Stepping Up
June 2003 - By Theresa A. Nelson

Remote access to messages—including e-mail, voicemail and fax—has improved business for the mobile professional. But, obtaining messages when away from the office is only the first step. To be more productive, responsive and cost-effective, today’s professionals also need real-time access to enterprise data, additional business-critical information stored within company databases.

It’s a Mobile World
Due, in part, to an increasingly competitive environment and enabling technology, the number of enterprises with mobile workers is growing rapidly across Europe, Asia and North America. According to Gartner Inc., a leading research and advisory firm, 60 percent of enterprises worldwide will have one or more mobile user groups by 2005.

The “mobile workforce” is changing. It no longer consists only of salespeople and traveling executives. A mobile professional is anyone who has to stay in touch when away from the office, whether during a weeklong business trip abroad or an hour-long commute home.

Accessing Data
Until recently—when on a trip, commuting or working from the field—remote workers have followed a tried and true method to gathering enterprise data. Actually, tried but truly ineffective.

For example, a mobile worker urgently needs information stored within programs at the office. She calls from a cell phone and asks for her assistant. Unfortunately, the assistant is unavailable so another employee works to gather the needed data, but his computer does not authorize access to the information ... and so on. Rather than obtaining the facts and moving on to related tasks, the mobile professional finds herself in an ongoing game of tag to find someone who can send the data.

Conversely, wireless data access would enable the mobile professional to access enterprise data via a remote device all while waiting at the restaurant for her lunch meeting. A “power lunch” even before it starts. Technologies used in this scenario may include Web-enabled mobile phones, PDAs, laptops and other remote devices.

“Data” to be accessed ranges in size and type. Needed information may be account status, customer lists or other details from Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) or other enterprise databases. Once database access is enabled, real power is displayed when mobile workers obtain and control the data and documents along with messages and then deliver the information to specified destinations.

With a secure connection to enterprise data from locations outside the company, an increased ability to conduct business even when away from the office leads to several benefits:

- Productivity. Employees are able to conduct business
where they are rather than when they can get back to the office.
-Responsiveness. Remotely accessible status updates and information for customers can lead to faster and more consistent answers and attention from mobile professionals.
- Cost-efficiency. Better access to enterprise information can shorten sales and billing cycles and lead to other business process improvements.
- Morale. Rather than feeling out-of-touch, powerful solutions for working away from the office may foster more positive attitudes that push mobile employees to take more pride in their work.

Overall, access to and control of wireless data powers mobile professionals’ ability to do their job just as effectively on the road as in the office.

Traits of an Effective Mobile Wireless Solution
While still in its infancy, various solutions for wireless data access exist. A robust and well-planned solution includes several components and capabilities.

Integration of data and messaging
A powerful remote solution combines access to enterprise data with access to messages and messaging capabilities. With this integration, information along with voice, fax and e-mail messages are easily obtained from the desktop, telephone, laptop (with a wireless card) and Web-enabled mobile device such as a mobile phone or PDA.

An integrated solution offers more freedom for obtaining and acting on information. Professionals may attain enterprise data and then forward as an e-mail or fax. With advanced messaging capabilities, they can also more easily respond to messages. For instance, text-to-speech and voice reply options can extend existing capabilities by allowing users to listen and reply to e-mails via voice messages (with a .WAV attachment).

Ability to access data from various enterprise databases
Today’s companies depend upon a myriad of systems to drive critical functions. Among these are back office solutions that are prohibitively expensive to replace. An effective mobile wireless solution offers data access that integrates with back office systems, extending to a mobile device what is already valuable and woven into company processes.

This functionality includes the ability to read, edit and delete business-critical data from CRM, ERP and otherenterprise databases in various formats such as ODBC, OLEDB and LDAP. A useful feature would offer the capability to deliver information from several databases to one application on the mobile side. The conglomeration of disparate details offers the user a more clear, concise, useable format for review.

Device- and network-independence
Mirroring the importance of working with existing back office solutions, an effective data solution integrates with diverse wireless devices and company infrastructures. It does not require an entirely new system, including new hardware and network renditions. The most efficient wireless data extension will simply broaden what is already in place.

Scalability and Extendibility
Scalability relates to the number of users allowed on a data solution while extendibility points to the number of access points. Both are important features of a useful solution as they demonstrate the capacity to grow with company expansion.

As an organization increases its workforce it adds users who will need wireless access to company information. These users, spread across various locations, require additional access points for gaining the essential data. A solution with high scalability and extendibility can handle businesses from small to infinite amounts of users and access points. The solution would also take into account the global aspects of today’s companies and localize languages appropriately.

Secure Connection
Security in the wireless world is an insistent challenge—enabling information access anytime and anywhere, but barring “just anyone” from reaching it. For the greatest protection, users may investigate Web-based data solutions. Since Web-based solutions do not store data on the mobile device all information and passwords remain safely within the enterprise, regardless of whether the device itself is lost or stolen.

Another layer of security is offered by solutions that employ a synchronized database placed inside a firewall. In this case, even if an unauthorized user accesses the copy database, it is highly unlikely the hacker could breach the system to make changes in the host data.

As with other solutions, wireless access products often require customization to fill the requirements of its unique organization. Easy-to-manage features affect the level of care and training information technology (IT) personnel require to successfully employ and integrate the solutions. For example, a product with a clear and intuitive graphical user interface (GUI) allows an IT manager to use existing resources to customize the program, rather than an expensive, outsourced developer.

Industry Applications
An effective mobile wireless solution offers valuableproductivity and efficiency to a variety of industries. Take for example:

- The wholesale distributor who uses integrated capabilities to confirm product availability and then complete a customer’s transaction while still on site by faxing or e-mailing the order from a mobile device directly to the warehouse.
- The utilities field worker who updates a service incident or service ticket status on location immediately upon completion of a job.
-The building inspector who uses mobile data capture to view and manage work orders. With this real-time access, the inspector then adjusts the itinerary to minimize travel time and maximize the amount of work to be completed in the day.

As the real-world examples illustrate, organizations need not stress about a one-time buy for all wireless systems. Companies can designate the business functions that benefit from greater mobility and then activate the solutions within those teams before rolling them out company-wide.

The example users also recognize the return on investment from an effective wireless data solution. It extends the existing infrastructure with higher productivity, responsiveness and cost-efficiency—increasing the return from investments already made. In the end, employing a mobile wireless solution is a vital step for keeping pace in today’s competitive environment.

Theresa A. Nelson is vice president of marketing for Captaris.


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