Employees can't do their jobs effectively without their mobile devices
A new survey finds that smart phones, tablets and other devices increase productivity, speed decision-making and responsiveness, and save lives.
As more and more government departments allow or even encourage employees to use smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices to perform their jobs in or out of the office, everyone involved is beginning to see just how beneficial they are. Not only do mobile devices increase employees’ productivity and effectiveness, but they further enable telework and otherwise increase employee satisfaction.
These are some of the findings of a new survey of 243 federal, state and local government respondents on the use of mobile devices and wireless networks by the 1105 Government Information Group. (Details about the methodology and demographic information on the respondents are below.) A study of the responses revealed that more than 40 percent of agency employees use mobile devices to perform work-related tasks. Furthermore, more than half agree with the statement that “our agency’s employees cannot do their jobs effectively without using their mobile devices” (see Figure 1).
The survey also found that the use of smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices is pervasive at all levels of government. In fact, the vast majority of senior agency executives and IT professionals are using them frequently for work-related activities (see Figure 2).
“We’ve had mobile devices in government for about a decade, but in the past couple of years, the applications and devices have become much more sophisticated, and a richer set of tools has been developed and deployed,” says Chris Smith, formerly CIO at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and now U.S. federal chief technology and innovation officer at Accenture Federal Services. “At the same time, there are more applications for them, and agencies have come up with some very productive ways to take advantage of the capabilities.”
Battlefield smart phones
By being able to access context-based information in the field, for example, infantrymen can quickly retrieve maps, troop locations and even the location of hazardous devices. The result is a safer warrior who can efficiently and effectively execute missions in the field. It’s happening already: Soldiers in the 10th Mountain Division will take smart phones with them to Afghanistan in the fall of 2012 that can record and broadcast the positions of explosive devices and monitor force positions, according to media reports.
Border patrol is another area ripe for the improved mobility of smart phones and tablets relative to laptops and other prior generations of mobile devices. If border patrol personnel see suspicious activity and are trying to determine if it is just illegal immigration or drug-based, they could access a mobile application that shows them past patterns of illegal activity in the area. Using predictive analytics (a form of business intelligence) accessible via a cloud, border patrol personnel could then make an educated guess about the type and severity of the threats and implement the appropriate response. By resolving the issue at the source, the government saves resources and protects American citizens.
There are also many benefits to public safety workers using a smart phone or tablet to dramatically improve productivity. For example, forest firefighters could access the latest data on weather, burn patterns from satellite imagery, logistic supply points and the location of other firefighters when rushing to an alarm. Similarly, building or construction managers could access blueprints without having to travel back to the office, Army Corps of Engineers planners could access complex imagery and 3D views of terrain in the field, and aviation and food safety inspectors could prepare and file reports in real time from the field.
Government knowledge workers and their managers also can greatly benefit from using a mobile device while outside the office. With the ability to access critical operational applications (logistics, HR, budgets, program databases) on mobile devices, they can save time and increase productivity. Just the ability to make airplane and hotel reservations for a conference or off-site meeting, file an expense report, or approve an employee’s timesheet via mobile phone or tablet is a major productivity enhancer for an executive. Access to e-mail and the ability to open attached documents helps attorneys respond to motions and requests more quickly.
The right mobility environment enables more telework
Working from home is considered a major employee benefit that also enhances overall productivity, and almost three-quarters of the survey respondents indicate that faster wireless networks and more capable devices will sharply increase the appeal of telework (see Figure 3).
Josh Sawislak, a senior fellow at the Telework Exchange, a public/private partnership focusing on the federal telework and mobile community, says mobility is absolutely critical to the growth of telework throughout all levels of government. More than half of federal agencies are doing what it takes in terms of enabling the growing mobile workforce through telework, he says.
What’s more, the ability to telework, enabled by mobility, is critical for recruitment and retention of top talent. That’s particularly important as experienced federal workers retire and must be replaced with top candidates, he adds.
All these benefits collectively make the government much more productive. A recent study from MeriTalk on mobile-powered government concluded that if mobility enables federal workers to be just 10 percent more productive, the federal government could see $2.6 billion in new productivity by 2013.
“Productivity depends on job function, but there is no doubt that mobility makes government workers and, by default, government agencies more productive in general,” said Steve O’Keeffe, founder of MeriTalk, an online government IT community.
Managers’ and professionals’ use of mobile devices for basic tasks such as e-mail is a good first step to increasing productivity, but the bigger benefit comes when these devices are able to access sophisticated operational applications.
The survey found that although e-mail, phone and calendaring are currently used by almost all employees with a mobile device, access to enterprise-class applications will be increasingly common within two years. In fact, respondents predicted that their use of their mobile devices to access enterprise applications will increase by more than 50 percent within the next two years (see Figure 4).
“The low-hanging fruit is e-mail and being able to connect back to your files,” explains Accenture’s Smith. “But where you really find the benefit is when you can use mobility to solve operational problems. That means higher levels of complexity and putting different pieces of information together. Often, it requires a combination of off-the-shelf apps, custom apps and social media.”
Smith elaborates on his vision with an example.
“If you are in economic development and trying to connect a bank with a start-up, you would have to have access to their underwriting engine, business plan and maybe a collaborative set of capabilities that lets them evaluate local banks,” Smith explains. “If the business is a vineyard, for example, can you connect them with a bank, the technical support they need to have a solid business plan and prepare documents for the Small Business Administration? It’s all possible today with the right apps and the right workflow around it.”
Small devices with big budgets
All this significant opportunity to improve government operations has persuaded agency leaders to allocate substantial new funding to take advantage of it. The survey found that roughly 15 percent of government IT budgets is allocated to mobile and wireless projects. Furthermore, more than one-third of government agencies have proposed budget increases for mobile and wireless solutions in the next 12 months. In fact, the overall average increase in mobile and wireless spending is forecast to exceed a robust 15 percent (see Figure 5). This spending is likely to occur in enterprise application development and security and otherwise enable greater mobile deployment.
Indeed, spending on improving the security of mobile devices with access to agency databases and other sensitive information is a high priority because of the importance of resolving the problem to encourage even more use of mobile devices.
Other articles in this “Download” explore the security challenges and solutions and drill down into the future importance of providing access to data center applications and data. Together, the survey and this study provide government managers with a road map for a successful trip on the mobile express.