Deployments of smartphones and accompanying mobile applications are rapidly gaining ground in the enterprise. A successful deployment of enterprise-ready devices and mobile applications doesn't just happen though.
Experience tells us that IT departments have to stay one step ahead of any new technology introduced into the enterprise, and smartphones are no exception. To make a smartphone the tool of choice for workplace productivity, IT has to provide the training and support the mobile worker needs to maximize use of the device for business tasks. Just as the devices are evolving, so are the methods of corporate training and support needed for the mobilized workforce.
Here's a look at four best practices for training mobile information workers.
Set up your own community
Employees already see themselves as adept users of both their smartphones and the applications on them. Unlike traditional business technology tools, mobile phones were born as consumer devices.
Consequently, IT isn't the only source of information on how to use a BlackBerry, Droid, iPhone or Nexus One smartphone. In fact, mobile users are accustomed to turning to community sites such as forums and blogs for smartphone training and usage tips.
While user reviews are helpful, they can be overwhelming (the iPhone App store houses 100,000-plus applications and millions of user reviews). To rise above the noise, set up your own user community page for mobile issues.
For example, one enterprise in the healthcare industry built a password-protected discussion site for its 300-plus independent physicians to share information about what they liked or disliked about health-related applications for iPhone.
That community feedback helped the IT department standardize on a few physician-favorite applications.
Build a one-stop mobile portal
Information workers frequently bring their personal smartphones into the office and utilize them for business tasks. Allowing personal smartphones in the enterprise has its benefits, but IT still needs to maintain control of the devices, especially if the enterprise is charged with supporting multiple device types and platforms.
One way to stay in control is to establish a self-service portal for mobile devices. For example, Baloise Insurance in Switzerland installed a self-service portal based on Sybase iAnywhere Mobile Office that allowed employees to synchronize their mobile device of choice. "Around 300 users registered at the portal without any assistance from our IT support department. The project paid for itself in the first week," says Melkon Torosyan, Team Leader for Mobile Computing at Comdirect AG, a Swiss system house and Sybase partner in charge of mobile synchronization for Baloise Insurance.
The portal concept streamlined setup and virtually eliminated the need for additional training and support for mobile devices. In fact, Baloise Insurance estimated that by using the portal and allowing employees to use their personally owned devices, the number of calls to the help desk dropped by more than 50 percent compared to previous technology rollouts.
Take the classroom to the device
Traditional teaching methods for technology rollouts usually involve a class. For example, with a desktop application, IT often hosts hands-on, classroom-style instruction. A trainer leads a class, teaching users how to perform common tasks, and sends out product documentation and screen shots.
A necessary part of office routine, these in-house classes can be costly for the business, as they tax IT support teams and also pull workers away for hours from their business at hand. Teaching end users how to maximize the functionality of mobile devices in the workplace is already anything but traditional.
To keep training costs at a minimum, instruction and support tools need to be available anytime, anywhere--on the mobile device. Successful techniques from enterprises growing their mobile workforces include Web-based training, virtual conferences, podcasts and video training, all of which can be viewed or downloaded on the mobile device.
Easy-to-use online training materials are cost-effective for IT, and they are proving to be convenient for employees who can access them on their smartphones at a convenient time, day or night.
Keep in touch with touchscreen users
Allowing users to train on their own may save IT resources, but users still need some level of guidance. A smart IT department is proactive about developing a mobile training strategy. IT can create self-help tools, such as FAQs that provide quick, and trusted, answers to common questions about smartphones and business utilities.
IT can also narrow search times for apps by setting up a corporate app store or proactively controlling application deployment to users' devices. By following these best practices, your enterprise will not only save IT training resources, but the company will reap the benefits of having a highly productive mobile workforce that can confidently--and safely--conduct business on the move.
Willie Jow is VP Business Operations & Mobility Products at Sybase.