friendly work force. Moreover, unifying your mobile IT strategy will help you reduce costs in the long run, improve security measures, and provide field and remote staff with today's indispensable mobile tools that can help them be more successful.

In fact, with more advances in mobile device hardware and business applications (such as mobile CRM and mobile business intelligence), as well as increasing network speeds and data capacity, many organizations are replacing their laptops with mobile smartphones. As a result, they're reaping the benefits of a lower TCO (total cost of ownership). Here are three reasons why:

Reason No. 1: Handheld convenience at the speed of business

Laptops can be cumbersome and have limitations with wireless accessibility, even with the availability of rapidly expanding Wi-Fi networks. Laptops are also exponentially more expensive, have more complex IT troubleshooting issues and are often slower than smartphones.

Unlike laptops, mobile smartphones are ready to use anywhere at any time. And smartphones are always with employees in their pocket or in their bag, empowering them to do business outside the office and during unconventional hours. In addition, mobile devices continue to have widespread adoption because usability is designed for typical business people who enjoy their simple, one-click access to information.

Reason No. 2: Lower maintenance costs and more mobile-specific applications

Besides having a leg up in convenience for business users, mobile devices require significantly less maintenance for IT departments than laptops. For example, operating maintenance costs for laptops can skyrocket due to virus threats, regular required updates or reoccurring crashes. Also, more users tend to download and install their own applications onto their laptops, which cause security threats across the corporate network.

On the other hand, smartphones cost less, crash less often and require fewer updates. Mobile-specific business applications (such as mobile CRM and location-based applications) often come with lower license costs and easier IT maintenance. Overall, smartphones are less onerous and less costly for IT staffs to manage and maintain than laptops. 

Reason No. 3: Higher on-the-go security and productivity

Many on-the-go professionals spend a good chunk of their time in airports and hotels, which can lead to lost or stolen laptops or mobile devices. Because laptops usually carry more information than a mobile device-often months' or years' worth of private company data-losing one can become a major corporate security breach. However, if an employee loses a smartphone, IT administrators can remotely wipe the device's data, keeping sensitive company information protected.

Also, keep in mind that when an IT department is constantly dealing with multiple companywide laptop issues (such as those involving the hard drive, network plug or card, screen, or software), it is more difficult for them to proactively and strategically implement new technologies. Plus, each time the IT staff needs to install updates on corporate laptops, the mobile employees are removed from the field, thus cutting into potential revenue generation. Moving to mobile devices allows IT to automatically push out updates wirelessly to corporate smartphones, keeping the mobile staff in the field.

Making the Move from Laptops to Smartphones

Making the Move from Laptops to Smartphones

When moving field sales, service staff and management over to mobile devices, apply the following nine best practices to achieve the lowest TCO, easiest maintenance and highest level of productivity:

Best practice No. 1: Consolidate users to a single voice and data device rather than have them use both a laptop and a smartphone. This step helps reduce connectivity costs and cuts Internet expenses for those with both a laptop and a mobile device.

Best practice No. 2: Determine the best operating systems for your organization and limit choices. The market is still open with BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Symbian OS (Nokia), iPhone and now the gPhone, and other consumer-oriented devices entering the market. Employees will demand their favorite platform, so IT shops should establish a plan and determine appropriate devices or rogue users will increase exponentially. 

Best practice No. 3: Establish a corporate plan with your local telecom carrier. This enables your company to share voice and data minutes among mobile users, centralize billing, reduce staff time spent on administrative tasks (such as consolidating phone bills for expenses), and receive centralized support for standardized devices.

Best practice No. 4: Deploy appropriate mobile applications. Whether taking existing desktop applications and mobilizing them, or observing what mobile applications would help a field person perform better, be sure to determine which tools would best suit the users' needs. To make the best decision, evaluate how they work, the types of information they need, and how they interact with customers and colleagues.

Best practice No. 5: Ensure that the mobile device allows for working in common applications they use in the business, including Microsoft Office (or Office-like) applications for standard quotes, proposals and reports.

Best practice No. 6: Determine whether the mobile device supports both cellular and Wi-Fi networks to reduce data transmission costs. In addition, if your field sales team is constantly traveling to new meeting locations, make sure their devices are equipped with a GPS application. For world travelers, make sure the devices support roaming in both GSM and CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) networks.

Best practice No. 7: If users will be typing heavily, they'll need a mobile device with a keyboard. Do your research, as each device handles text input differently. Keyboard styles include the "virtual keyboard on the screen," the "thumb keyboard" and the "slide-out, full keyboard."

Best practice No. 8: Depending on the size of deployment, corporate servers may need to be implemented and targeted to smartphones, such as a BlackBerry Enterprise Server. Larger organizations may require planning and deployment, including dedicated servers and firewalls for application communication and wireless Web browsing.

Best practice No. 9: Consider the impact on your IT department. Ensure that the chosen platform is compatible with internal systems such as your e-mail system and other line-of-business applications. Your IT group will be responsible for deploying operating system and application updates to the mobile devices, sending device refreshes and wiping the device of all company-specific data in the event of loss. Each of the mobile operating systems has different levels of server and device management tools available for them.

The Mobile Work Force of the Future

The Mobile Work Force of the Future

In the end, implementing a mobile solution will enable the IT department to operate with a lower TCO and turn its attention to more long-term strategic planning. In today's uncertain economic times, it's more important than ever for IT to empower employees who are demanding more from their smartphones in an effort to leave their laptops behind. In the not-so-distant future, we will see an entirely different virtual work force.

In this approaching scenario, staffs will find themselves sometimes using shared computers in the workplace for more intensive work and content creation. But most of their remaining time will be spent using their smartphone to interact with their company's business systems. In doing so, they'll find they can spend more time doing their job than having to worry about the technology that supports them.

William Anderson is executive vice president of technology at Maximizer Software. William is responsible for setting the direction and overseeing strategy and progress of research and development, customer support and services groups. William is recognized as a leading authority in the CRM industry, having more than 18 years of CRM software development expertise. William graduated with a B.S. in computer science from the University of Western Ontario. He can be reached at

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