Enterprise social tools need to be highly mobile

AstraZeneca exec says social collaboration tools need to work on tablets, smartphones

Executives at AstraZeneca, a global pharmaceutical company, know that it's not enough to provide social collaboration tools for their employees. Those tools need to be highly mobile.

Employees are likely to be happy to get enterprise-level social collaboration tools, but they are just as likely to be frustrated if those tools aren't highly mobile, said Angela Yochem, chief technology officer at AstraZeneca, which has 57,200 employees in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

Angela Yochem, chief technology officer at AstraZeneca.

Enterprises are increasingly turning to social collaboration tools to get their employees working together and sharing resources and information. Companies are using enterprise-level versions of Facebook -like profiles and networks, instant messaging, videoconferencing and microblogging.

But it's not enough to be social. Workers want to be social while they're on the move, having these social tools working only a laptop isn't going to cut it.

"Our job is to provide access to information and resources as quickly and painlessly as we possibly can," Yochem said. "If that means providing communication access through mobile devices of any sort, or Google TV, or a desktop or laptop, we want to be able to provide that. That's very important."

AstraZeneca uses Microsoft SharePoint for collaboration and is in the midst of a pilot program with Microsoft Lync, a unified communications software. Yochem said 3,400 AstraZeneca employees across 33 countries are participating in the Lync pilot.

It's important to Yochem that Lync work on tablets and smartphones , as well as on desktops and laptops. "We don't want to have to restrict people for what works for them," she told Computerworld. "We want to provide a sophisticated level of collaboration capability no matter what they're using."

Tablets and smartphones have become are ubiquitous tools for the corporate workforce. Over the past year, the PC market has taken a beating from the burgeoning tablet market -- specifically the Apple iPad . Earlier this month, research firm Gartner reported that worldwide PC shipments are expected to remain weak throughout 2012. Part of that sluggishness is because many consumers and enterprises are spending their money on trendy tablets instead of on a new laptop.

Many professionals who travel for work, and even those anchored in the office, have their own smartphone, if not a smartphone issued by the company.

People get attached to their mobile devices, said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. They're going to be frustrated if they can't use enterprise social tools on their favorite devices.

"It's critically important that companies ensure their tools work on a range of business and consumer devices," added Olds. "If they confine their tools to desktops and laptops, they'll get a lot of user complaints and they won't get as much participation as they hope ... Some employees, particularly executives, are sort of spoiled when it comes to their shiny new device. They don't understand, or don't want to understand, why everything doesn't just automatically work on them."

Those executives are in a position to put a lot of pressure on IT to make sure they get what they want.

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with ZK Research, said younger workers are especially attached to their smartphones and tablets and may balk at using social tools on bigger computers.

"Tablets and smartphones are the devices of choice for mobile workers," Kerravala said. "Making sure the tools work on their favorite devices is very critical to attract younger workers ."

Olds noted that companies can use a phased approach, rolling out social tools for the desktop and laptop first, if need be. But that better be just the beginning.

"They'd better plan on providing support for tablets and smartphones sooner rather than later," he said. "And they need to tell users that this support is on the way."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin , on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com .

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com .

Read more about enterprise web 2.0/collaboration in Computerworld's Enterprise Web 2.0/Collaboration Topic Center.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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