Why the Mobile Productivity Revolution Has Stalled and How to Re-start It

“I’m really excited about my phone. My emails are synced, my calendar is always up-to-date, and I can look up people in the company when I’m on the go. I can quickly type one-word responses to important emails, and accept or reject meeting requests. When I change a meeting or read an email on my computer, it reflects on the mobile device immediately, too.”

This sounds like a beautiful testimony to my iPhone 5.

The problem is, I wrote that about my Blackberry. In 2007.

Shockingly, most things written six years ago about enterprise mobile productivity – the amount and types of work you can do with your mobile devices – would likely read very much the same today, too. The fact is, the mobile productivity revolution has stalled. Arguably, it never really began beyond the innovations Blackberry brought to market in the early 2000’s.

In the meantime, mobility has transformed our consumer lives. Today, I can scan and deposit checks, set my thermostat, pay my bills and monitor my home security system – all from my mobile phone. Overall, mobile device usage has skyrocketed, with mobile data traffic in 2012 being 12 times larger than ALL internet traffic in 2000.

However, the enterprise is still stuck with marginally-improved email, calendar and contacts applications. The primary difference between 2007 and 2013? Now we use prettier devices, and they’re employee-owned.

It’s time to start the real revolution in enterprise mobile productivity, and that fresh start begins with facing some basic truths and asking some basic questions. The truth is, enterprise productivity on mobile devices stalled because not enough attention has been given to how employees actually work, which is fundamentally about two things: real productivity and real user experience.

Real productivity involves company leadership carefully considering usage scenarios specific to their endeavor:

 Can your salesperson present at a customer meeting from an iPad, having all their content with them? Can they update a CRM ticket quickly and easily?
 Can your field technician access the right procedures and schematics for the equipment in front of them?
 Can your executive pull up their executive dashboard on the go, and edit a contract on the fly?

These are more than “nice to haves” – this is real and critical productivity, because what you’re fundamentally asking is: Can our salespeople close the deal? Can they keep the customer happy? Can we get the job done right, quickly, the first time? Can execs see what they need to see and do what they need to do, quickly, in order to keep the entire organization a step ahead?

The second component centers on the user experience necessary to enable that real productivity:

 Can your employees edit an Office document on-the-go, without damaging the document using a third-party editor?
 When a device goes off-network or has a poor connection, can an employee still be effective?
 If connecting to company documents and applications behind the firewall takes more than a moment, is it still a mobile experience?

If the solutions we deploy don’t tackle these issues head-on, if we don’t carefully regard the user experience, then the outcome is a given: employees simply won’t use them. We can allocate all the IT budget in the world, but if users won’t actually use, why bother? Why buy shiny new iPads – or budget-wrecking “management solutions” — at all?

While technology providers have been busy discussing technology platforms, launching new apps, and debating approaches to mobile security, the end-to-end user experience has been ignored. It should be no surprise that employees don’t view their tablets as major productivity tools when today, relative to a laptop, their iPads can help complete only a small subset of tasks.

The prize is huge. The average mobile worker will work 240 hours extra per year. At $57K median annual wages, that’s at least $6,800 per year per employee of productivity value – and that figure is indisputably higher when one considers that an employee’s value to an organization is much higher than merely their salary.

Sometimes, it may seem like the mobile productivity revolution is already well developed, and maybe even saturated. Markets built around acronyms abound: mobile device management (MDM), mobile information management (MIM), and mobile application management (MAM).

But the truth is, enterprise mobile productivity is not about acronyms: it’s about real productivity and real user experience. Address those things in a substantive, thorough and brutually-honest manner, and the revolution’s on.

And in three, five or ten years, we may all write glowing testimonials to our mobile productivity on the job.