Magazine article Management Today

Truly Seamless Mobility

Magazine article Management Today

Truly Seamless Mobility

Article excerpt

Expectations for remote working are rocketing, as the technology for achieving it gets better and cheaper. Facing global demands, companies and individuals must decide how available they want to be Paul Fisher reports.

Right. I'm off moofing, but I may touchdown later. If not, you can catch me on the presence. For those not of the Facebook generation, what that actually means is: I may pop in later and plug in my laptop at an available desk. If not, I will dial in via the video-conferencing system.

The concept of mobile or remote working is hardly new and most companies have accepted that some workers - and the business, too - can benefit from time spent working away from the office. And, of course, the rise of cheap laptops and the ubiquitous BlackBerry have turned many employees into walking, talking always-on nodes on the corporate network - some more eager than others. The antics of poolside 'CrackBerry' users who just can't switch off are becoming a common holiday marvel.

'You can use it too much, but it's part of the learning process. You should be in control of it,' says Mike Shirley, brand and segment manager for business marketing at T-Mobile.

Maybe so. But whether we switch off or not, mobile working is increasingly hard to ignore. With mobile calls set to be permitted on aircraft, and sales of smartphones predicted to outstrip those of laptops within 18 months, this is one trend that isn't going to go away.

What's more, the new generation of school-leavers and graduates has expectations of the technology they should be using that are sky-high compared to only five years ago. These will change both the way people work and how they are managed dramatically.

'We demonstrated our TelePresence technology to some local schoolchildren,' says Bernadette Wightman, operations director for Cisco SMB, UK and Ireland. 'They weren't even impressed. They just expect it.'

Cisco TelePresence is the very latest high-tech, multi-screen video-conferencing system that really does - forgive the cliche - make you feel and sound like you are in the same room as colleagues on the other side of the world. A far cry from the scratchy, out-of-sync conversations and stuttering pictures that many have experienced as video-conferencing in the past.

The system is used by giants like Ford for the highest-level meetings, but Cisco is now working on models suitable for the SMB market. It is also bringing versions to the desktop, developing a company call system that will allow customers to dictate how they wish to be communicated with - voice to text or text to voice, even by video.

This will be developed for 'endpoint devices' - that's mobile phones and PDAs to you and me. Cisco is also working with Nokia to develop a phone that will have a TelePresence client built in, so mobile workers can join a conference from anywhere. Cisco practises what it preaches. 'Fifty-six percent of Cisco people's time is spent at places other than their office,' says Wightman.

Cisco is even experimenting with the virtual world of Second Life. Log on to this computerised cyberworld and you'll find Cisco Island, where jobs are advertised and seminars and training are available for employees - all without ever meeting a real person and without having to travel anywhere, except on the net.

But IBM is probably the corporate Big Daddy of Second Life, having held international staff meetings within the virtual domain. It even created ball-by-ball reconstructions of big matches from the Wimbledon tennis championships last year.

It is now experimenting with advanced mathematical models on Second Life to 'build' virtual sales consultants; yes, in the future, your contact with IBM may be via a highly sophisticated avatar that will get to know you personally - on your desktop.

This might sound far-fetched, but many other big corporations are also taking the potential of Second Life very seriously. …

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