Why mobile matters for disability services

Mobile technologies are changing the way people do things at an every-day level. Working with clients and with staff, innovative organisations can benefit from embracing mobile technology.

In Australia, many industries have already felt the affect of these changes. For example, there has already been a significant shift away from traditional telecommunications. 1/3 of adult Australians (5.2 million people) no longer have a fixed-line phone. When it comes to internet use, 12% of adult Australians are only on mobile connections.

Smartphones have proven themselves to be much more than telephones. Thanks to internet access, smartphones and tablets give people instant access to a wealth of information. This information can influence their decisions - especially on which services they choose.

Not only that, people are getting used to using their mobile devices as an every-day item. Google's research says that 84% of people now do tasks differently (and in more places) because of their phone.

So many people are turning to mobile devices that desktop and laptop computers aren't as popular. In some cases mobile device usage is overtaking the use of desktop computers. At the end of 2015, Facebook announced that over 50% of its user-base was mobile-only. That means 823 million monthly users never use Facebook on a desktop or laptop. This change brings challenges such as smaller screens and different channels (e.g. social media).

Australians are adopting mobile devices and it means that disability services need to adapt.

Part 1: Connected clients

Smartphones are becoming an essential part of everyday use for many Australians. To be successful, disability organisations need to keep up with this change in behaviour. To get started, here are three important approaches organisations need to have.

1) Be “mobile first”

In the past, a desktop or laptop computer would have been the main way people engage online. Their large screens, keyboard and mouse dictated how many approached communications, websites and services. Now, small screens, touch interfaces and high mobility means these approaches need to change.

Being "mobile first" recognises that mobile technology is here to stay. It places a priority on making sure that users on a mobile device will have the best experience when engaging with a service.

When it comes to your online presence and a mobile first approach, your website will be a good place to start. Open it on your smartphone and see how useful it is on a smaller touch screen. If you have difficulty, it's likely others will too. There are different tactics (such as responsive design) to make your website experience better. If you have Google Analytics installed, you can also see how many people use your website on a mobile device.

Generally, discussions about "mobile first" are to do with web design, but this can be taken further.

2) Be relevant at the right time in the right places

Being mobile-first isn’t just about the type of device people use and your website. It also includes how people use mobile devices in every-day situations.

Because people are no longer shackled to desks to access information online, they can search and find just about anything from the mobile device in their pocket.

This means, they can do more at different times and in different places. Disability organisations need to make sure they're present when and where they need to be. For example, a client may want to look for a local service on their iPhone. If they use Google, they will be presented with a map of organisations based on their location. If your organisation isn't listed with Google with a local address, you may be missing out. If you run events, people may want to use a hashtag to engage with others or even live-stream video. If you are proactive, you can make the most of it and create stories from other people's content. In other situations, people may feel comfortable using Facebook Messenger rather than a phone call. If your organisation isn't available on Facebook, they may look elsewhere.

It’s important for you to anticipate and plan for how and when your clients want to engage with you through their mobile device.

3) Be personal

Mobile devices are personal. They’re the way people communicate with friends and family. They hold photos of memories and also provide access to personal data stored in social networks and apps. It’s important that communications that may be received on a smartphone should be a personalised. You can do this by adding names to e-newsletters instead of generic opening lines. You can get rid of scripted responses for a more one-on-one conversation with clients or on social media. You can offer online messaging services for clients without credit on their phones. While people are using digital devices, they don’t want to feel like they’re talking to a robot.

Part 2: Connected workforce

The use of mobile devices isn’t just creating new opportunities at a personal-use level. Mobility also offers new opportunities for staff and volunteers to get work done. Staff can get instant notifications about work communications, access and edited work files from mobile apps and enterprise-level instant messaging apps can keep staff connected.

Mixed with cloud-based IT systems (such as Office 365), accepting a mobile workforce opens up new options for increasing the effectiveness of organisations. To make the most of these changes to how people work, disability services need to take on the following into consideration:

1) Get work done through mobile

For many, mobile productivity will start with accessing e-mail through the use of a smartphone or tablet. However, many existing operational tools offer apps or Cloud services that can be used via mobile. These offer your staff greater flexibility in how they complete their work and increase their productivity.

For example, if your disability service is using Office 365, there are mobile apps for Word, PowerPoint and Excel. There are apps for communication through Yammer, Skype for Business and SharePoint Newsfeed. For social media mangers, the Facebook Pages, Facebook Ads and Hootsuite apps are examples of purpose-built apps for getting work done via mobile.

The format and mobility that all-in-one tablets and smartphones can also change the way work gets done, not just accessed. More intuitive touchscreen interfaces offer options to quickly fill out forms, access case notes or capture activities through low-cost photo and video editing apps.

