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Closing the Gap Between Mobile Workers and Critical Information

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Lack of information is a bottleneck in the business processes of customer-facing employees. Patrick Brans explains how mobile technology can help those workers get the information they need when they need it.
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A Gaping Problem

Mobile technology is designed to bridge the large gap between the mobile worker and the critical information that lives behind the company firewall. Recently, many companies have made much of that data available to remote workers over fixed-line Internet connections. But in this setup, access is available only where there is a computer and a fixed-line connection. With a virtual private network (VPN), a remote worker can access data as if he or she were sitting in the office. The VPN is made possible through authentication techniques that provide some proof that the user is who he or she claims to be—and through cryptographic techniques that prevent eavesdropping.

To many of us, it's already routine to work remotely in a secure fashion. While this concept is relatively recent, we almost take it for granted. One day in the near future, we'll be working from wireless terminals just as routinely.

Today is not that day.

Many of our business processes today suffer from a bottleneck that occurs when we don't have the right information where we need it and when we need it. In other words, as shown in Figure 1, there's a gap between the mobile professional and the enterprise applications that manage the information he or she needs. As long as this gap exists, mobile workers are out of step with the rest of the company. They're not as productive as they could be, and they miss opportunities.

Figure 1Figure 1 The problem.

The mobile professional is not the only one affected by this problem—the rest of the company also suffers as a result of this gap. Mobile professionals have difficulty feeding information back to the company. In the best case, they call colleagues and talk about things they've learned, or connect to the company intranet from a hotel room. Neither method is adequate:

  • When colleagues share information via telephone, generally the sharing stops with those involved in the phone conversation. Nothing is recorded.

  • If the mobile worker is connecting to the company intranet from his hotel room, he may have forgotten a number of things by the time he can get back to his room. Fatigue may have set in, thus causing a precipitous drop in his motivation to share information. In some cases, new information needs to be shared much sooner; by the time he gets to his room, it's too late.

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