E-Mail on Phones: Just a Bad Idea

Opinion: Mobile e-mail will be a deadly mistake for enterprises thinking it will boost productivity and help connect with sales prospects.

Have you ever seen a highway accident about to happen? Thats how I feel about e-mail on phones.

Just about anyone will tell you that the killer app for mobile data is e-mail. What they dont tell you is who is going to die as a result. You want a list? I can give you one.

First, its the people who justify investment in mobile devices by claiming that there will be a return on that investment in terms of productivity. Theyre wrong. Theres plenty of evidence to show that the "Crackberry" phenomenon has many similarities to any other form of addiction.

A veteran of mobile data, Yad Jura of IAnywhere (formerly Xcellenet), says, "If you dont have a justification for the mobile investment beside e-mail, it will almost certainly fail." Hes seen this happen not just once or twice, but many times. "You get senior executives, keen on having access to e-mail on a cool new toy. But in fact, mobile only makes money for the enterprise if its widespread and involved in the core activity."

Recently, the University of London Institute of Psychiatry produced a report showing that "the constant distractions of e-mail and texting are more harmful to performance than cannabis." Come on, admit it: You cant concentrate on what youre doing if youre interrupted. Thats why important executives are given secretarial services—so these distractions can be reduced, and the trivia off-loaded.

Who else is going to die?

Easy: the usual scapegoat. The IT director, of course, will be held responsible for a venture that, almost certainly, the MIS staff warned, several times, was a silly idea. You should always justify the investment in IT equipment on productivity, but you should also have some idea about how much it will cost to implement.

/zimages/6/28571.gifMobile phones are gaining sophisticated imaging technologies that will drastically change the way we use them, claims Guy Kewney. Click here to read his column.

The problem with mobile e-mail is that its easy to implement for 20 people, but a pig to manage for 2,000. So typically, people roll this out for a test group (and, in the case of most BlackBerry installations, this is the board and a few cronies) who all live in the head office.

Then they go "live" on the big picture and discover that all the problems that are commonplace in IT management—surprise, surprise!—also apply to mobile IT. You have to back them up, update applications, install patches—and deal with security threats.

And then, on top of that, you have to deal with the problem of people forgetting to bring them into the office for updates—and even forgetting to take them off the plane, or the train, or the taxi.

Managing a fleet of Pocket PCs isnt a way of halving your IT budget, but large corporation directors have got into the habit of thinking that everything in IT gets cheaper. People, as Ive remarked before, do not get cheaper. And the fashion for outsourcing has reached its limit, five years after the Y2K fiasco. You could afford to cut the IT establishment when it was bloated; right now, its not just lean and mean, its bloody starved.

And of course, its the fault, not of the idiots who decided that the IT department should not concern itself with management questions, but just get on with the technology—no, its the fault of the IT department itself.

Next Page: The elusive sales prospect.