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Was Darwin a Road Warrior?

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Today we have a guest post from Sean Ryan.  Sean is an research analyst with IDC focused on mobile enterprise software. 

charlesdarwin.jpgClassifying mobile workers
Charles Darwin may not have had a smartphone or a laptop with wireless connectivity, but he did spend five years aboard the HMS Beagle making stops along the way to classify new species and fit them into a well-defined taxonomy.  It makes you wonder how a naturalist like Darwin would define the characteristics of the various types of mobile workers. How different would that classification be from the distinctions made by business managers and HR departments today? How different would it be from those of the technology providers (ISVs, SIs, carriers, device OEMs) developing solutions to meet the needs of various worker types? One can imagine how there could be different distinctions of what constitutes a mobile worker and different ideas around the tools and policies to support those workers.

Many of you reading this post likely have an idea of the type of mobile worker you are. Terms like road warrior, corridor cruiser, work extender, digital nomad, web worker, and telecommuter come to mind. You may be a journalist, or an attorney, or a sales professional, or a call center specialist, or an executive, or a traveling nurse. You may work exclusively from home. You may travel to different locations. You may split your time between the office and your home. As a research analyst covering the wireless industry for IDC, I spend a lot of time paying attention to the various mobile worker types and the technologies they use. I myself am a mobile worker;  I split my working time between the office and my home, and I also  travel for business.

While in some cases it may be fairly straightforward to classify a mobile worker type, in other cases it is like classifying a Duck-billed Platypus. (Is it a bird? Is it a mammal?) Unfortunately, for CIOs and for technology solution providers, classifying mobile workers — whether straightforward or not — is an exercise that they must engage in if they are to effectively set policies and offer a comprehensive set of tools to enable and support a potentially diverse set of mobile workers at a given organization.

As part of our ongoing research at IDC we have developed a mobile worker segmentation to help our clients in this exercise. We have identified three top level mobile worker types: office-based mobile workers;  non-office-based mobile workers; and home-based mobile workers. Each of these categories has subgroups to account for the messy realities of overlapping worker types, as is the case with my situation. Under this taxonomy, I am an office-based mobile professional since I work out of an office primarily and I am mobile or remote at least 20% of the time. Though similar, this is different from a pure telecommuter, with a home office only, who also travels for business.

Our research shows the mobile workforce growing from 847 million mobile workers in 2008 to over one billion by 2011. Office-based mobile workers accounted for 62% of the mobile workforce, mobile non-office accounted for 32% and home-based accounted for 6% of the mobile workforce in 2008. Similarities exist across all of these mobile worker types, particularly between office-based workers who also telecommute, and telecommuters who also travel for business. Yet, in many cases there are different needs among the worker segments, and further distinctions are made when considering different verticals and taking into account different roles in the organization. Certain aspects of technology can be consistently leveraged across all mobile worker types and across verticals and roles. However, organizations do have to make decisions that can greatly impact the financial bottom line: Who gets cellular services (voice and/or data)? Who gets smartphones? Who gets laptops? Who gets netbooks? Which mobile apps do we support and for which users? Who gets remote access or a VPN client? Where do we deploy WiFi? What level of helpdesk support is offered to mobile workers? These are among the considerations that organizations need to take into account.

A typical mobile worker tool chest can consist of a smartphone (sometimes more than one; I see a lot of execs carrying a BlackBerry and an iPhone), a laptop, a netbook, remote access services, conferencing services, social networking tools, collaboration software, unified communications, and a variety of vertical and horizontal apps accessible from mobile devices. One size does not fit all, a fact that will become more apparent as the needs of mobile workers and the capabilities of the tools become more sophisticated.

What kind of a mobile worker do you consider yourself to be, and what types of technologies are you leveraging as a mobile worker?

Photo by: karenwhitak

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  • cousinagam

    The office-based / non-office-based / home-based distinction is helpful. To put the 847 million in context, though, do you have figures on how many workers there are overall?
    I’m having some trouble picturing the 270-odd million technology-toting workers who are neither typically in an office or at home. That 32% of your total is nearly double the August 09 U.S. figure for total civilian employment (140 million). Are there really a quarter-billion netbook-and-BlackBerry people who aren’t in the same place at least half the time?
    Maybe that includes the long-haul locomotive engineer who uses the railroad’s radio or cell phone system. I can see that, though it’s perhaps not the image that first springs to mind. Nor is the foreman at a home-construction site, whose main mobile tool might be a cell phone but not an especially smart one.
    I feel doubtful that most of those 847 million have the “typical tool chest” of smartphone, laptop, and netbook, plus whatever “unified communications” means.
    Speaking of communication, I’d encourage the site to allow comments without someone’s having to sign via a fixed list of formats. I realize you get visits at an order or two of magnitude more than I do, but I suggest the extra step is a real disincentive. Isn’t email and website an option?
    For now, I have to remember to include in my comment a link to my website, since you won’t get there via the sign-in I had to use.