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This article is part of our Buyer's Guide: Buy the right enterprise mobile devices for your workers

Advantages and disadvantages of mobile devices in business

Mobile devices have become a steady presence in today's workplace. Learn about mobile devices in businesses and how they can help employees work more efficiently.

For many organizations, mobile devices have become an integral part of everyday business processes. IT admins who want to mobilize workforces should first understand the mobile device types available, why workplaces are adopting these devices and the challenges that come with adoption. They should also familiarize themselves with various use cases to better understand the benefits of mobile devices in business.

Types of mobile devices

In today's enterprise, the primary device types employees use to conduct business fall into two categories: smartphones and tablets.

The differences between the two are primarily related to size, which not only determines the available display area, but can also play a role in battery life, processing power, memory, storage and other factors. However, it is the display area that is often one of the top considerations when evaluating a device.

The display area in today's smartphones generally runs between 4 inches and 7.1 inches, with those at the larger end of the scale sometimes referred to as phablets. In contrast, tablets are much larger, with a display area that falls between 8 inches and 18.4 inches.

Despite the differences in size, mobile devices are similar in terms of their ability to run apps and connect with cloud-based services and back-end systems. Tablets offer more processing power and memory, which can help deliver better performance than smartphones. Many tablets also support the use of keyboards. Because of their larger form factor and superior performance, tablets better host certain apps than smartphones do.

However, apps are not the only consideration when choosing between the two. For example, battery life is often longer with smartphones. And within the smartphone category, phablets usually have a longer battery life, because they can hold larger batteries. Some phablets also support a stylus, just like many tablets.

Advantages of mobile devices in business

For many organizations, the benefits of mobile devices mostly pertain to conducting business. They offer workers greater flexibility, enhance workflows, improve communications, and help to make users more efficient and productive. Mobile devices in business also provide organizations with a competitive edge, as faster and more collaborative communications enable companies to make faster decisions.

The advantages of mobile devices make it possible for users to work wherever and whenever they need to, while still providing them access to corporate resources. They can take their offices with them, whether traveling, commuting, working in the field or desk-bound at home.

Mobile devices also enhance workflow by extending business processes and making them more efficient. They simplify processes, eliminating duplicate efforts, so workers can complete tasks more quickly.

For example, an account rep can update customer information while on a sales call, rather than having to make a note and then submit the information when back in the office. Not only does this save time and effort, but it can also reduce errors that might occur as a result of extra steps. This is one of the advantages of mobile devices in business.

Streamlined business processes also reduce paperwork; no one has to wait to print or fax documents, or to maintain hard-copy files, which reduces the efforts necessary to manage these systems, while saving on paper, ink and power consumption.

Mobile devices can also streamline communications. Workers are more readily available to do the following:

  • quickly review time-sensitive material;
  • collaborate on documents in the field;
  • respond to requests for resources or information;
  • participate in social networking; and
  • maintain communications in a variety of other ways.

This flexibility and portability can also lead to organizations better serving their customers. For example, field support technicians can be more responsive to customer requests, whether through email, text or a messaging app. Technicians can also send or refer customers to specific information, take photos or videos and interact with clients in real time.

Mobile devices can also potentially give an organization an edge over its competitors and generate new revenue streams faster. They can also enhance the corporate image, because the organization can appear more cutting-edge and thriving within its industry.

Disadvantages of mobile devices in business

Unfortunately, mobile devices are susceptible to many of the same vulnerabilities as personal computers. Users might visit rogue websites or respond to phishing emails, inadvertently downloading malware, which can jeopardize not only the devices, but also the corporate network and all its resources. Hackers and cybercriminals can also intercept cellular and Wi-Fi communication, which is a specific concern when users communicate over unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

Not all risks fall on the user's side. IT teams that deploy mobile apps without thoroughly testing them for security issues can put their entire organization at risk. Ignoring device vulnerabilities or failing to apply operating system patches in a timely manner can also result in a compromised environment. Even poorly deployed back-end systems and ill-managed security policies can lead to risks.

Challenges also come with supporting multiple device types. IT now has many more endpoints to manage, sometimes exceeding the number of desktops. If the devices contain personal information, management becomes even more complex. Even if an organization plans to implement an enterprise mobile management platform, IT must still make certain that all implemented devices can work with that software.

IT teams must also ensure back-end systems are able to handle the additional workloads that come with mobile devices, and that those devices and their apps can integrate with the back-end systems. In fact, system integration is often one of the greatest challenges that organizations face when mobilizing their workforces, especially when it comes to legacy systems that don't support today's open standards.

Additionally, organizations must consider compliance and industry regulations when mobilizing their workforces. For example, an IT team might need to ensure implementing the devices doesn't result in violating standards such as HIPAA or PCI DSS.

IT teams must take into account the carrier service plans that go with implementing mobile devices. Some plans might limit the number of calls or texts, or the amount of used data. There might also be regional restrictions, such as traveling out of the country or calling another country. IT might need to put a system in place for monitoring and controlling usage, or for being able to shut down devices that are lost, stolen or misplaced.

Another challenge worth noting is the importance of getting the right devices to the right users. For example, a technician working in the field might need to keep one hand free when working on a system, in which case, a tablet would be too cumbersome and could potentially decrease productivity. At the same time, the selected devices must be able to handle all the apps they need to run, or those devices will end up being of little use to anyone.

Benefits of mobile device management

There are numerous benefits of mobile devices for employees in diverse business roles.

Consider account managers who work directly with clients. With the right mobile devices, account managers can perform numerous tasks without having to return to their offices, such as the following:

  • placing orders;
  • updating customer information;
  • retrieving pricing and discount rates; and
  • forwarding product information to clients.

Another example is the real estate agent. When out visiting properties or clients, a realtor can use their mobile device for the following:

  • view inventories;
  • submit listings; and
  • provide clients with virtual tours or show them various listings.

Then, there is the building inspector, who can use a mobile device for a number of applications:

  • view customer information or incident history;
  • fill out and submit an inspection form; and
  • have the customer sign off on an inspection.

In fact, mobile devices can help most field workers perform their jobs more efficiently.

Human resource departments can also benefit from employees using mobile devices. HR apps might assist employees in a multitude of ways:

  • submit time sheets;
  • fill out expense reports;
  • confirm training schedules; and
  • receive companywide announcements.

Employees across all types of industries can use mobile devices in countless other ways, as well:

  • view or manage work orders;
  • generate support tickets; and
  • get signatures on documents.

Mary Shacklett contributed to this report.

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