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Mobile Campus 05/01/04

Semper Wi-Fi
By Craig Settles

When people discuss ROI and mobility, government organizations often come across as the red-headed stepchildren, because profit is generally not part of their business lexicon. However, agencies still have costs and operating efficiencies that are tied to delivering the finished goods, which are services, so they can be significantly impacted by mobile tech. Local, state and federal agencies can look to reduce costs and increase efficiency by implementing mobile technologies such as wireless LANs (Wi-Fi). By isolating particular areas of operation, agencies can determine how Wi-Fi can reduce expenses. Following the Form Forms processing is a reality for almost every government department and an expense that mobility can cut. Identify where in the process the technology can help, quantify current costs and potential savings, pilot test the mobile products and then fully deploy those applications that are cost-justified. How much cost is there for printed paper you distribute to people walking in for everything from tax forms to license applications? If you determine that 10 percent of the folks coming into your office for these forms have PDAs and laptops, make the paperwork available through Wi-Fi to download to mobile devices. Besides saving paper, you save constituents’ time and staff time distributing the forms (the latter being a quantifiable part of the ROI equation). If people can complete these forms and return them electronically, you also save data entry processing time, another quantifiable number in the ROI calculation. Next quantify the costs associated with the forms that agency employees process, such as building, health and other inspectors, auditors, or public health and safety staff. Three big costs you incur are: 1) time to complete forms; 2) legibility and errors; and 3) data entry by office staff who receive the forms from field workers. With mobile devices that have Wi-Fi access, workers can complete forms faster (quantifiable time) and eliminate paper costs. They can sync their devices at hot spots around town, saving travel time, or on desktops back in the office. Either way, you cut costs for double data entry and errors. All of these time savings go into an ROI equation. There are large agencies that warehouse and distribute equipment, supplies and other hard goods to employees. Wi-Fi, along with embedded wireless devices, enables you to reduce inventory and warehouse management costs. You can eliminate more paper processing, prevent theft and better track material. Wi-Fi holds another ROI value—cutting costs of future expenditures. With the increased focus on national security, you will see biometrics, document scanning and mobile voice applications being deployed by local and national agencies in airports, stadiums and other public places. The costs of computer network cables and installation can be significantly reduced with Wi-Fi access points. This is just one facet of building the ROI for mobile technology. As you review other elements of your agency’s business operations, you should start seeing more opportunities to reduce costs and increase operating efficiency.• Craig Settles is president of and the author of Wireless, Inc.