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Blogs / Information Technology in Local Government / Going Mobile

Going Mobile

            I am a great fan of the old rock group The Who, and one of their great songs is “Going Mobile,” recorded back in 1971. In our last column we talked about mobile devices and how governments need to consider which types of employees should have a mobile device. This all assumes that those with a desk still also have a PC and a phone on their desk.

            But beneficial technologies tend to be “disruptive,” and at what point does the ubiquitous nature of mobile devices become disruptive to the old desktop PC and desk phone model? Let’s just look at half the problem, the issue of the phone--at what point does the availability of mobile phones eliminate the need to also have a phone on every desk? In fact, are we already at a point where you could be “Going Mobile” with your phone system, largely eliminating the use of desktop phones?

For Younger Employees, “No Big Deal”

            Though this might seem outrageous to you, it won’t to your younger employees. Many of them set up housekeeping long ago but have never had a “land line” phone at home--that phone on their desk at work is the only old-school phone they regularly see. They also are comfortable with juggling personal and “work” mobile phones.

Flipping the Paradigm

            The old paradigm is that every office employee has a desktop phone—but conversely, most of those without a desk also don’t have a phone. Those without a phone include almost all police officers, fire fighters, public works employees, etc., unless of course they already have a mobile phone.

            But are we ready to flip this model in a disruptive but beneficial way, and give almost everyone a mobile phone, while scrapping almost all of the phones on the desktop? Then, everyone will still have a phone number—including many who don’t have one now and so have trouble communicating—except the number will be the number of their mobile phone. And almost nobody will have two numbers—your mobile number is “your number.”

            I would continue to argue as I did in the last column that almost any employee would benefit from having a work phone. Again, the somewhat-invisible third shift custodian would use their mobile phone to call in emergency situations, access work orders, check online employee self-service data, receive e-mail, etc.

A Few Details to Work Out

            So how does the new Going Mobile world look? Again, almost all employees will now have a mobile phone—although some might have more sophisticated smart phones. Or, would everyone have a smart phone?

            There would still be some desktop phones, but the “desks” they would be attached to would more likely be those of posts such as the desk at the front door rather than the desks of people. Those remaining desktop phones would be Voice over IP (VoIP) phones that run over the computer network, so they would need no special cabling—and many organizations already have VoIP systems. And, the phone switch for the desktop phones could be a “cloud” service, so it would be easy to manage a decreased number of desktop phones.

            In this new environment the use of “unified communications” ability would be extremely helpful, to allow employees to redirect calls between phones and manage voice mail and e-mail in a unified way.

Networking a Tough Problem

            Enabling the increased number of mobile devices would benefit from using internal wireless access points to provide connectivity for phones while the users are within the government’s buildings. For now, a difficult problem would be how to economically provide wireless access for mobile users outside the buildings. One option would simply be to obtain group rates for traditional cell phone coverage. Public safety workers could possibly connect through access points in their vehicles. (We’ll leave the question of somehow merging phones and hand-held radios for the future.)

Are You Doing It Now?

            As we noted in our last column, the allure of jumping to these new paradigms is great, but for the bold pioneers who will be the first to take these steps things will be messy. Most will want to wait until things are a little more stable, and there’s no shame in that. But nobody will ever get there unless someone goes first. Hey, are you one of those people—are you there now, or almost there, or at least thinking about it? If so, post a comment and share your experiences.

            P.S. – We probably didn’t absolutely need the iconic image of Pete Townshend in mid-air, but it was great to have an excuse to post it. Sometimes it’s fun to be a little bold and cut your ties to the ground.

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