January 28, 2006



Posted: 11.04

The Numbers Game Continues

When it comes to making an ROI case for wireless applications, the benefits of wireless e-mail and PIM access are difficult for many to quantify but easy for them to justify, particularly once deployed.
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By Craig Settles

When it comes to making an ROI case for wireless applications, the benefits of wireless e-mail and PIM access are difficult for many to quantify but easy for them to justify, particularly once deployed. As Brett Burney, practice support specialist for the legal firm Thompson Hine LLP, states, “I don’t know how to go about finding solid numbers, but there’s no way I could get the attorneys here to give up their [palmOne] Treos, either.”

Some organizations without wireless e-mail may be struggling to find specific figures to justify the investment, while those that have deployed wireless e-mail and PIM applications are no doubt exploring ways to increase their ROI. What follows will give you a handle on the ROI question, as well as a snapshot of total cost of ownership (TCO) issues and advancements in mobile technology that can impact ROI.

By the Numbers—Or Not

To cost-justify your investment in wireless e-mail, there are two areas to consider: time saved by professionals and time saved by the IT staff supporting your mobile professionals. Bob Ewald, senior director of Wireless Data Services at Nextel, references a 2004 study of RIM BlackBerry users that reports: “The average user converts 54 minutes of downtime into productive time per day. This equates to 196 hours per user per year in recovered downtime. Users also see a 29 percent increase in the efficiency of the teams with which they work.”

More conservative results were reported in a 2003 study from the Gartner Group, which pegged the time saved as two hours per week. Assume that your organization’s per-person time savings will likely fall somewhere between two and five hours per week. Then put a dollar amount on your savings by calculating how much your execs are worth per hour and voilà—your ROI estimate.

However, a tough-minded CFO could throw a monkey wrench into the discussion with the question: “How do we know people use those extra minutes to do work? They could take the time we save them to send personal e-mail or play games.” Getting busy professionals to stop long enough to tell you about their time usage after deploying PDAs is difficult, so now what do you do?

There are other benchmarks you can use to make an ROI case. Jimmy Johnson, a spokesperson for palmOne, observed that, “One law firm we work with used to spend an hour every Monday coordinating attorneys’ schedules using a paper-based system. But once they got wireless PIM access, they didn’t need to meet. These four hours a month are now billable for each attorney and justifies their investment.”

Burney has seen a savings from reduced calls for IT support. “Good Technology syncs all aspects of our PIM applications wirelessly so users don’t need a cradle to sync devices with a desktop or laptop. We had few calls during deployment, and overall we’ve eliminated the support calls we used to get when lawyers had laptops, as well as dial-in charges.

Organizations are finding that the ROI for wireless e-mail is being driven more by competitive advantage as management-level knowledge workers and C-level executives are rapidly adopting smartphones. Many professionals have stories about deals won because wireless e-mail enabled them to respond faster than competitors.

Valkyrie Commissioning is a small company in a crowded, competitive field that provides commissioning/de-commissioning and other services on oil and gas pipelines. Valkyrie attributes much of its significant growth to the ability to respond quickly to customers, which Remo wireless e-mail service from Xpherix helps it do. Workers now can immediately source, purchase and confirm delivery of parts and avoid delays in routine communication that could lead to higher costs for Valkyrie and its customers.

The TCO factor

The discussion in some organizations is expanding beyond “How much time can we save?” and “How much faster can we respond?” to “How can we lower our TCO?” There are several possible options.
Although some think of TCO as a business operations issue, there is also end user TCO. For individual professionals, there are often learning-curve and ease-of-use challenges with technology. The greater the time and aggravation “cost” of overcoming these challenges, the less people will use mobile applications and devices.

One way to minimize TCO is to eliminate the time-consuming need for users to cradle and sync mobile devices with laptops when you deploy wireless e-mail. The ability to perform over-the-air data syncing between mobile devices and back-end servers, which Visto, Good, RIM, Intellisync and others do, also reduces TCO. Dialing into the corporate network to sync PIM data is a major burden for mobile users and the IT staff who support users’ calls.

Deploying applications and devices that support file attachments can further reduce end user TCO. It’s time-consuming to receive an important document, be unable to read it and need to hunt around to find a facility where you can print the file. In time, advances in device design should enable near-universal support for attachments.

For small and mid-sized organizations, minimizing TCO is an even greater challenge since their IT departments and budgets are relatively small. While vendors often tout the ability of a product to scale up to thousands of users, some organizations need vendors that can scale down to dozens, such as Visto, which supports individuals and small groups or companies through a Personal Edition of its Visto Mobile Enterprise application.

Xpherix’s Remo for Business helps organizations minimize TCO by maximizing what they already have. Various wireless carriers re-sell this $7.99 per-month-per-user service, which lets professionals with any of the carriers’ data cell phones view, forward, reply to or delete their e-mail, which never leaves their organization’s server. Confidential e-mail is not at risk if the phones are lost or stolen. Users can also view calendar and contact information.

While mobile phones are not ideal for lengthy messages, being able to view and send short e-mail and do basic e-mail management tasks with them is all that many people need. Compared to the costs of buying and deploying software, new devices, wireless cards for laptops and monthly data plans, plus the potential loss of critical data on stolen devices, the tradeoffs are acceptable to many budget-conscious organizations.

Technology Advancements Could Impact ROI

Of the various continuing advancements to wireless and mobile technology, there are several that could improve the initial ROI for wireless e-mail and PIM applications.

Rip Gerber, chief marketing officer at Intellisync, states, “Organizations need to evaluate integration with any kind of application that was in the enterprise when wireless e-mail and PIM solutions were first bought. Wireless e-mail is the ticket to the dance, but it offers a small ROI, relative to the overall mobility initiative.”

For example, palmOne’s Johnson believes that professional
services firms may build or buy a billing system feature that allows a user with a wireless PIM scheduler to enter data in one application that automatically rolls over to the other. He also observes that, “Instant messaging continues to gain steam, and an IM product, such as VeriChat, will allow users to receive alerts about unread e-mail. Users can also add voice memos to e-mail with the PDA’s recording feature.”

Multimedia capabilities being built into mobile devices offer some new functions for wireless e-mail. Nextel recently announced Push-to-Email, a service that allows users to record and send a voice response to e-mail. MobiTV from Idetic enables mobile phones to play TV broadcasts, a capability that can be used by corporations to create custom channels and video content that can be sent as files attached to e-mail.

Applications such as those from Intellisync are introducing “intelligent” rule-based syncing capabilities that enable a device to push out only the e-mails that meet a filtering criteria set by the user. Other features will truncate e-mail, based on whether the user has a laptop or a PDA.

“The greatest improvement to ROI will come from convergence and the ease of deployment when one device is the ultimate business tool—phone, PDA, laptop, walkie-talkie, etc.—the Swiss Army knife for the mobile professional,” states Nextel’s Ewald. “Then a company only has to deploy a single device for access to all company information.”

Burney of Thompson Hines concurs. “The lines between devices are blurring so much that people will eventually demand to have a small device that helps them manage all aspects of their lives rather than needing several devices. Professionals need to be able to access business e-mail, but they’re already getting personal e-mail from the same source. They will want all of their contacts in one database.

Determining ROI for wireless applications will continue to be an exercise that’s two parts math, one part mysticism. But spending time with the professionals who face the challenge of maintaining a competitive edge and profitability is key to how well you identify and execute strategies to boost ROI while streamlining TCO. •

Craig Settles is president and CEO of Calif.-based Successful.com.

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