It’s undeniable that the world we’re living in is changing at an unprecedented rate. Technological leaps that previously may have taken years now seem to take place on an almost daily basis. And whilst this is exciting for the consumer, that’s nothing compared to the possibilities it raises for businesses. With increasing network speeds and the software-as-service trend gathering pace, the relationship between enterprise and cutting-edge tech is becoming ever more intimate.
Whilst we’ve gotten fairly used to having our entire professional lives on our hips, it is worth noting that thus far the experience hasn’t been entirely seamless. “Even though on-the-move communication is essential for business, it should be noted that many UK organisations still rely on a slow 3G data connection,” comments Jay Karsandas, head of digital at Mobiles.co.uk, a division of Carphone Warehouse. Fortunately, with O2 and Vodaphone at last able to roll out their 4G networks and finally begin to catch up with the lead built by the network EE, this is set to change in a big way.
“The current leaders in 4G, EE, state an average 4G download speed of between 24-30mbps, outpacing a 3G connection by up to 10 times,” Karsandas explains. This might not necessarily seem to mean much on the face of things but the actual ramifications in terms of day-to-day business are stark. “[It] means 4G users can dive straight into the documents they need without the painful wait. Upload speeds are also enhanced, allowing users on the go to attach documents and transfer larger files than ever before.”
First of all, this means we are no longer tethered to our desks and with the latest generation of smartphones, even having to consciously copy files from your desktop to a cloud server before leaving for the day seems rather archaic. “There are a variety of desktop-sharing solutions to help you log into your office computer when on the move,” says Karsandas. “Rather than waiting for a Wi-Fi signal to access your office documents, the faster 4G speeds will let you connect your smartphone, tablet or laptop up to your work station over a mobile data connection.”
There are plenty of tools of benefit to a business owner that also require the more stable, constant connectivity of 4G. “Services such as Google Analytics are mobile responsive and offer valuable insight into online traffic,” Karsandas says. This means an entrepreneur can carry out even fairly intensive tasks without being shackled to a Wi-Fi network. “With 4G, users can look forward to a better workflow and enhanced productivity on the move.”
Most of us are familiar with video calling, whether your poison is Skype, FaceTime or one of many third-party apps; probably at some stage we’ve all called our kids or an old friend when a Wi-Fi connection has allowed. However hitherto, when truly out and about, video calling wasn’t quite up to the demands of a formal business meeting. “This is where 4G really comes into play,” says Karsandas. “With faster speeds and seamless connectivity, apps such as Skype are perfect for business meetings and allow you to communicate with your client face-to-face.”
And all of this is changing the tech landscape within businesses as well as outside their walls. “4G and some of the developments within handheld devices and smartphones and the different types of services that can be accessed, these are just all driving consumerisation of IT,” explains Shirley O’Sullivan, VP marketing of EMEA for international security technology company Blue Coat Systems. This consumerisation is having a massive impact, inevitably shifting decisions around device ownership and choices of apps into the hands of employees. She says, “Employees are much more knowledgeable now; they know a lot more about devices and applications.”
This means businesses are inevitably having to look at adopting more relaxed policies around the tech and apps their employees use when carrying out their work. A recent global survey commissioned by Blue Coat Systems and carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit looked into the subject of tech autonomy for employees. Unsurprisingly, eight out of ten executives spoken to felt that greater tech autonomy was critical for their business. Clearly, the changing climate is having a significant impact.
All in all, technology such as 4G is making a seamlessly connected working experience a much more viable prospect. But how are IT departments coping with these changes? Stereotype would have us see them as the grim gatekeepers of their private kingdom, set against changes that will see it compromised, but does this hold up to scrutiny?
“Only 4% globally of those surveyed felt that IT really merited the reputation as the ‘department of no’,” comments O’Sullivan. “Instead, IT was cited as being a real genuine partner in the business.”
The boundary-less culture that comes as part and parcel of the fourth generation of tech was perceived as having some drawbacks, however. “Three-quarters of those in the UK that were surveyed considered security as a barrier to tech autonomy,” comments O’Sullivan. Obviously certain security methods can go some way toward addressing these concerns but that does require certain compliance issues amongst users to be addressed, especially when beginning to look at where individuals are storing data. She continues: “Certainly here in the EU there’s a lot of strict data protection in place, which was raising some issues about how we move data within the cloud, for example external hosting of personal data.”
However, O’Sullivan is keen to stress that policies shouldn’t be about obstructing what is, essentially, a positive and inevitable process. “It’s about ensuring that they have a policy in place that’s secure but that doesn’t hinder users,” she says. “It empowers them.”
As 4G rolls out to even wider audiences, it’s evident that it will have some rather significant effects on enterprises and entrepreneurs. Fortunately, the majority of these are very positive. And with a little planning and effective communication, it shouldn’t be too hard to sidestep the few negatives.