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Are Laboratories Ready for Truly Mobile Working?

Published: Friday, September 07, 2012
Last Updated: Friday, September 07, 2012
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Ok so we all follow the newspapers, blog sites and various other "social feeds" (as they are known), but have you ever thought if our research laboratories are ready to embrace a new way of working?

'The mobile workforce' is a strap line I hear a lot, but what does this actually mean? Put simply people want to be free to interact with databases and systems wherever they are, if they are in the laboratory, the freezer room or even in the train station on the way to work (and yes it does happen for all you skeptics out there).

It’s not surprising that the mobile workforce wants anytime, anywhere access to workplace technologies. What is surprising is the fact that, according to a new study, an overwhelming majority say their job satisfaction and productivity are now tied to this level of access. That means organizations whose IT managers confront the challenges involved in allowing its staff to connect via an array of devices can help their employers see sizeable gains.

These are some of the conclusions of the second phase of an eight-month study on the evolving workforce which was commissioned by Dell in the U.S. and their partner Intel. "Nearly three-quarters of employees in the U.S. claim that the mobile era and the flexible schedules it enables are helping them to make greater contributions to their organizations. And 76 percent say they are measured more by the quality of their work than by the time they spend at the office. The result is markedly higher morale, since 82 percent of outputs-based employees report being “extremely happy” with their jobs."

So could this be true in your research groups, could your technicians and students be contributing more to your organization? Well the more I read about it, the more I get convinced that the mobile workforce must have a point, how many of us already carry at least one of these devices, a mobile smartphone, an iPad or tablet device and even laptops and MacBooks are common place in every coffee shop I visit. Who are these people; normal office workers or sales representatives that need to be in constant communication to get that last minute deal? Ok so sure, some of them are but they are also web developers, software engineers and support staff all un-chained from their desks and stuffy offices.

So is it time to free the lab technicians?

Obviously we all know that technicians need to spend time in the lab. The environmental conditions and processes need to be controlled so this has to take place within those walls, but this only accounts for a small percentage of their daily routines. The largest share of time is to be found in the preparation, organization, defining of procedures, analysis, write up and submission of data, why do you need to be chained to a desk to perform these functions? The answer is you don't, here is where we can be truly mobile as long as the devices, systems and software exist to allow us.

So what of the laboratory device? When we look at the progress of smartphones through to mobile tablets we already have the devices to accomplish our mobile evolution. We are now well into the second half of 2012, and the mobile/tablet landscape is more diverse than ever with very strong competition between Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, Nokia, RIM and even Mozilla! Who knows what advancements will be brought forward in the coming months and years.

Already the camera systems in most devices are capable of scanning barcodes and interfacing to database systems, running websites and connecting to multiple Wi-Fi and Bluetooth networks. Therefore this it is not a device or technology issue, it is a business issue: does your Organization have the capacity to utilize these devices to face the mobile challenge?

So how do we the software and support providers facilitate this demand for mobility, well the app vs. web app debate will never end, should you have a fully independent device specific application available or can you utilize the web browser common to all devices? What bothers me most is the fact that this debate distracts users from the real issue: knowledge. With this ever changing mobile and tablet landscape, the priority is not to deliver apps; it is to understand the impact of this on the end user. Organizations will not gain an advantage from us providing your researchers with a fancy new mobile app, each decision maker needs to be able to better understand the requirements of their users and enable them to extend the reach of websites, online services and systems outside desktop browser windows.

The hard truth as a software developer is that we do not need to simply provide you with a mobile app or access to a mobile website or even an hybrid app, you need all of them. Each of these technologies allows you to deliver the solution for different contexts and user types:

•    A mobile site for occasional users which do not want to install anything (like m.amazon.com)
•    An hybrid app for regular users who want a first level of service on various occasions (like the one provided by Google)
•    A mobile app for intensive users who are willing to install it for a precise purpose (like Facebook Camera)

So in conclusion the devices are ready, we the software and support providers are ready, are you ready to un-chain your lab techs?


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