Tablets, Mobile Devices Offer Efficiency for IT Pros, Employees

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2011-12-28

Tablets, Mobile Devices Offer Efficiency for IT Pros, Employees

It's the week before a show, and the convention services team is preparing an exhibit hall of the Austin, Texas, Convention Center for the first arrivals. The team, which consists of everything from decorators to utility personnel to IT specialists, hurries about from one future booth location to the next to prepare each space for the exhibitor that will arrive in the next couple of days.

As they move to each booth location, team members consult work orders displayed on an Apple iPad. The work orders are presented according to the locations of the booths, so employees move quickly from one spot to the next.

Contrast this with the way things used to be. Workers went to the show office, where there was a huge binder of all required work orders. There, a physical copy of the work order was printed, and the worker would go off on that assignment. Each trip from the show floor to the office where the work orders were located could be as long as six city blocks.

"In the process of putting on a convention, we have exhibitors on the show floor, and clients that order services from us," said Joe Gonzales, IT services manager for the Austin Convention Center.

Those services could include power, big power-which means high-amperage electrical power-network, drainage and water.

"We used to track all those orders and put out paper work orders," said Gonzales. "That used to involve walking six city blocks just for a power strip. If they just ordered something, they'd go to a work desk, and get the work order.

"You never knew what was next because you were doing one thing at a time. We have different groups. The people who install Internet drops are one team, and the people who install electrical work are a different team," Gonzales added.

The way the work was being done was clearly not efficient, Gonzales notes. The solution: Extend the reach of IT to the workers themselves and remove the physical gap between the IT department and the people who needed to do the work.

"We looked at better ways to do this," said Gonzales. "How could we improve the amount of information we carried? How could we provide better diagrams? How could we get more information to the person deploying those services? We were already running a FileMaker order system that was already collecting orders online. We looked at the FileMaker Go system. We filtered out everything but information that was on the work order."

Being Able to Get to Anything, Anywhere Goes a Long Way to Increase Efficiency


The FileMaker Go product pushes information to the Convention Center's iPads every five minutes. The information is filtered so that each worker only sees what's relevant. This means that workers get their work orders on an iPad, directly from IT, rather than having to visit the IT service desk (and walking six blocks in the process) each time they need a new work order.

"It's all about productivity," said Craig Mathias, an analyst with the Farpoint Group. "Being able to get to anything, anywhere goes a long way in increasing efficiency," he said.

Mobility is transforming how IT works in many organizations because you can have the information you need anywhere.

"Mobility is about minimizing the latency between knowing and doing," Mathias explained. "Mobility minimizes the latency. You can just do it instead of going back to your desk."

The efficiencies of mobility are a clear trend to some businesses because they allow the IT department to interact directly with end users, regardless of where they are located.

"To a large extent, there are a lot of companies that couldn't function if they didn't have mobile," said Jack Gold, principal analyst of J. Gold Associates. "They include companies that do deliveries, retailers who rely on portable terminals or people checking in goods."

The efficiencies that IT finds with delivering mobile support to employees also apply to the IT department itself, said Gold. This is especially the case with analytics.

"You can get a sense of how things are doing," said Gold. "Are things working well? IT management on a mobile device can do some interesting stuff, given the right analytics, even on a moment-by-moment basis. The other thing mobility does is allow a fully distributed IT staff. They don't have to be sitting in one spot. You could have IT in India."

In fact, mobility can streamline the IT organization in ways that few had anticipated.

"The NOC [network operations center] is probably doomed," said Mathias. "Wherever an individual happens to be, they can get out their iPad or their notebook. Having people sit around all day and watch the network is how it used to be. If they're away from their desk, they can still see what's going on, and fix it. Now, you can look at any console anywhere."

Of course, there's more to IT than just running the data center. There's also development.

Todd DeCapua, vice president of Channel Operations and Services for Shunra Software, explained that he learned just how critical mobility could be when he was running a development team at ING Direct.

Mobile technology has created some true efficiencies for the IT department-including real-time updating, accessibility, real-time management and problem management-that reduce overhead and speed up response time, DeCapua said. Another essential feature for IT departments that do development is the ability to alert team members when they "break the build," he added, so that they could respond to the need to fix what didn't work when their part of the development project didn't work, and not delay the rest of the effort.

Developers should build Short Message Service (SMS) alerts into continuous integration technology.

"We were doing about 160 builds a day. If you can build in that capability, it's quite a development. You could be doing deployment hourly," said DeCapua, adding that having constant access to developers was the only way that the IT department could keep up the required pace of development.

Ultimately, of course, IT efficiency is about making things work better and also about saving money, something that Joe Gonzales has learned can be better than he ever expected.

"It has streamlined issues when they happen; it eliminates the time walking around," said Gonzales. "It has meant that employees don't have to go around searching for data. It cuts time in responding to customers, and when a new order comes in, we don't spend all of this back-and-forth time."

And the success of mobile IT shows up on the bottom line, too.

"The savings were estimated to be $60,000 to $80,000 a year," said Gonzales before adding that it actually turned out better than expected.

"The savings are way above that," Gonzales notes. "During our first six months, we exceeded that. We got to a 200 percent ROI quickly."

Gonzales said that the return on investment is going to be much better than that as the staff learns the system and more iPads are deployed. "It easily cuts time by two-thirds during a move in," said Gonzales, adding that the savings go straight to the bottom line.


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