RealTime IT News

Who's in Charge of Mobile Costs?

The mobile workforce is growing, but companies that don't recognize that mobility goes well beyond the sales force and C-level executives could be in for some nasty surprises.

A study by Fiberlink and CFO Research released on Tuesday found that finance departments are often clueless as to the direct and indirect expenses of mobility. Forty-seven percent of finance respondents said that, minus cell phones, they did not have an estimate of the total cost of enabling mobile workers at their company.

"My sense is that finance assumes IT is taking care of everything, and they're not asking aggressively for the information," Jim Somers, director of strategic planning at Fiberlink, told internetnews.com. "They don't really understand the breadth of employees checking their email at home and similar things that extend the workday."

"Over time, people have acquired various tools for accessing e-mail and other applications," said one survey respondent, Brian Ketcham, a controller at Valmont International. "Expenses related to these items are reported in many different areas -- telecom, data processing, travel and expense reports -- and the lack of consistency in reporting is a huge factor to the lack of control and incomplete information."

Fiberlink provides software designed to ensure employees' computer use complies with corporate policies, and that antivirus and security software is always enabled.

Somers noted that problems can arise when, for example, an employee brings his company's notebook computer home and accesses the Internet using his personal broadband or DSL connection. "Or your spouse or child uses the notebook. This is how viruses and spyware can end up infecting the corporate network," Somers said. The added expense and lost productivity of dealing with such consequences are rarely included in budget estimates, he added.

Ninety-two financial executives and 30 IT executives participated in the survey.

Fifty-two percent of IT respondents said their finance departments had adequate information about remote access, while only 18 percent of the finance respondents replied affirmatively.

The study also found that larger companies, those with over 1,000 or more mobile workers, had a better handle on expenses and getting information about remote access use and related data from IT departments than smaller firms did. The report concludes a likely reason for this is that as a company's mobile workforce grows, it is forced to deal with the expenses and other consequences of having a larger remote staff.

Both finance and IT were asked what their main issues were when considering a remote access vendor. A majority of both finance and IT respondents said ensuring security and productivity were top considerations, and the third highest item from finance was regulatory compliance. For IT, the third highest issue was lowering support costs. Getting the best possible price was at the bottom of the list for both.

"Every company wants to save money, but they are looking at their purchases on a more macro basis," said Somers. "They don't want to nickel and dime on security, because there can be dire consequences."

Research firm IDC expects the number of mobile and remote workers worldwide to grow to 162 million by 2006. Gartner predicts that two thirds of the workforce will be considered mobile by next year.

"What I think the report shows is that both finance and IT need to manage and support the mobile community at their company," said Somers. "It's not just an issue for IT, but an enterprise-wide challenge, a business issue across the board. If you're IT, you don't want to be flat-footed when a finance or other executive wants to know about mobility costs. When IT and finance are aligned, they can work as collaborators to better optimize worker productivity and do what's best for the business."