Mobile Workforce in the Age of Platform Economy

By Anthony Bartolo

The mobile communications platform of the future can serve as an innovation engine for next-generation mobile services, while acting as a powerful new revenue stream for mobile network operators.

There was a time when disrupting the status quo was the way to become a market leader. Now it's simply a way of surviving. With the rise of the so-called platform economy, it's not just the likes of Uber and Amazon that are harnessing digital transformation—everyone is moving fast and breaking things, primarily to stave off competition and stay in business.

We have been witnessing technological innovations since the beginning of the 21st century. However, if you thought the past 10 years were disruptive, the biggest transformation is yet to come—especially in the form of employee mobility. Research has proven that mobility increases employees' satisfaction and subsequently improves their productivity. It is estimated that by 2022, 42.5 percent of the global workforce will be mobile.

Employees will be able to work anytime, anywhere, and will be able to use their smart devices for work as much as they use them for leisure. Blue-sky thinking? It's already happening, and smartphones with a network connection or a device connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) are the go-to implements for this mobile-first workforce. So how will this mobile workforce shape the new digital platform economy?

Supply Isn't Satisfying Demand
With mobility, employees are suddenly liberated from being tied to a physical workplace. Enterprises now have their own social-media space, using functionalities such as crowd-sourcing and the shared economy to create new ways of working.

To meet the needs of this rapidly mobilizing workforce, CIOs must focus on a mobile platform approach that enables access to a multitude of corporate applications in real time via mobile, irrespective of the location or network. Yet communications service providers (CSPs) are lagging behind. Although there are about 900 network-based mobile CSPs, there is a reticence to expose networks and services to access via application programming interfaces (APIs).

Existing and emerging enterprises are now hungry for that exposure. They want to use that capacity to mobilize their workforce and open up access to a vast range of rich mobile services on a global scale.

There Is a Way Forward
The next step, then, is to move on from simplistic mobile services—by which end users simply send a message or make a call—to something much more sophisticated. This will be vital as the Internet of Things continues to grow.

If service providers are prepared to offer more advanced mobile network services, then it's a win-win scenario for buyers as well as sellers. Enterprises will see a significant shift in what's possible via mobile—be it richer unified communications and collaboration experiences or easy access to cloud-enabled services. Meanwhile, the new business models and services that are created can give rise to billions of dollars of added value for the mobile industry.

To get there is going to require another shift in thinking, in which employers and employees start seeing mobility in the same way they view the Web or cloud today. All apps, content and services should be accessible via mobile, irrespective of location and without the high cost of data roaming.

As the world moves toward 5G and the IoT becomes ubiquitous, we will see new models being adopted by mobile communications service providers. Mobile services can be delivered in a way that reflects how the Web is constituted, offering a consistent, seamless experience on a global basis.

The Time to Deliver Is Now
Ericsson forecasts that by 2022, we can expect 6.8 billion smartphone subscriptions around the world, along with 29 billion connected devices.

Mobile services need to start delivering to this vast market now. And CIOs need to know that they can rely on programmable, borderless mobile services without any of the cost, security or access constraints they face today. The mobile communications platform of the future can serve as an innovation engine for next-generation mobile services, while acting as a powerful new revenue stream for mobile network operators.

Anthony Bartolo is the chief product officer at Tata Communications.