How have mobile technologies changed the face of organizations? And what are the inherent advantages and risks, both for companies and individuals? These themes are tackled by Professor Besseyre des Horts in his latest book, "L’entreprise mobile" (Mobile Companies), Pearson Education , January 2008.
THE NEW FACE OF BUSINESS
Mobile companies offer ‘anytime, anywhere’ services, and are free from time/place restrictions. They are highly adaptable, possess agility, take a proactive approach, and have flexible structures and processes. These characteristics make mobile companies similar to corporate networks, even though some of these qualities are also shared by other types of organization (hierarchical and transversal ones). The very nature of mobile technologies develops flexibility, so mobile companies are natural extensions of the corporate network. Therefore, their emergence is part of a natural transformation in organizational structure, leading towards more flexibility and a better capacity to adapt to environmental constraints. Will this lead to technological determinism? Not for Charles-Henri Besseyre des Horts, who believes other factors, such as culture, strategy, processes, and the workforce are crucial in shaping a company’s organizational structure.
THERE ARE MANY REASONS FOR ADOPTING MOBILE TECHNOLOGIES
Various tools are standard in companies—telephones, laptops, PDAs, smartphones, USB keys, and so on. And as Henri Isaac1 says, they would be nothing without the infrastructure (wifi network, GSM, GPRS, and others) that enables mobility. However, although the tools are widely used in companies, the reasons for adopting them are varied: augmenting productivity gains, phenomena of imitating competitors, a need for greater reactivity due to client pressure, reinforcing the brand image, or as a response to globalization. So there are many motivations, of which the companies are not always aware. On an individual level, the adoption of mobile technologies seems to be linked to the post held. Hence the primary users of mobile technology are mobile populations (e.g. sales reps and consultants) or those holding supervisory positions. But the inverse is also true, because many professions become more mobile through these tools. Charles-Henri Besseyre des Horts does not think that all company functions will become mobile, because organizations will always need ‘sedentary’ workers.
EVERYONE RECOGNIZES THE ADVANTAGES
There is universal praise for the advantages of mobile technology within organizations, which underlines the generally positive perception of mobile technology within companies. The benefits transmit an image of modernity. They include greater flexibility, better productivity, the rationalization of operational processes, greater reactivity with stakeholders, increased sharing of knowledge and communication, and reduced structure and operational costs. This favourable perception of mobile tools is reiterated at an individual level. Among the main advantages cited are: optimization and savings in time, an augmentation in autonomy and flexibility in the organization of work, better personal efficiency, and greater reactivity. Lastly, people agree that mobile technologies augment competency and lead to greater professionalism. This is particularly due to the new possibilities offered by these tools in terms of satisfying increasingly demanding client expectations.
COMPANIES TEND TO UNDERESTIMATE RISKS
Incredibly, many companies invest heavily in these new technologies, but little effort goes into measuring return. The rise in ICT mobiles shouldn’t blind us to potentially serious inconveniences for both companies and individuals. This is because investment isn’t risk-free: values-related risks (how can one maintain a corporate mindset when its values are constantly modified to take into account the principles of mobility?), security-related risks, and the paradoxical decline of intra-company communications. Lastly, the impacts of these technologies are questionable, even on the operational front: they can lead to poorer decision-making, for example. Indeed, under pressure to be reactive, company members can make rushed decisions after using mobile ICTs—and this can affect quality.There are just as many pitfalls for individuals: intrusions into home life, the development of an instantaneous culture (with the attendant risk of stress), information overload (mobility can lead, for example, to an excess of e-mails), loss of autonomy, augmentation of surveillance, and the inconveniences associated with the tools’ ergonomic aspects (weight, readability, etc.).
THE MOBILE COMPANY OF THE FUTURE
Greater mobility means that the company of the future has to manage the risks associated with mobile technologies. To achieve this, it must incorporate these technologies into corporate culture and values, and have a clear idea about their development. Professor Besseyre des Horts insists on the necessity of reviewing structure and processes, which means that individuals have to be prepared to change their behaviour and actively commit to mobility. Companies need to accentuate the advantages that individuals can gain from mobile companies, to encourage them to adopt a culture of change.
Based on an interview with Charles-Henri Besseyre des Horts and on his book, "L’entreprise mobile: comprendre l’impact des nouvelles technologies" ("Mobile Companies: Understanding the Impact of New Technologies"), published by Pearson Education in January 2008
1.Henri Isaac lectures at the Université Paris Dauphine. He has co-written various articles on ICT mobiles with Charles- Henri Besseyre des Horts.
This research work is part of the HEC-Toshiba Chair framework, for which Professor Besseyre des Horts has academic responsibility. The Chair was inaugurated in December 2003, with the aim of studying the organizational and human consequences of development in information technologies and mobile communication. The survey that led to the writing of L’entreprise mobile took place in four stages between 2004 and 2007:
1. Analysis revealed the predominance of books on the technical aspects of ICT mobiles, to the detriment of the organizational and human factors.
2. A qualitative survey was conducted in 12 French companies, based on one hundred semi-directed interviews.
3. A quantitative survey was conducted on the Internet, and responded to by a total of 512 French, British, and German correspondents.
4. Telephone interviews were conducted with 330 people (mostly information systems managers) to qualify the results obtained.