Mobile computing has started to offer great freedom to workers and managers who are often away from their offices – being able to download email or check your diary while on the road can make life easier when time really counts. Sometimes, though, mobile technology just replaces old frustrations with new ones, writes Brendan Peo, country manager at HansaWorld SA.

It’s great being able to synchronise the calendar on your mobile device with the office every morning while you’re travelling – but all too often, that leaves both you and your office thinking you’re free at 11am next Tuesday, leading to potentially embarrassing double bookings. In the same way, although it’s always useful to know what your stock availability was at 7am this morning, it would be even more useful to know that one of your colleagues placed a huge order at 9am.

In fact, none of these frustrations are necessary – and no, you don’t need more expensive technology to enjoy the freedom of real-time mobile access to all your company data.  All you need at your head office is a fixed IP address and an internet connection – ADSL is fine. No Diginet lines, virtual private networks, expensive servers or routers are necessary.

On the road, you don’t even need a laptop, which some people find bulky and awkward to use. Any mobile device running Pocket PC 2003 or Windows Mobile Edition 5.0 or higher, or any of the new-generation smartphones running the Symbian operating system, can give you full access not just to your diary, but to all your company data from stock levels to financial information.

The devices and connectivity to achieve this have been available for several years already – a simple GPRS connection and handheld device is all you need, from a hardware point of view, to be able to view stock levels, place orders and check the latest profit statement from anywhere you want, anytime you want.

The secret is having the right software back at the office. Most ERP systems now on the market offer some level of mobile access to email, calendars and task lists, but access to the full range of ERP functionality is still rare. If mobility is important to you, choose an ERP system that stores all company information in a single database and offers real-time access. Then make sure the system is fast with low bandwidth requirements to enable speed – real-time mobile access becomes a joke if it takes several minutes to load a screen while your client looks on impatiently.

Your aim should be a system that makes your mobile device or laptop a full-functioning extension of your LAN. You should be able to see the same data and do the same work, at much the same speed, whether you’re in the office, at home, in an airport lounge or sitting in a client’s boardroom.

For managers, whose main requirement tends to be the ability to view information, a smartphone like the Nokia communicators, N-series or E-series phones are a good bet. For members of the sales team who also need to be able to place orders, a handheld device with a touch screen is a good choice.

Given these mobile devices and an internet connection at the office, it’s entirely possible to be up and running with full mobile access in five minutes: no capital investment required.

This is the most revolutionary aspect of the new generation of ERP and mobility solutions: you really don’t have to be big and well-funded to enjoy the benefits of wide-area networking. It can be both simple and cheap. HansaWorld South Africa has offered this functionality locally for sometime now.

I know one company, which used to pride itself on delivering orders within two or three days, whose sales staff are now able to close meetings saying quite truthfully “It’ll be with you this afternoon”. Now that’s a benefit worth paying attention to.