Mobility: Whose cost is it, anyway?

Mobility is a hot topic for IT.  With the proliferation of smartphones, everybody is trying to figure out what kind of applications they need to deliver in order to make knowledge workers more productive when they're away from their desks.

That is as it should be.  IT's mission, after all, is to innovate in ways that enable salespeople to sell more, customer care teams to better care for customers, and supply chain managers to get more value from suppliers.

It ought to be noted, however, that as we roll out these mobile applications, we are also driving our companies' wireless bills through the roof.  At some companies, data utilization is doubling every few months.  And for those with large numbers of users, the resulting dollar figure is far from trivial.

Of course, many of you are reading this and thinking "Yeah, but that's not my problem."  After all, monthly wireless costs are typically a line-of-business expense and IT doesn't see the bill or have to worry about how high it's getting.  We just deliver mobile access to the data and applications.  Wireless expense management is someone else's headache.

This, unfortunately, is exactly why many Line of Business (LOB) and C-level executives remain skeptical about technology.  Time after time, they see us making promises about value and then watch promised ROI diminish because we don't accurately project costs.  We make a promise about the new data center, and then hit the company with a whopping energy bill.  We make a promise about a new set of customer-facing online services, and then find ourselves needing to hire more contact center staff to support it.  We make a promise about collaboration, and then ask for another half-million dollars so that people can actually find what they need amidst the massive amount of content they wound up creating collaboratively.

To some extent, we may do this because we have legitimate enthusiasm for what technology can do and we want to make a strong case for that new customer-facing app or that awesome unified communications tool.  And to some extent we may do this because we really aren't very good at projecting some of the less obvious costs associated with our IT projects.

But I'm going to suggest that we be really careful about abrogating responsibility for the carrier costs we drive with our mobile apps.  In fact, I advocate IT doing two things: 1) making sober assessments about what wireless costs are going to look like over the next one or two years as we continue to roll out more mobile apps, and 2) pro-actively giving advice to LOB financial managers  about how to better manage wireless costs.

Taking this approach will accomplish two things.  First, it will help ensure that investments in mobility really do pay off optimally for the whole company.  If we don't understand how apps are driving utilization, and how utilization translates into dollars and cents, we can't pretend to make claims about returns on investments in mobile app development and delivery.

Second, it will help IT build its credibility with LOBs and their financial managers.  If we demonstrate that we can be pro-active about understanding and controlling all the cost factors associated with apps in production, we will go a long way towards becoming the kind of true business partners our companies need us to be.

Make no mistake about it: IT can most definitely help LOBs with their monthly wireless invoices.  There are all kinds of new wireless expense management solutions out there.  Some of them are cloud-based, and don't require months of upfront implementation time without certain returns, like older generations of telecom expense management.  IT is uniquely qualified to evaluate and recommend these solutions -- and maybe even run them.

So don't just throw mobile apps over the wall and let the business worry about carrier costs.  Make your solution a complete one and become a more trusted adviser to the business by taking an active role in how mobile apps are paid for once they're in production.

How does your company manage wireless costs?  Do you factor those costs into an ROI projection for your mobility projects?  Have you ever been surprised or even shocked by the impact of an application on your company's wireless bill?  Share your experiences below!

Chris O'Malley is CEO of Nimsoft.  He has devoted 25 years to innovation in the IT industry -- most recently growing businesses in cloud and IT Management as a Service solutions. Contact Chris via the comments below or via Twitter at @chris_t_omalley.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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