The five biggest things I have learnt as a mobile technology trainer

Using an iPad at work

2 years, 7 months ago I bought my iPad 2. At that point I didn’t have the faintest idea that two and a half years later I would be a full time mobile technology speaker and trainer. Given some limited experience using my wife’s iPad 1 I already had a sense of the opportunity that tablets were going to offer to business but I honestly didn’t appreciate the scale and speed with which this would happen. Looking back on my time as a mobile technology professional I thought I would share some of the biggest things I have learnt about mobile technology in business.

Whatever you think the opportunity is, quadruple it (at least!)

One of the biggest learnings that I have had over the last couple of years is that whatever you think the opportunity is with mobile, you are probably underestimating it. One of the biggest challenges that I have when pitching to clients is getting them to believe that a 500% return on investment is possible when, for most business improvement projects even double digit ROI is considered exceptional. Our ability to see the true value of mobile technology programs is often limited by the way that we currently work. We think that the opportunity is one of substitution (replacing analogue processes with digital ones) when the real opportunity is in augmentation, modification or redefinition.

One of the biggest challenges to overcome is novelty

When I first got my iPad I, like many of the clients, was blown away by all the things it could do and the amazing variety of apps that were available. When you can use your tablet for games, reading magazines, watching catch-up TV, surfing the web and managing recipes (to name just a few uses) it is sometimes hard to see past the novelty and believe that this could also be a serious business tool. What helped me get past this was my background in scenario planning and futures thinking and my previous work as a business improvement coach for a global mining company. The process I take clients through now is based on the same skill set, build understanding and a vision for the future, then focus on the opportunities that drive performance improvement and value.

Users don’t generally understand the risks

When users start seriously engaging with their devices they immediately start looking for the opportunity but don’t give much attention to risk. This is in part due to the novelty factor described above but also because we value a present benefit higher than a potential future cost (even if that cost could be extremely high). These risks are not just about data security but also include health risks associated with ergonomics and risks to work-life balance as a result of ‘always on’ expectations. Unfortunately most users aren’t interested in learning about risks until they have ‘experienced the pain’ by which case it is already too late. As a result I think that there is a growing need for businesses to offer users training to help them identify and manage mobile technology risks as part of a device induction process.

The platform only matters because of the apps

A big shift over the last couple of years has been the growth of Android and, to a lesser extent, Windows RT as alternative tablet platforms to iOS. I consult and train across all platforms so it is unsurprising that I also own a couple of Android and a Windows RT tablet. When I talk about platforms to my clients I tell them that fundamentally this is not about the platform but about the apps. Tablets are agnostic of purpose, it is the apps you choose that define what your device is used for and how effectively it does it. Although there is a plethora of Android tablets on the market these are often low end and have less acceptance amongst business users. As a result the number of tablet optimised apps on Android is substantially lower and the subset of business apps is even lower still. Although the growth of Android has been nothing short of extraordinary, there wasn’t a moments hesitation when it came to upgrading to the new iPad Air as my primary business tablet.

[tweetthis]Focused training and support prevent unproductive and frustrating technology use.[/tweetthis]

It doesn’t ‘just work’

I think that Apple’s tag line ‘it just works’ has done a disservice to many users. For most people the device might just work for email, surfing the web and consuming media but it doesn’t necessarily just work for what they want to use it for in business. Unfortunately this disconnect leads to two distinct user problems. Either users think the device is working just fine (and therefore not suitable for the purpose they had in mind) or they think that it just works for everyone else and the user is the problem. Either way I believe that this tagline has contributed to inaction amongst a massive demographic of users who struggle to move past the basic email/web browsing/appointment work functions. To overcome this organisations need to provide users business focused training and support, or otherwise we risk 20 years of unproductive and frustrating technology use, much like we are still seeing with email.

I must admit that it was a little hard to refine two and a half years of learning into five key points and I am sure there are many other useful ideas I have missed. Feel free to hit me up and let me know the big things that you have learnt about mobile technology in business over the last couple of years!

Does my organisation need iPad training?

Has your organisation deployed tablets yet no one seems to be really sure what they are meant to use them for? I have had two recent clients that have undertaken quite large scale tablet deployments and more than 12 months after deploying the majority of the devices are just sitting on their staff’s desks.

This seems to be a result of the following

  • Enterprise mobility projects being undertaken in and ad-hoc manner without a clear vision of what the tablets are meant to be used for
  • The general assumption that if you know how to use a computer you know how to use an iPad or Android tablet
  • Tablet deployments being undertaken by IT departments that don’t have a mandate (or budget) for training and development
  • Organisational development teams who do have a mandate for training don’t know what training is required and where to source it from

Without focused training the result tends to be an ‘organic’ learning approach that creates unnecessary data security risks (as users play around with different apps) and which delays any potential return on investment from your enterprise mobility project (due to lack of use).

If you want to a valuable and safe tablet deployment you need to provide training for your users on

  • How their various devices are different and what tasks are best suited to what device.
  • The risks of mobile technology and how to mange them effectively
  • The apps that can help them meet their objectives and how they work

Tablet deployments can be expensive exercises and it is right to expect a return on your investment. This is only achieved when users start using their devices. If you are struggling to get engagement with your tablet deployment perhaps it’s time to invest in some training.

Do your executives really want Android?

Android has a keen following in enterprise IT circles because of its openness and customisability. But before you embark on an Android deployment ask yourself, is Android usable enough to build engagement amongst your workforce?

Many IT departments prefer Android over iOS because if its openness and customisability. Although this makes IT’s job of managing and supporting devices easier it is actually not something that the end user generally cares about. There is a genuine risk that if IT doesn’t take the end users needs into consideration, they may end up implementing a safe, secure system that people struggle to use effectively.

I find that most executive teams ultimately care about usefulness and usability. They want a suite of apps that helps them do their job more effectively and that are easy to learn and use. Although these tools should also be safe and secure, this is not their primary concern.

It should be pointed out that this isn’t so much about the Android platform as it is about the apps. Although there are plenty of Android apps in the Google Play store there is still only a limited range of tablet optimised apps and many of these are either buggy or have limited features compared to their iOS alternatives.

Although this will close over time I don’t see it happening soon. I have contacted a couple of app developers to see if they were planning to release or update their Android apps and both said they were focusing on the iOS platform at the moment and didn’t see the value in dedicating resources to Android development at the moment. Their reasoning for this was that the Android user base was less willing to pay for apps and the cost of development was higher due to the variety of hardware and screen sizes.

So if you are looking to implement a mobile technology program my advice to organisations is not to rush towards Android without taking into account end user needs. Although it may cost less in terms of hardware and support than an iOS or, even better, a cross platform solution, you may ultimately pay for this in lower levels of engagement and use.

Remember, the value of a system is not what it costs you. Cost is how much you pay for it, value is what it returns to the organisation in terms of greater productivity and effectiveness. And value is only created once the platform is both used and useful.