Advances in communication technology, entrepreneurial creativity, and the ever-more-hectic pace of modern life have all combined to encourage the development and refinement of mobile business offices. Indeed, entrepreneurs have been a driving force in the creation of computers, telephones, and other office equipment that are both effective and portable. Broadband networks and wireless communication devices have made it possible for office work of most types to be done from almost anywhere given the appropriate equipment. These advances have provided many benefits, many challenges, and they continue to alter the ways in which we communicate and work in the information age.
Some businesses lend themselves more easily to mobility than do others. A manufacturing facility, for example, may benefit from the same technologies that make a mobile office possible—wireless communication devices like smartphones, laptops, and personal digital assistants (PDAs) as well as scanners and digital imaging devices—but they can hardly be considered mobile. The sales and marketing arms of manufacturing operations, however, are very likely to become more and more mobile as are service industry businesses generally.
Mobility of both people and data is implied in the term mobile office. Data mobility and the ease with which data may be accessed are both important aspects of making the mobile office a reality. Many business-people rely on portable office equipment primarily during transitional periods, such as at the airport or in a hotel room during a business trips. But observers have noted that mobile office technology has also become an essential performance tool for sales representatives, business planners, and busy entrepreneurs. Moreover, some enterprising small business owners have learned to synthesize communication technology with today's system of roadways to create truly mobile businesses that do not rely on a central office. In fact, equipment one may not expect to come ready for mobile office use is now being offered with equipment preinstalled. In late 2005, the Ford Motor Company announced that its 2006 line of full-size trucks would be offered with an optional mobile office preinstalled.
ADVANTAGES OF MOBILITY
Entrepreneurs with mobile businesses point to several major advantages associated with such arrangements. Mobile businesses do not have the expense of maintaining a store, which—with rent, furniture, utilities, and other costs—can be a very expensive part of operations. In addition, owners of mobile businesses report that they register savings because of reduced rates of theft and insurance. Finally, these business owners contend that by going to the customer's home or business, they 1) immediately establish their interest in satisfying the client, and 2) create a dynamic wherein both the business-person and the customer can concentrate on one another rather than peripheral distractions such as other customers. Business consultants warn, however, that mobile businesses need to adhere to a very high standard of professionalism to calm possible customer fears about legitimacy and quality.
DISADVANTAGES OF MOBILE EQUIPMENT
As the variety of mobile computing and communications devices increases, so do the risks of data theft and malicious viruses. Cell phones and PDAs are relatively small devices that are easily lost or stolen. And data are at risk of interception once they leave the relative safety of the corporate network. Unlike the wired infrastructures present in most companies, which tend to include safeguards against data theft, explains Scott Totzke, director of government technology at Research In Motion, in an article that appeared in Computer Reseller News, mobile devices are often managed with less rigid management policies leaving them more susceptible to data theft, and more vulnerable to hackers and viruses. Advances are being made but for the time being, most mobile communications devices provide far less data security than do older, wired systems. According to Paul Bray, author of the Computer Reseller News article, "Mobile security is likely to be the next big thing in IT security, as users continue to rely heavily on their devices and wake up to the real threat that faces all of us who fail to secure our laptops, PDAs, and phones."
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