Enterprises find some valuable (and kinda awesome) uses for employees’ smartphones.

Most business uses of BYOD are really really boring. Employees demanded – and companies embraced – Bring Your Own Device policies because workers wanted to use their iPhones instead of a company BlackBerry. But it turns out employees do the exact same work functions on their own devices that they used to do on their BlackBerrys: email, calendar and contacts. Only now are enterprises realizing some of the incredible ways they can benefit from the smartphones in their workers’ pockets.

Why the lag in innovation? A couple of reasons. First, BYOD happened very quickly. The concept was rarely discussed before 2011. But, by the end of this year, 83 percent of companies will have a formal policy allowing BYOD. Second, enterprises have struggled to find talented in-house mobile dev teams, slowing down the actual app development process. Third, the ROI case was harder to make for internal tools – how much value is a corporation going to get by developing or buying an app for 500 employees?

Finally! Some interesting employee apps

But that attitude is changing, primarily because enterprises are beginning to identify valuable new ways to benefit from employees’ iPhones and Android handsets. The following cases are illustrative:

But these apps are just the tip of the iceberg.

Unlocking the value of BYOD

The real value for enterprise mobility will come from understanding how smartphones and tablets can bridge the gap between corporate executives (who set company strategies) and employees in the field (who execute them). In particular, mobile devices allow two things: better information exchange and better, more individualized, communication with employees. This is particularly important for enterprises with large numbers of workers outside of a typical office environment.

A Harvard Business Review study on successful strategy execution found that, of “17 Fundamental Traits of Organizational Effectiveness,” five of the top eight factors involved the free flow of information between workers, managers and headquarters. In retail and other environments where employees are not sitting behind desks, smartphones can massively shrink the distance between front-line workers and decision makers.

Eyes and ears on the ground

For example, imagine Big Box Corp. wants to change the way check-out displays look at all of its 1,500 locations. By using the camera, video, and general data collection abilities of smartphones, Big Box’s executives at Big Box HQ could get real-time visibility into how every single store has executed those changes. The execs could then communicate with store managers and make adjustments and suggestions instantly.

While “employee empowerment” sounds like an “Office Space” cliché, mobile enterprise apps will see the best adoption when employees are motivated to use them. In the Harvard study mentioned above, the authors highlighted the importance of providing workers with an understanding of how their everyday choices affect their company’s success. Big Box Corp. could provide performance-based feedback to store employees on how their store’s contributions (or even their personal contributions) have affected the company. This could deliver significant value both for the worker and the enterprise.

Better information exchange through smartphones could well be disruptive. Reducing the distance between corporate executives and field-level workers/managers may cause middle-management roles in large organizations to change. But the long-term effect on revenue and profits will justify the need for short-term readjustments.

BYOD has happened. Companies will triple their enterprise app store offerings in less than five years. The real question, though, is how they will fill those app stores. It will be easy to see which enterprise companies are successful: consumers will receive more consistent experiences at every location where they interact with enterprises, and the enterprises themselves can expect more predictable revenues – and fewer what-went-wrong-this-quarter? moments thanks to better, more uniform execution.

Ollie Benn is VP of Marketing for Zenput.