Getting wireless

The business case for going wireless may be obvious, but IT managers must monitor the benefits to the business and make sure the...

The business case for going wireless may be obvious, but IT managers must monitor the benefits to the business and make sure the end-user is ready to adapt.

Most IT managers have been inundated with marketing messages on the potential benefits of wireless data solutions. Although some of this is hype, the core message is real: enterprise applications for mobile workers can yield large returns.

The benefits typically involve greater efficiency and increased productivity, which may translate into a reduction in staffing requirements and payroll costs. For example, increased productivity from service support staff can be quantified by the number of calls completed or additional calls a day. For enterprise resource planning, access to real-time inventory information can lead to more efficient ordering and lower inventory costs. Automated workflows also reduce duplication and human error, result in better data input, greater billing accuracy, accelerated cash flow and reduced administrative costs.

The benefits of deploying mobile office applications, such as Notes or Outlook, are harder to quantify. The most common method is to assign a value to time-savings based on an employee's annual salary, where half an hour saved would equate to a monetary gain. However, the notion that each employee is spending every minute of the day being productive is a fallacy.

The benefits of easily accessible e-mail, however, are obvious, especially for employees who are frequently away from the office. Better response times, reduced fixed dial-up costs, convenience and increased employee morale can also be used as justifications.

Falling hardware and software costs, reliable packet data networks and greater collaboration by suppliers all lead to more interoperable end-to-end solutions, which are faster to integrate, have familiar interfaces and are easy to use.

A recent Yankee Group survey of large enterprises in Europe revealed that only 28% of IT managers perceived any difficulty in supporting wireless or mobile workers. Top of the list of perceived barriers were security and network reliability, but down compared to previous years were issues of cost and a convincing business case. About 70% recognised greater efficiency and employee productivity as being the most important benefits.

For those that have yet to invest in wireless technology, it is recommended that firms:
  • Look at business processes and employee functions, identifying the activities, participants and information flows that would gain the most from instant access to company data.

  • Focus on results, not technology. You are looking for a business solution with possibly a wireless component, not the other way around.

  • Consider whether wireless connectivity is required at all and whether a mobile-only solution (involving desktop synchronisation) would suffice.

  • Compile a portfolio of existing devices and systems to identify consolidation opportunities and establish a framework for further purchases.

  • Quantify the benefits and pay-back periods using tangible metrics. Consider benefits such as higher customer satisfaction and improved working environments.

  • Buy proven technology. Do not take productivity claims and solution capabilities at face value, but insist on customer references, preferably from the same industry and from companies with similar business processes.

  • Start with a small trial and set clear goals. This will simplify analysis, training, cost monitoring, the evaluation of benefits and the likelihood of a return on investment.

  • Ensure the solution is as open as possible with a clear upgrade path for different devices or new applications.
The hardest part will come after the deployment. Asking employees to change entrenched work practices is never easy and management must remain committed and obtain buy-in from all affected parties. IT departments cannot drive deployments on their own. Training and monitoring of project efficacy is absolutely essential. Ultimately it is the end-users who will determine whether a project reaps huge benefits or eventually fails.

Farid Yunus is a senior analyst for wireless/mobile in Europe at the Yankee Group Europe. Yunus is giving the keynote address at Enterprise Wireless Technology 2003 at London's Olympia 2 on 19-20 November

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