Nemertes’ Feng Shui for Virtual Workers

No, no, no, it’s not namaste. Nemertes. Nemertes Research, that is. But your confusion is understandable, because Nemertes is a guru — a guru for the Virtual Workplace. And if you’re in IT, you should be putting your corporate palms together and bowing right now.

The hot-off-the-virtual-press nine-volume Nemertes benchmark called “Building the Successful Virtual Workplace” reveals some startling facts.

Organizations of all sizes looking to increase the number of devices they use over the next year have an average growth rate of 421percent. The top revenue-earners of $1B and above are laying out about $5000 a year to kit out their staff with mobile capability, a little more for PDA users and a little less for wireless laptop users.

And since companies are investing top dollar to enable employee mobility, Nemertes is offering a Feng Shui Eye for the IT Guy or Gal whose challenge is how to craft a mobility strategy that can handle this burgeoning potential mess of users and applications.

So ground yourself, take a deep calming breath and listen up.

When I asked Nemertes analyst Johna Till Johnson about virtual workers using mobile technology, she explained that the benchmark first addresses getting your terms straight.

“People assume a virtual worker is a telecommuter. But we say that’s not so. You’re a virtual worker wherever you are as long as you’re geographically separate from the colleagues you need to interact with.” In other words, make sure you count all your virtual chickens, stationary or moving about because that’s part of step one.

Step one is to figure out whether you are a virtual workplace and how many virtual workers you have. How much of any day are they or do they need to be connected or disconnected?

Step Two involves figuring out what flavor of mobility technology could make them more efficient, including in order of preference but varying by need: VoIP, some combination of mobile voice and data devices, collaborative tools and real-time knowledge sharing tools and some kind of presence capability.

Johnson defines presence capability as “a meaningful definition of where your colleagues are,” the meaning being whether your technology make key colleagues immediately available to you when you need them to do your job. “The whole goal of presence capability is to avoid any delay at contacting someone, to stay completely out of voice-mail and e-mail hell.

“If you’re a salesperson and you need tech support to close a sale, you don’t really care if Bob in tech is on his break or talking to his daughter on the company phone. You need to know that they’re not at their desk but they are reachable by cell phone.

“The meaningful definition of where they are is not necessarily where they are but that I can reach him or the next person who can meet my need,” she continues. “The key component in Onstar, any flavor of GPS, or IM is that they all have at their core a presence engine that will strongly or weakly indicate where a person is and how to contact them.”

Step Three is to look closely at costs. The benchmark gives detailed cost analyses, but the general principle is to start with the mobile technology that will give you the biggest bang for your buck. And, oh, there’s one more thing. When I asked Johnson what surprised her most in the results of the quantities of research the benchmark represents, her answer came back sharp and fast:

“The degree to which companies are spending money to mobile-enable their workers and don’t know it. What we did was capture the size of a mobile budget and then we looked at the number of mobile-enabled workers. The trick is that most of the mobility budget is coming outside of IT. Companies as a whole are spending far more than they realize. IT can only see a piece of it so the cost is sneaking under the radar screen in terms of size.

“Spending a lot of money that you haven’t really thought about can obviously mess up your planning and investment, but more to the point, IT needs to proactively become aware of mobility and collaborative applications and solutions that are getting deployed by someone other than them,” Johnson says.

“If your sales force happens to mention, ‘Oh yeah, we’re rolling out SMS on all of our PDAs,’ you need to know that if you’re in IT. You need to ask, How much are you paying for that? Why are you using SMS? Have you thought about using IM over VoIP instead?”

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  • bfenson

    I agree. Many companies are spending extra on technology. I would guess that they don’t fully understand all options or don’t want to spend the time investigating them. IM over VoIP makes more sense to me.
    BTW What’s so bad about being called a telecommuter? I see anyone working virtually as a teleworker or telecommuter and that concurrs with my global research for my book “Implementing and Managing Telework” Praeger publishing, 2003.
    Bill Fenson bill@billfenson.com