Finalists such as brewery Charles Wells demonstrate how a strong mobile technology strategy can deliver a tangible business advantage
Analyst IDC predicts that by 2006, 66% of the western European workforce will be using mobile technology. As adoption grows, it brings many challenges. IT departments must secure data across expanded environments (especially as mobile e-mail grows in popularity), understand how network design needs to cope with wireless connectivity and make sure users are aware of usage policies.
Despite the challenges, such technology has many advantages and can help drive business success. "There is clearly vast potential for mobile computing," said Elaine Axby, principal analyst at Quocirca. "More than two-thirds of organisations in our recent survey [Reaching the Wireless Data Tipping Point] are using mobile e-mail in some form or other, even if only in pilots, and about half think there could be widespread deployment across the organisation if a cost-effective solution could be provided."
Charles Wells, the UK's largest independently owned, family-run brewery, is proof of how a mobile strategy can deliver a tangible business advantage. The company is the UK's fifth largest brewery, and five generations on, it is recognised worldwide for the quality and craftsmanship that goes into producing its beers.
Its mobile strategy - Project Atlas - was part of a much larger one designed to increase Charles Wells' national distribution coverage by making contact with "customers of customers" and so generate demand for its brands at the point of consumer purchase. Project Atlas began in October 2004 with a requirement to get 25 new sales people on the road by March 2005, and to launch a new type of sales force tool, one with the ability to communicate information easily to and from head office and regional managers.
Existing national sales personnel sold products into the purchasing departments of a variety of customers - such as major grocery stores, wholesalers, major pub groups and off-licence chains - while the distribution of products to the point of sale was always done by someone else. The new sales force would be targeting the customers of customers (at the point of sale to the consumer), for example in supermarkets and individual pubs. The project's objective was to equip a newly recruited team of sales reps with the means of planning and recording calls, implementing promotions and feeding back results to management.
"A brainstorming session analysed the role of the newly created business development executive, or BDE, and having established the functions required of the role, there followed a rapid assessment of the available communications technologies," said David Geliher, IT manager at Charles Wells.
The Motion M1400 Tablet PC, using an Orange 3G connection supplemented by fixed broadband connection at each sales person's home, was selected for its size/weight ratio, adaptability and security/sign-on functions. Users were able to access a bespoke Domino-based CRM system which contained customer details. The Domino database technology enabled replication to the BDE's tablet PC so he or she could operate independently with the most up-to-date customer information available.
Software was developed to: plan and record the BDE's activity during the customer visit; enable the sales force to obtain real-time support from marketing, technical services or other departments at the brewery; obtain competitor information and retail pricing data; record new business opportunities and automatically update the BDE's diary with agreed future actions. Additional support systems were designed to help the sales force build and maintain good customer relationships.
"The new team has made over 5,000 customer calls to date and supported numerous events and promotion nights," said Geliher. "The project was successful because of close collaboration between the developers, network support, sales management and users, all of whom worked to a very tight schedule to achieve their objective. The project is having the desired effect and producing results, with hundreds of new listings for Bombardier, Corona, Red Stripe and Kirin Ichiban since it went live."
Sales and services
But is this kind of success commonplace? According to Gartner, by 2008, 75% of the sales and services workforce worldwide will be mobile. Organisations have recognised what mobile technologies can do for their business, and the BCS has introduced an award dedicated to mobile computing (the President's Award for Mobile Computing) to its 2005 IT Professional Awards in recognition of this. Rightly, Charles Wells is one of the medallists competing for this award. "The challenge for the IT director is in the huge range of devices and applications," said Axby.
The number of devices in an organisation is growing at an exponential rate and one of the toughest challenges IT directors face is security - enterprises are concerned about wireless security, and rightly so. Workers treat mobile devices, such as PDAs or notebooks, carelessly and see them as a commodity without giving enough consideration to the importance of the data stored on them. It is important for IT directors to keep a track of who has what devices and, more importantly, ensure authorisation and access protocols are in place to protect corporate assets should a device be lost or stolen. Security must be top of the agenda when developing a mobile computing strategy.
But device loss is only part of the puzzle. Gartner estimates that one in five companies has a wireless Lan (Wlan) that the CIO doesn't even know about. Why is this an issue? If a company has deployed Wlans, private rogues may cause interference, open a new security hole, and degrade the sanctioned Wlan's performance or compromise data. Having a strategy in place is critical when it comes to network design and data management because as the number of mobile workers increases, it is becoming harder for IT departments to maintain a helicopter view of their networks.
Network design is therefore critical, but so is the need to develop clearly defined guidelines for usage, training and infrastructure. It is essential that companies implement mobile policies and procedures and enforce them consistently. IT departments must understand how and where devices are being used and what information is being stored within the organisation. Businesses should, for example, audit mobile devices to ensure they comply with corporate legislation and that no illegal software is downloaded on them. This not only ensures correct usage, but will increase productivity.
"Organisations need to set out clear policies that detail how mobile networks should be used: which employees get access to what data, how and where they can access the network (security mechanisms, approved wireless devices), and prioritisation of bandwidth/applications," said Richard Webb, directing analyst at Infonetics Research. "Our research shows that only 42% of organisations with Wlans have such policies, but without one, they are arguably not getting as much from that network as they could."
There is little doubt mobile computing has transformed the business community. However, its rapid advancement requires a professional approach to ensure its cost-effectiveness and strategic relevance in the broader IT environment.
It can increase productivity in certain situations, but the cost and management implications of, for example, additional security and administration, must be considered throughout the deployment process.
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The BCS IT Professional Awards celebrate excellence, professionalism and innovation among UK IT companies. They recognise the contribution of businesses and the individuals within them to the UK's economic prosperity, business efficiency and public services. The awards are divided into the categories: Business Achievement, Technology, Individual Excellence and Women in IT.
Introduced this year, the Mobile Computing Award recognises the implementation of mobile systems that allow for greater business efficiency and other benefits.
The judging process is undertaken by panels of respected senior IT professionals. Winners will be announced at a black-tie dinner to be held at London's Hilton Park Lane at 6.30pm on Thursday 29 September.