It seems that wireless has become much like a hot new star in Hollywood—the one everybody is really intrigued about, who is shrouded in a cloud of mystery, who has plenty of potential. But one who hasn’t proven to be an A-list star yet.
The Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA) held a CIO Symposium on mobile high-speed data in Washington, D.C., in July, designed to increase the awareness of IT professionals of the range and capabilities of wireless data products and services. During the educational program, which featured a great degree of interaction between wireless industry experts and the IT community attendees, we learned that there is a high degree of interest in wireless capabilities, but plenty of confusion and concerns, as well. Attendees who had already deployed wireless solutions said they immediately recognized the value, and in fact plan to implement additional and more sophisticated solutions in the future based on their experiences to date. They are hungry for more information and want the tools necessary to convince executives holding the purse strings to bless additional deployments.
Sure there is some confusion and many questions, but the enterprise community is finally beginning to get it. While the economic situation may have stunted enterprise adoption, the continuing hardships faced by companies required to do more with less have only crystallized the importance of useful productivity solutions.
The CIO Challenge
The day’s keynote speaker, Bob Egan of Mobile Competency, made some very interesting points. Within the next year, he said, 90 percent of CIOs will not meet their primary business mandates if they don’t implement a mobile strategy. This, added to the fact that some early-adopter employees are already implementing their own solutions as “prosumers,” is forcing CIOs to start controlling this wireless environment.
Their choice is simply to either ignore wireless and let the office techno-whiz add on all kinds of wireless peripherals, which can muck up their systems if not properly managed; or they can get on board and deploy a more elegant, democratic solution.
Much has been written about the need for an established ROI calculator for mobile solutions. But perhaps the most interesting fact raised at the symposium is that despite its pervasiveness, no accepted ROI model exists today for e-mail, let alone wireless. The reason is that both are productivity tools, and productivity tools don’t necessarily have a direct ROI benefit that is easily definable, such as cost reduction or revenue enhancement. It’s not that productivity enhancement tools don’t result in either cost or revenue benefits, it’s just that it is more difficult to demonstrate them mathematically.
Time is a limited resource and wireless adds value to that resource. While many employees are salaried and not necessarily paid by the hour, a company still pays for its employees’ time. The more that time can be useful and productive, the better off the company can be. The power of wireless is that any employee can be productive pretty much anywhere with the right wireless solution.
Security is also raised as a common concern. When addressing the issue at the symposium, attendees learned that security should be an inclusive practice rather than an exclusive, draconian one. Much like the prosumer problem, CIOs must learn that employees are going to find a way to get what they want regardless of the safeguards put in place by the IT administrator, within reason anyway. Savvy employees unhappy with the overly restrictive nature of certain protective measures often sidestep security solutions on even Internet access, and will likely find ways to do so in the wireless world.
Just as a CIO should incorporate useful wireless solutions to avoid rogue employees implementing their own solutions, so should they implement security solutions that don’t restrict the very benefit of the wireless solution being deployed. The work-around dreamed up by the employee can be more destructive than not having the solution in place at all.
The Function Key
So what is the “right” mobile solution? Obviously it depends on the function. Wireless doesn’t always mean mobile in the broad sense of the term. A factory worker who needs to physically check various machines and make progress updates within a predefined space could very easily do so with a Wi-Fi solution and compatible device. A road-warrior salesman requiring constant access to e-mail or inventory levels, on the other hand, would likely want a wireless wide area network (WWAN) solution that worked with either a laptop or handheld device.
Designing the proper solution is just as important as the thoughtful deployment of it. It boils down to mobile value. According to Egan, mobile value can be calculated thusly: Mobile value = (urgency X mobility) + (convenience + technology transparency). A corporate IT profile that includes wireless as a key initiative aligned with all other IT applications, as well as voice applications, is central to this multichannel delivery environment.
Perhaps most exciting is the array of tools available to the enterprise, as indicated earlier. Carrier-based WWAN solutions are becoming as readily available as the growing number of wireless LAN connections, giving the enterprise CIO more choices to deploy. Wireless devices now span the spectrum from traditional handsets to smartphones. Nearly every new notebook sold will now include either Wi-Fi connectivity or WWAN network PC Cards.
The advent of Wi-Fi is especially encouraging, given the complementary nature of the technology to the traditional WWAN base. Far from being the death-knell to third-generation WWANs that some overly excited visionaries feel it might be, Wi-Fi is a wonderful solution to fill in the gaps long plaguing the wireless industry, particularly around indoor coverage issues.
Already, there is a growing demand for technologies that can handle roaming between WWAN and WLAN networks. We’ve even seen session transfers being demonstrated at conferences today. In addition, billing solutions that can properly make sense of the various handoffs and data transfers will be in high demand going forward.
The need is becoming clear and is being addressed. This publication’s name change reflects the broadening of wireless adoption from the vertical market to the horizontal space. The buzz is nice. It’s encouraging to see that wireless has received the level of attention we in the industry have long sought. The task upon us now is to continue the existing dialogue with the CIO and IT community so this industry may best meet their needs. CTIA, for its part, will hold several more CIO Symposiums in various locations next year, and more information about that effort will be issued shortly. We’ll look forward to seeing you all there.•
Antony Bruno is assistant VP for wireless Internet
development with CTIA (www.ctia.org). He can be reached at [email protected]