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The Cost of Mobile Working

''Out of the office'' contributions by employees are increasingly important to many companies' competitive strategies. The question for the finance department: How much are we really spending to make it possible?

Once confined to a small group of highly mobile professionals, mobile network access technology is becoming commonplace, even a fixture, in contemporary business life. As the contribution of knowledge workers and professionals becomes increasingly important to businesses — and as competitive pressure compels companies to seek ever-greater workforce productivity — mobile work is becoming a critical part of many companies’ competitive strategies.

Mobile workers — executives checking E-mail on PDAs, business travelers connecting to corporate networks from the road, employees accessing company data from their homes, and more — are increasingly common, as prices for mobile technologies decline and companies strive to make it possible for workers to be productive anytime, anywhere.

Industry analyst firm IDC expects the number of worldwide mobile and remote workers to grow to 162 million by 2006, while Gartner predicts that two-thirds of the workforce will be considered mobile by 2006. It won’t be long before a company’s business performance and productivity will depend, at least in part, on its ability to understand, manage, control, and secure the tools and technologies that enable its mobile workers. Chief among these tools is remote and mobile network access — connectivity to corporate networks, applications, and data from outside the office via devices such as laptops and PDAs. Without secure, reliable mobile network access to corporate networks, mobile workers can’t be productive.

Although maintaining, managing, and controlling mobile network access technologies has long been the domain of IT departments, the burgeoning importance of mobile workers and the digitally driven workplace have made managing mobile network access more than an IT department concern. Managing mobile workers and the technologies that enable their work is rapidly becoming an enterprisewide concern — a business problem that cuts across multiple functions, affecting both productivity and the bottom line; accordingly, this problem is beginning to demand broader executive attention.

As companies rely on remote access technologies more and more — and as mobile network access spending begins to absorb substantial company resources — we launched this research program to examine how finance, in particular, approaches the problem of measuring and controlling the cost of mobile network access, and to learn whether finance’s approach differs from that of IT.

Through the research program, which consisted of surveys of finance and IT executives as well as a series of interviews, we sought to answer these and other questions: How are finance organizations dealing with sustained growth in the number of mobile workers and the costs associated with them? How deeply does the finance team understand and control the costs of mobile network access technologies? What are companies doing to gather and analyze spending information? How does finance’s view of remote access costs compare with IT’s views of these costs? And how much are companies really spending on mobile network access?

We learned that finance lacks the information about access costs it wants in order to manage those costs optimally. The IT department is the steward of this information in most companies — that is, finance relies on IT for its information on access costs. But while IT executives say the finance departments at their companies have adequate information about these costs, finance executives disagree. So, as more and more companies begin to feel the pain of mobile network access costs, it seems that collaboration between finance and IT is the key to better information about spending — and, accordingly, to better decision-making about the tools and technologies that enable mobile work.

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