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An independent survey of multinational corporate customers has made some surprising findings – particularly the fact that most CIOs are becoming increasingly more comfortable with the shift to mobility.

It’s likely that 2011 will go down in history as the year of the mobile worker, but corporate telecoms remains in the grip of fundamental change and the pressure to keep pace shows no sign of easing. Given the scale of the upheaval, you’d be forgiven for thinking that most IT chiefs are reaching for the panic button. In fact, the opposite is true. A survey of multinational businesses spanning five continents and including companies in the US, China, Europe, Australia, India and South Africa was recently commissioned by Vodafone Global Enterprise. This reveals that seven out of ten CIOs always feel on top of their telecoms expenditure – a significant improvement on 2010. So what’s going on?

Taking control

The survey, by Circle Research, makes it clear that CIOs are not only comfortable with the move to mobile working; they’re becoming increasingly bullish about it. There are two reasons. The first is that the commercial benefits of mobility are far clearer than they were in 2010. The second reason concerns business alignment: if your rivals are benefiting from mobile working, why aren’t you? Also what about your employees? Chances are, most of them already use mobile devices. Those that don’t soon will, whether you choose to support them or not.

It’s clear that a large and fast-growing number of businesses and their CIOs are embracing mobile working – and the proportion is far greater than anybody could have guessed even 18 months ago. Three-quarters of multinationals expect their mobile data usage to rise this year, with 27% predicting a significant increase.

Businesses are keenly aware of the expenditure involved, but so great is the momentum towards mobility that cost hasn’t proved the barrier that some predicted. In many cases, that’s because mobile working reduces the expenditure associated with maintaining fixed IT systems.

Spend, spend, spend

Most multinationals expect their expenditure on telecoms to continue rising, with nearly half forecasting “some” growth and nearly a quarter predicting a “significant” rise in the next 12 months. But they are also becoming increasingly pragmatic about the cost and more willing to accept it. The survey shows a fall in the number of organisations prioritising spending reductions. While two-thirds of CIOs admit to feeling pressured to cut their telecoms expenditure, the proportion of respondents who see cost-cutting as a high priority is 20% down on 2010’s figure.

There’s been a significant improvement in CIOs’ ability to analyse their spending accurately, too: the number of businesses reporting difficulties in viewing their expenditure is down 8% on 2010. But the problem remains acute for many: 40% still struggle to take a consolidated view when using multiple providers – a real problem for businesses where roaming is a fact of life.

Cost forecasting is showing significant improvements, though: the proportion of companies claiming to be able to predict their global telecoms expenditure accurately is up by a third on 2010. Managing rogue spending does remain a challenge, however: only a third are able to identify excessive spending on mobile data services in real time. While more than half are able to detect any large undue expenditure within a month, 10% of respondents face a monthly rogue roaming bill of $10,000 or more, and the same proportion admit that overspending can go undetected for months.

Mobile working – making it work

The greatest advocates of mobility continue to be the workers themselves. Employee demand keeps growing, with three-quarters of businesses reporting significant staff interest in mobile working. Eight out of ten businesses rate mobile working as a priority – up significantly on 2010.

The perceived advantages vary from region to region. Improved productivity is rated as the most important benefit in Europe, the US and South Africa, with employee satisfaction/staff retention second. In Asia Pacific, employee satisfaction is the main factor. Eight out of ten businesses say they would mobilise more employees if they could access flat tariffs for both voice and data.


The enemy within

Security remains a worry for many businesses. The following factors concern them the most:

  • The spread of mobile viruses (37% of respondents cite these as a significant worry)
  • The use of devices on insecure networks (36%)
  • The loss of theft of devices (35%)

The ability to monitor mobile devices properly is vital, but only half of all businesses can do this globally. Just over 40% know how many devices they have issued, but don’t know their status, while eight per cent don’t even know how many are in circulation. Dealing with lost devices remains a challenge, but firms are improving slightly: 60% of multinationals can now remotely erase data – up from 55% in 2010.

Blurred boundaries, new opportunities

The survey highlights two key “blur” areas: first, the convergence between IT and telecoms; second, the blur between people’s personal and business lives. Companies are already reaping the benefits of convergence. Nearly 90% of respondents have a strategy for converging their IT and telecoms. This has begun in 55% of firms, while one-third have a strategy but haven’t implemented it.

Europe and Asia Pacific are furthest ahead, with 58% and 56% of firms respectively having started implementation.

While preparations for technical convergence are generally well advanced, the question of budgetary convergence remains a hotly debated topic: just 30% of have integrated telecoms and IT budgets.

The blur between work and home life is altogether different. There’s huge variation in the way businesses approach this: 17% of companies prohibit the use of business phones for personal purposes; 43% allow emergency use only; while 16% allow staff to use their work mobiles if they pay for their calls. Using personal devices for work presents a huge opportunity for businesses to encourage their employees to go mobile. But 30% of respondents are reluctant to do this. Of those that don’t provide mobile support, 29% cite security as the key pain point, while 28% are concerned about a loss of control.

Nevertheless, most multinationals support the “bring your own device” (BYOD) approach: seven out of ten allow this. What’s clear is that the tipping point has been passed, with most companies and employees embracing mobile working. While the transition to mobile operations presents some short-term risks, a failure to engage with the mobile revolution could pose the greatest risk of all.

Vodafone Global Enterprise’s CIO Pain Points 2011 is a comprehensive, independent market survey by Circle Research, based on more than 500 interviews with multinational businesses. It represents views across five continents and includes companies in the US, China, Europe, Australia, India and South Africa. Every key commercial sector is analysed, including financial services; consumer goods; healthcare; utilities; technology; manufacturing; professional services; and transport and logistics. All respondents operate in more than three countries. This is the second consecutive year in which the study has been conducted, so it’s now possible to track year-on-year trends.

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