Business Mobility Could Cause Future Problems, Says Forrester

A Microsoft-commissioned study by Forrester shows that worker mobility and office decentralization will become key issues for the enterprise and SMBs (small- to medium-sized businesses) in coming years, possibly creating substantial challenges for IT administrators. Microsoft is using the report as the basis for a promotional push for Windows 7, its upcoming operating system due for general release on Oct. 22.

A new Forrester Research report detailing the costs and challenges of supporting IT workers, commissioned by Microsoft as part of Redmond's promotional push for Windows 7, suggests that increased worker mobility is the future of the enterprise, but that increased movement could present major IT administration challenges.

The report, titled "The Costs and Challenges Associated With Supporting Today's Informational Workers," and based on surveys of 318 IT professionals in the United States, Japan and Germany and in-depth interviews with 10 of them, is being used by Microsoft to show that Windows 7 can help IT administrators counter related to decentralization, bloated corporate PC images and help-desk calls.

For example, Microsoft has paired the report with a case study from the City of Miami, allegedly showing that the early adoption of Windows 7 saved the local government $54 per PC per year in power savings, and reduced the need to dispatch technicians to user locations by as much as 90 percent.

Aside from Microsoft's use of the report in a Windows 7 context, however, Forrester has used the survey to generate data about the future of worker IT mobility within the corporate world. In doing so, it highlights some particular challenges perhaps already beginning to manifest in the space.
According to the surveyed IT administrators, mobile PCs will constitute some 43 percent of corporate PCs by 2012, an 11 percent increase over the current ratio. With that rise, the number of desktop PCs will theoretically decline to 57 percent in three years' time, down from 68 percent today.

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Other parts of the study found that workers within the enterprise and SMBs (small- to medium-sized businesses) have become increasingly decentralized, with 29 percent working out of branch or remote offices, 5 percent out of external worksites, 4 percent out of home offices, and 6 percent "classified as mostly mobile."

The report found that only 30 percent of firms were highly centralized in "one or a few offices," though that number was expected to increase marginally to 34 percent by 2012.

This trend, however, has the potential to cause problems for businesses' IT administrators:

"As the shift to mobility accelerates in the coming years, another significant support challenge is the inability to manage PCs when they're not physically connected to the corporate network," the report reads. "IT must be able to enforce policies and settings so that users and machines remain compliant with company and industry/government regulations." Forrester found that 68 percent of the surveyed organizations reported that the inability to "touch" machines not physically connected to the corporate network was a "challenge."

The report concluded that IT executives would need to meet the future by:

1. Recognizing that their workforce is "amazingly diverse," and having IT managers "understand who [workers] are and what they need from technology."

2. Surveying the workforce in order to best define what technology, applications and services each part of the corporation needs.

3. Analyzing "the -why' as well as the -what' behind technology needs in order to maximize the adoption rate and satisfaction of your next-generation desktop." By defining the needs of each workforce group, theoretically, the astute IT executive can then offer the appropriate "desktop operating systems, productivity suites, browsers and management and security solutions."

In a series of briefings with media over the past week, Microsoft has been arguing that Windows 7 features such as Remote Desktop and BitLocker to Go, the latter of which provides removable storage device encryption functionality, will help the enterprise better prepare for increased mobility of its workforce.

Microsoft is hoping that Windows 7, due for release on Oct. 22, will prove to be a hit with both consumers and the enterprise. A fast adoption of the operating system could not only help Redmond reverse a short-term trend in declining revenues due to the economic recession, but also boost the fortunes of ecosystem partners such as Intel that depend on PC and device purchases.