User needs at heart of CLP Work Smart strategy

Consumers today are joined at the hip to their next generation mobile devices, but when the same consumers use mobile technology at work this can create challenges for the enterprise.

At the CLP Group, director of information technology Andre Blumberg is well aware of these challenges, and has been leading his organization's response through 'Work Smart,' an umbrella program to communicate new technologies to around 4,400 Hong Kong based CLP Group employees.

"The IT department has always been known as the 'Department of No'," said Blumberg. "But part of Work Smart is to transform us into the 'Department of qualified Yes.'"

The Hong Kong utility provider has around 1,000 mobile workers, and rolled out its first mobile applications and devices in the 1990s, when many workers in the field were equipped with handheld devices for tasks such as meter reading.

More than ten years on, however, and much has changed in the area of mobility. "The whole consumerization of technology is really a fundamental shift on so many different levels," said Blumberg.

"We've been doing mobile for 15 years or so and what we are doing now, you could almost call it third generation mobility," he added. "The first generation was very specific around industrial ruggedized devices, then we had Windows mobile, and now we have consumerized Android and iOS."

While consumerization has made things "somewhat easier" in terms of people's familiarity levels with the technology, the challenges for the enterprise are now around user expectations, even though the enterprise has a different set of criteria around issues such as security, data privacy and a whole overlay of governance.

Shifting workstyles

"People say, 'if it is so easy at home why is it so difficult at work?'" said Blumberg. "This is really a big shift in maturity, along with the increased digital capability, but there is now an expectation that corporate IT should be enabling the same experience that is available in personal lives, because people are using their own devices."

But there are requirements around the service level and security that are quite different in the enterprise, so there is a need to raise awareness and buy-in which is beyond just the technology.

The Work Smart program includes a response to employee BYOD, comprising a mobile device management (MDM) system, remote desktop support, Wi-Fi support and -- in terms of security -- device encryption, among others. There is also data syncing between devices, and access to apps, including those developed by CLP's in-house team. Benefits of the mobile enablement cover a broad range from improved customer service to increased productivity.

In the area of internal staff communications, broadcasts are now pushed out to mobile devices rather than through email in the past, and are getting much more traction and engagement.

"People on the road would click the email link to the broadcast and it wouldn't work properly," said Blumberg.

"Now we have what you might call the new age intranet on the smartphone which allows staff to access information easily, and while that started as a side project initially it has increased IT's credibility in the business."

Privacy awareness

One issue has been around privacy, and staff concerns that the IT department would be monitoring the nature of their usage.

"In the past we had good mobile technology but there was a reluctance from people to use it," said Blumberg.

"People were thinking 'oh well, you can monitor and check what I did' so we have had to overcome that misconception that there was too much visibility, and part of the response has been to appoint super users in the business who try to evangelize a bit around the benefits."

The CLP MDM records only basic information around device type and ID, operating system and network status. Personal information is not managed, neither is usage of areas such as YouTube or online gaming.

These measures were introduced to re-assure staff that there was a defined line between work use and personal home use, and that devices could be used with confidence in both spheres. CLP MDM supports mobile devices regardless whether they are corporate or employee owned.

All of this is helping drive the seamlessness of the user experience, more flexible working styles and ultimately improve productivity and customer satisfaction.

"One thing we have achieved is to drive notebook productivity improvement, so we can work from home and other locations in the same way as working in the office," said Blumberg.

"In the old days it was very clumsy and you had to go into the browser and set up proxy settings, so that if you were in the office you used one profile, and if you were out of the office you used another, but we have fixed that and delivered on-click seamlessness."

Another trend has been the move to multi-function devices, combining uses such as printing, scanning and copying on the one device which becomes the flexible mobile office in one device.

"Your unified communications phone extension goes with you in your notebook, so we are combining those technologies," said Blumberg. "Work is what you do, and no longer where you do it."

Generation myth

One myth about mobility, however, is that it is largely the province of younger staff. "It is an over-simplification to point at Gen Y and Gen X and say they are all digital natives,' said Blumberg.

"I do observe quite a few people in their 20s and 30s who really struggle with this stuff, while some people from the old school do quite well -- so Work Smart works across the generations as well," he noted.

In terms of apps in the mobile space, CLP has rolled out an app store for both internal staff as well as apps for the public.

Next-gen apps

One useful app for IT staff provides real-time visibility into the data center operations, with near real-time data on power usage, energy efficiency, temperature and other key metrics. Staff can monitor whole zones within the data center or dive down to the performance of a specific rack or server.

The development of these apps have been a great showcase for what IT can do to meet today's user needs and it's been a critical learning experience in terms of creating genuinely good user interfaces.

Blumberg noted that applications in the past had very simple text-based interfaces with a focus on function keys, lots of fields and then later more mouse-oriented interfaces. "In today's touch world it's much more challenging as being good at programming does not mean you will create the best user interfaces," he said.

The team had to work with external parties on this and go through many rounds of development and testing but the results have been worthwhile and well received. "We told our developers to really focus on the experience as these apps had to do more than just work -- just think of Angry Birds!," Blumberg added.

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