Mobility. It’s simply the wrong word to describe a technology trend that is washing away decades of previous IT wisdom, strategy and investment. All mobility implies is that you can do what you did before, but in a different place. Whilst you’re out the office, on the road or at the airport. However, the magnitude and impact of the change we witnessing right across the globe, is far more profound and far-reaching than that.

You can get a sense of the impact when you start with numbers. Forrester estimates the total technology economy of the world will be around $3 trillion in 2015. By that point in time, mobility will account for more than one-third of the predicted figure, or over $1 trillion. The adoption rates of mobile devices and their counterpart applications are staggering. In 2010, the value of the mobile applications market was essentially zero. As an industry, it had barely been born.

By 2015, Forrester estimates that the market will be $56 billion. That is an unbelievable growth in volume. But when we look at some of the other mobile demographic trends, it’s clear to see why.

By 2016, the number of consumers with smartphones will cross the 1 billion mark. There will be close to 6 million Wi-Fi hotspots for connectivity. Over 350 million employees will use smartphones and business spending on mobility will grow by more than 100%. The numbers are massive. But the impact on our social fabric, business operations and human engagement is much bigger.

Collapsing The Consumer & Corporate Divide

For most of corporate history, there has been a strong divide between work time and private time. Whilst most white-collar workers don’t rigidly apply the 9-5 rule anymore as e-mail changed all that; there has still been a strong wall between when we were on our employer’s time, and when we were living free. But mobility is causing all that to change, or perhaps just dramatically accelerating a trend that was already in motion.

At present, 49% of information workers use a personal mobile device for work. Most commonly a smartphone or a tablet. A quarter of these are even paying for it themselves. Now why would they choose to do that? The consumerisation of workplace technology is driven by the confluence of choices, capabilities and behaviours that the mobile revolution has brought.

Mobility has led to a more holistic, rather than compartmentalised view of life. Businesses benefit as employees are more and more comfortable engaging on work topics 24/7. They suffer because their employees are connecting with friends and family in the middle of a working day, reading tweets, responding to status updates and following whoever or whatever is their latest interest, in real time.

Most businesses have already twigged that if they want to continue to hire the best talent, having workplace strategies that leverage social media, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, is an important tenant of the overall plan. But the full truth is more embarrassing than that.

For the first time, the average worker has better technology at home than at work. They want to bring their home technology to work because it is better, faster, more user-engaged . . . and well just plain cooler . . . and they’ve become attached to it.

We observe the emergence of ‘OneLife’ phenomena. All work and personal e-mails, work and private photo’s, work and social interests are kept on our iCloud and accessed through one or more synchronised devices. The days of the divide between work and play are over, and amazingly, it’s the revolution in play that is now forcing business to step up and tech up, or else they will lose the mindshare and the timeshare of their employees connected existence.

Transforming To Dos Into Tasks Accomplished

The genius of Steve Jobs was not what he did for mobility, but how he could put himself into the shoes of ordinary people and think about how to design technology that really worked. He was a technology chef; the nerd-world’s interior designer and his legacy is profound.

Before Jobs, business technology was fundamentally about activities. Enterprise technology like SAP, Oracle or tier 2 players, were all focused on end-to-end process steps. Workers performed their defined activities against a set of policies and rules, often controlled and administered by the system itself.

Jobs realised that people want to get stuff done. To accomplish things. And that if you can break down activities into specific tasks that can be accomplished, the whole motivation and satisfaction of the user is transformed. Today, we think of this so much in the consumer market. I can book a flight, buy shoes, find a location, and diagnose my sleep patterns. All with an app.

Business has forever been transformed by this shift. We no longer want to fill in a holiday request form that workflows its way to a manager who will then take some action, send it on its way to its next transactional step, and hopefully in a week or three, I’ll find out if that was successful.

No. We want an app that allows us to book a holiday in 60 seconds. And it is the same with everything else; travel arrangements, sourcing management information, communicating decisions, organising meetings, sharing strategy, trading with a supplier, closing a deal with a customer. We want to accomplish things, in real time, not be the cog on the process flowchart of a very large machine.

A surprising shift has taken place. Employees have more productive technology at home, than they do at work. They can arrange to meet friends more easily than they can to set up a meeting with work colleagues. They can jump on Skype and talk to six friends in four countries all at once, but at work they struggle through a cumbersome video conference process.

They can share documents, opinions and photos in real time and progress an idea collaboratively at home. At work, firewall, age and speed of the infrastructure, uniformity of software versions and privacy rules, all conspire to make this difficult. Hence, for once business has become the laggard, not the innovator, and it is to the consumer market that businesses must look if they want a lesson in process excellence.

Re-Defining Security & Privacy

The risks for businesses are much more significant than what these public anecdotes highlight. Sadly, fraud has become an inherent part of most western cultures. For example, in the UK, the Government estimated total fraud at £6.1 billion in 2006. By 2012 it had reached £73 billion.

But surprisingly the biggest part of this is not fraud against the Government (tax evasion, benefits fraud, which accounts for £20 billion) or against individuals (credit card fraud, identity theft, which accounts for £6 billion), but rather against businesses. And the bulk of fraud, is not committed by organised crime (this accounts for only £10 billion of the total £73 billion), but by employees, managers and small time thieves, resorting to all kinds of unethical practices, both large and small.

So when the CEO shouts at the CIO and says, ‘why on earth can’t I connect my iPad to our system’ and the CIO starts using words like ‘non-approved device, firewall and hacking’, a new way forward needs to be found. Businesses need to get real about what really constitutes confidential information; IT departments need a robust security strategy that increases protection for what matters, and stop trying on the rest.

And what of the employee? Can a police officer admit to a racist remark on Facebook whilst not at work and not have it linked to his day job? Are you representing the company when you are slightly drunk after work? Or is that purely a private matter?

You cannot stop the tide. The mobility revolution is in full flow. But finding a clear path on security and privacy is a much more important topic, than the debates about technology and applications which dominate today’s agenda. Some firms seen as early adopters will find that they took grave risks at great peril. Those at the back of the bus will be left behind. A clear strategy on this and a strong grasp of emerging legislation will be critical.

Mobility is not a trend, it’s simply the new normal. In a few short years everyone will expect to use a highly interactive suite of several mobile devices to access all aspects of their professional and personal life. Individuals will expect this to be the primary way they engage with any business, and they will be looking for companies to lead the consumer marketplace, rather than follow, with context-rich apps and products. Those companies who thought mobile was about a mini-me Web site, or a screen-scrape from their ERP system, have materially missed the point.