IT decision-makers take wireless one step at a time

Exclusive research for Computer Weekly reveals that IT directors and chief information officers are interested in wireless...

Exclusive research for Computer Weekly reveals that IT directors and chief information officers are interested in wireless technology, but they are cautious about implementing it. Andy Favell reports

The wave of enthusiasm for all things wireless has clearly not passed by Computer Weekly readers. An exclusive survey of 700 IT decision-makers has found that all but 13% have either already implemented, or are planning to implement, wireless technology somewhere in the business.

This implementation is taking its time, however. To date, only 25% of companies have actually deployed the technology in the enterprise, while a further 20% are running limited trials.

This knowledge should comfort the 40% of respondents who perceive their mobile strategy as lagging behind their contemporaries'. In fact, only 15% could confidently say that they were ahead of their competitors.

Most respondents said they plan to deploy the technology only in specific functions of the business rather than across the board, and offer mobile functionality to between 10% and 50% of their workforce.

For most IT decision-makers, the prime purpose of wireless technology is to connect employees to the corporate network (68% of respondents), followed by increasing employee mobility (65%) and increasing staff productivity (51%).

Research isolates five key areas where companies plan to adopt mobile technology: use by executives/management (35%); sales (28%); customer services (26%); customer marketing/CRM (23%); and logistics/supply chain (15%).

This approach is endorsed by suppliers, which advise customers to mobilise one application at a time and learn from the experience. To the 40% of respondents that plan to implement a wireless architecture across all areas of the organisation, the message is clear. "They should be more realistic," warned Geoff Hogg, European marketing manager for mobile enterprise solutions at Hewlett-Packard.

Readers voiced considerable concerns, which were led by security risks, at 71%. Rosie Secchi, senior research analyst at IDC, said this figure was higher than expected, perhaps reflecting a preoccupation with wireless local area networks (WLans) rather than with mobile technology as a whole. "Security is not as big an issue as it was one or two years ago," she said.

The supplier community was at pains to point out that things are not as bad as they might seem. "They are right to be concerned, but security issues can now be addressed to everyone's satisfaction," said Hogg.

Other concerns highlighted by the survey included confusion about standards (52%); cost of equipment (47%); cost of implementation (35%); and justifying the business case for the technology (37%).

So what arguments should IT directors put to the board to build a case for implementing wireless technology?

Under current budgetary constraints, it is hardly surprising that return-on-investment arguments were picked out. Specifically, lower running costs (65%), ability to generate additional business (53%) and streamlining of business processes (51%) were more persuasive arguments than staying ahead of the competition (35%) and improved customer responsiveness (33%).

The fixed desktop is beginning to play second fiddle to both laptops and mobile phones. While 68% of respondents use PCs, more than 75% use laptops and 72% mobile phones, while 50% have issued employees with PDAs.

Smartphones and tablet PCs have been rolled out by about about 5% of respondents, while wireless peripherals such as printers are being used by just over 10%.

Notably, 25% of companies have deployed a WLan. This was followed in popularity by Wap, GPRS and Bluetooth, which are being used by 21%, 16% and 13% of businesses respectively.

Meanwhile, public-access Wireless Fidelity (Wi-fi) and Private Mobile Radio (PMR) have been adopted in fewer than 5% of enterprises, and iMode in less than 1% of businesses. There is no evidence of 3G deployment to date.

Most of those companies that do not already use laptops, mobile phones and PDAs are planning to do so in the future. Only 3% of respondents ruled out laptops altogether, while 6% and 7% rule out using mobile phones and PDAs.

More decision-makers plan to avoid than to adopt smartphones and Tablet PCs.

Of the wireless technologies, WLans, Bluetooth and GPRS all get the thumbs up. Of those IT chiefs who have not deployed these technologies already, more plan to do so than not. A WLan is the solution most would choose.

Technologies getting a cool reception included 3G, PMR, Wap, public access Wi-fi and iMode. For 3G, 27% plan to deploy it when it becomes available, while 35% have no plans to use it.

Secchi was not surprised that WLans met with approval while Computer Weekly readers were less enthusiastic about 3G but she said businesses should begin to adopt a more positive outlook to 3G. "Maybe they are thinking short-term," she suggested.

The research
The study was carried out among 700 senior IT decision makers by Enterprise Wireless Technology. The Enterprise Wireless Technology 2002 show, held at Olympia, London, finishes today. For more details go to www.enterprisewireless.co.uk/.

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