2) Co-create BYOD policies with staff

For many, the option to “bring your own device” (BYOD) can be an attractive option for getting work done. However, it’s important to have clear guidelines to protect your organisation’s data. Engaging staff in developing policies on BYOD use will help to not only understand the needs of the organisation (e.g. privacy of client data) but also raise awareness of how they may benefit from using mobile devices in their work.

3) Innovate service delivery through mobile devices

Low-cost mobile devices offer many opportunities to innovate in the delivery of service to clients.

The major app stores all have a huge range of apps that may be suitable for use with your clients and many of these are relatively low-cost. In the field of education, it’s common to see classrooms fitted out with tablets for students, loaded with relevant apps that support their learning.

Where a suitable app doesn’t already exists, your organisation may want to look into the costing of creating their own app which can be used by clients.

4) Adopt an approach of continuous improvement

Technology is changing quickly and the full impact of mobile devices in the workplace is yet to be seen. By evaluating your staff’s use of mobile devices, you can adapt your policies to best meet their needs and the needs of your organisation. Small, incremental adjustments with regular consultation with staff will help to keep your mobile workforce as effective as possible.

Part 3: Moving forward

Once you have considered and looked at the potential mobile technology has to improve how you reach new clients, and also improve your services internally, it’s time to look at what your next steps as an organisation are.

1) Consider your current providers

There are a lot of factors to consider when going mobile, and a large part of that may be your existing systems. If your existing software that your organisation uses isn’t compatible with mobile devices, then you may want to start by investing some time there and talking to any external providers that you use and ask if what they’re providing you is mobile friendly.

People you may need to talk to include:

  • Your web designer or web developer. With websites, there are a few things that need to be considered. First, is your website optimised for mobile users? It’s an easy one to test. If you have a smartphone or tablet, you can go to your organisation’s website and see what the experience is like. If the text is too small or it’s hard to get to important information, you may want to raise this with your provider.
  • Next, have a look at your software providers. If you want to enable your staff to make the most of their mobility, you’ll want to give them as much access as you can to their work-related programs and files. Your software providers may have mobile options such as apps or cloud-based programs that will give your staff access to their work. For example, productivity tools such as Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint have mobile versions that work well on tablets and smartphones. Find out what platforms they support and if there are any additional costs.
  • Consider your legal requirements – especially when it comes to data storage. If you have private client data, there may be restrictions on how you want that data accessed and also how it is stored. For example, if you’re using mobile devices for taking case notes, you will need to consider how those notes are transferred to your main database.
  • Talk to your IT support team. Whether they’re internal or external, they will be able to help you to look at your existing IT systems and whether they are mobile friendly or have options for managing mobile devices.

2) Put in place a mobile device management plan

Mobile device management systems allow your organisation to manage the information accessed on your staff member’s mobile device. Not only does it make it easier to set up devices, it also adds layers of security and peace-of-mind for IT professionals.

Examples of mobile device management options include Microsoft Office 365’s MDM system which allows you to register devices through a central administration portal. This then gives permission for that device to access files and information in your Office 365 environment. If a device gets lost, the data can be wiped remotely. Without these systems in place, services who allow staff to access information (even calendars and email) run the risk of having private data out in the wild.

Other options for more robust systems include Microsoft Intune and Cisco Meraki.

3) Choosing the right device

Once you have a better understanding of your organisation’s needs, the next step is choosing which device you need. There are a lot of mobile devices out there but the main choice will revolve around which operating system you want to use – Windows (Microsoft), iOS (Apple) or Android (Google).

Each has their pros and cons and it’s worth doing research on what each offers. For example, Windows tablets are fully-fledged laptops but in a tablet format. This means you’ll have access to the same applications as you would on your desktop computer but also have the flexibility of a tablet format. iOS devices (iPads, iPhones) can be pricey, but they have good support with a lot of apps. The interface is more basic than Windows and Android devices which can be beneficial for users who don’t want to customise their experience too much. Android devices vary in prices depending on who manufactures them and support for devices can also vary. However, lower price points with a multitude of apps can make these an affordable option. Of course, these are generalisations of each platform but the point is to encourage you to research your options first.

Other features that you will need to consider will be options such as 4G vs WiFi (do you need Internet access outside of the office?), what accessories you’ll need (e.g. cases, keyboards etc) and your overall budget.

Get mobile and grow!

Disability services that want to stay competitive and grow, need to realise that mobile devices are having a significant impact on how we engage both clients and staff. However, the change that mobile technology is bringing also reveals new opportunities to provide more flexible service that can better meet the needs for both of them and allow traditional services to innovate.

How will your organisation embrace the change and use it to make a difference in the lives of others?