What’s a workable strategy for integrating new handhelds and phones into our employees’ daily business use?

Smartphones, PDAs and other mobile devices are finding their way into small and mid-sized organizations with increasing momentum, but allowing each and every one of them to connect to the network is rarely an option.

According to a recent Aberdeen Group study on mobile adoption, a tremendous number of organizations have yet to develop a strategy to overcome this challenge. A lot of them are struggling because, frankly, mobile technology is a foreign notion. They think of it as simply the latest WiFi device or cell phone, when buying one of these devices is only the first, and most simple, step.

Small and medium-sized organizations are the most likely to make the mobile technology implementation leap this year. Our research revealed that the mobile monthly planned spend per individual would grow by 12 per cent for the small organizations and 21 per cent for mid-market in 2007. This compares to only 3 per cent per user for large enterprises.

This makes perfect sense. Most large organizations have already spent a lot on mobility. Relatively speaking, they are mature in their implementation and adoption of these technologies. It’s the mid-market that’s really going to be the explosive environment because they have the capacity for growth in both infrastructure and manpower.

Small businesses don’t quite share the same capacities. Will a 20-person organization have a mobility expert? Not likely. The employee in the one-IT-staff-member shop may be busy enough just trying to ensure that the company email doesn’t go down. Still, SMBs are starting to see the value in implementing mobile technologies and because they don’t have the internal capacity to do it themselves, they’re working with solution and service providers to find outsourced solutions. While the number of partner choices is growing, fundamentally this is still a nascent market.

Why? Because companies are not applying lessons learned in the IT industry 20 years ago. In the old days one corporate department might have a Gateway PC, for example. Another department might have had a Mac. Others might use PCs from Dell and IBM. Unix could be running on some, the Mac OS on the Apple system and Windows on the rest. Eventually people realized they needed to simplify and consolidate to bring about economies of scale. Companies absolutely must start thinking about mobility in precisely the same way.

Instead a lot of mobility implementation is driven by the random employee, who comes in with a new smart phone or Blackberry and asks IT to hook it up to the email server. IT departments are constantly in a reactive mode. Wouldn’t it be better to be proactive about mobile technology? The IT department should decide and announce to users – with the blessing and guidance/agreement of management – which devices and platforms will and will not be supported.

That’s the first step. Choosing applications to run on the devices is next. We found that for 72 per cent of medium-sized organizations, reducing employee downtime was the number one reason for implementing mobile technologies. The number two issue, at 66 per cent, is the desire to respond to customer needs more quickly.

So clearly mobile messaging is today’s killer application. Customer relationship management (CRM) and sales force automation (SFA) are next. Number three in our survey was executive dashboards, which allow executives to quickly tap into a centralized infrastructure – in this case from their mobile device – to look at reports and see the status of specific departments, processes or machines.

Fortunately, with the emergence of software-as-a-service (outsourced) choices, most everyone can afford such applications. And, as the market matures, either prices will drop or there’s going to be so much available at the same price point that many SMBs are just going to say ‘Yes, it’s now time to do it.’

Until then, decide upon three things: which applications will run more efficiently on mobile technology; which platform(s) and device(s) you will support; and whether you want to go the do-it-yourself or outsourced route. You owe it to yourself to be prepared before jumping into mobile technology. Without a proper plan in place, I assure you that ROI will be elusive.

Philippe Winthrop is research director, Wireless and Mobility at Boston’s Aberdeen Group.

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