Is Mobility Reshaping Work?

Some early data from my spring enterprise survey is suggesting an interesting shift in behavior and policy in business use of voice services.  The stuff isn’t surprising at one level, but it may be having a significant impact on the future of communication and collaboration.

Over the last three years, my surveys of “mobility” among senior workers has shown that more and more time is spent away from their desk.  The problem isn’t out-of-office travel but movement within a facility, and the interesting point is that the pace of change seems to be driven by mobile devices.  It’s not that business change is driving mobile adoption for primary communication, but the other way around.

At the same time, the survey shows an increase in the use of SMS and a decline in the use of voice calling as a means of communication.  I’d speculate that this is due to the fact that privacy in voice exchanges, when you’re wandering the building, is hard to assure.  Further, users think they’d want more textual communication and also access to their apps while away from their desk, but they don’t think they need or want video.

What we seem to be seeing here is a restructuring of worker collaboration, particularly at the supervisory level.  The “new worker” has something (a tablet, obviously) that provides access to key applications while they’re away from their desk.  The use this to stay connected with their key information resources and they draw on those resources and textual coordination to provide high-level support for their workers.  They also use these tools to stay in touch upstream to their own management and laterally with peers.  That would mean that the local communications/collaboration stuff is setting worker appetites for technology support, not the more obvious stuff.

How about “meetings”?  The data doesn’t show any statistical gain in the number of hours per week spent in meetings.  Some of that is due to the fact that the always-on-data model of collaboration is reducing some types of meetings (regular staff meetings) and increasing others (planning and brainstorming).  The mix of meeting time live versus video has crept slightly in the video direction over time but there wasn’t any significant change in the spring data versus even last spring’s numbers.

I think all of this adds up to the fact that in trying to come up with communications and collaboration technology to support workers, we’re not just shooting behind the duck, we’re shooting in the wrong pond.  I wonder whether the vendors might not be missing an opportunity here, a chance to reignite the UC/UCC space that has been stagnant for years now.

A related point here is whether the need to create application connections for roaming workers will drive greater use of HTML5 and cloud or VDI models of computing.  A mobile app, tablet or handset, is a cooperative process where parts of the logic live in the appliance and parts in the host systems.  Further, the appliance part can be specialized to the device or generalized (HTML5) to a browser interface.  If businesses, driven by BYOD, push for browser-based app hosting, the effect would be to move the business market away from a dedicated app model.  Might that then roll over into consumer apps?

Apple would certainly hate to see a model for client-server computing (or client-cloud if you prefer the modern spin) shift to one that isn’t locking developers into Apple, and Google would likely feel the same way.  But how about Microsoft?  Might HTML5 be a Windows tablet’s secret weapon, a way of offering developers an open-pan-device interface that oh-by-the-way-accidentally undermines competitors’ installed base of apps and loyalty base of developers?

If you think about it, the trends in business use of collaborative tools may be driving a major change in the way handsets and tablets are linked to the cloud even as vendors try to create their own proprietary ponds of interest.  The more cloudy and roaming-coupled apps need to be and the greater the variety of devices that have to be supported, the more impossible it is to create a uniform framework for empowerment that crosses all these lines successfully.


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