UK firms’ enterprise mobile solutions won’t pay off unless ROI gets re-evaluated, according to a new report from Forrester Research Ltd. (Nasdaq: FORR). Forrester asserts that firms must understand how mobile apps deliver value across a range of employee-activity types — process, knowledge and interaction — to generate up to 269% ROI over five years.

“Hype about the far-reaching impact of mobile technology on the workplace is not a new phenomenon,” said Caroline Sceats, analyst at Forrester. “Successful proprietary mobile device manufacturers have been helping UK companies equip their staff with mobile devices to remove errors in areas like inventory processing for the past 10 years. But, despite this experience with mobile technology, most UK firms’ mobile solutions haven’t evolved beyond the 1990s. To move forward, firms must stop issuing handhelds as status perks to high-profile executives — like they do today with mobile phones. Evolution to successful business mobilization projects by 2005 requires firms to focus on process, knowledge and interaction activities, improving pre-defined process steps, increasing personal productivity business impacts and extending business efficiencies outside the organization.”

Process activities use mobile apps to cut errors in areas like inventory management and distribution, reducing the costs of goods storage, and improving the utilization of trucks and production lines. For example, a major clothing manufacturer can cut shipping errors by 10% by scanning goods into and out of trucks — resulting in a 3% overall saving in the cost of distribution.

Knowledge activities extend access to the right information over mobile devices, allowing firms with high levels of laptop usage to take advantage of a lower ongoing total cost of ownership (TCO) when handhelds are combined with desktops. For instance, an investment bank replacing 750 laptops with combined desktops and handhelds can realize £2.25 million in device cost savings.

Interaction activities use mobile apps to build revenues through branding and service, like self-service apps for frequent fliers in airport hotspots, but fall far outside corporate IT groups’ control — making payback difficult to realize. But for firms with more than 70% external distribution or service personnel, like computer manufacturers, increasing supply capacity through handheld devices can add 1% to annual revenues.

“Currently, UK firms don’t have a consistent approach to the vendors they use for developing mobile handheld apps — no single vendor has a truly strong offering, and device manufacturers are often chosen as a stopgap solution. But firms should match mobility vendors’ experience to activities to get the best solutions,” Sceats added. “Indeed, for process activities, they need to choose established ex-proprietary vendors; for knowledge activities, they need to choose standard OS and app specialists; and for interaction activities, they need to find the right app vendor first, then pick the device that it runs best on.”

For the report “Winning Enterprise Mobile ROI,” Forrester spoke with 60 UK FTSE 500 firms about their current and future use of handheld devices for mobile and static employees.