When you think about how quickly technology progresses and leaves its predecessors outdated and obsolete, it may seem wise to put off purchasing the latest hardware or software packages. Take PCs, for instance. In November 2000, Intel introduced the Pentium 4 processor, which is one-and-a-half times faster than its predecessor, the Pentium III, and more than 20 times faster than previous Pentium processors. Those who want to execute more demanding applications such as digital video, voice recognition, and online gaming are forced to shell out thousands of dollars on new computers. Besides the PC market, this tough decision is also rampant in the wireless technology market. Should IT buyers wait for wireless bandwidth to increase before implementing enterprise-wide wireless solutions? Should CIOs wait for some all-in-one device that will eliminate the need for a separate cell phone, pager, and PDA (personal digital assistant)? If you wait for wireless bandwidth to increase, wireless protocols to be standardized, and a Dick Tracy-like wireless device to make your IT decisions for you, realize this - you're missing out on what wireless technology has to offer right now. And, your loss could mean your competitors' gain.
How Wireless Can Help You...Now
Hank Margolis, chief wireless officer of iConverse (Waltham, MA), has seen the advantages of wireless technology in the pharmaceutical industry, for example. "Everyone knows how difficult it can be to get an appointment with your family physician. For a salesman, getting an appointment with the same physician to try to sell him the latest prescription drug is even tougher," says Margolis. "Traditionally, it would take several weeks and two or three appointments before a sales rep could show the product, get the doctor the right information about the product, do a credit check, and finally place the order. Now, with wireless technology, pharmaceutical reps can carry fewer products and less paper, and they can reduce multiple appointments down to one." Besides affording anytime and anywhere access to inventory and product descriptions, wireless technology and handheld devices can be used to do instant credit checks, place product orders, and process payments all within the same appointment. The time savings enable doctors and pharmaceutical reps to focus on their core competencies - seeing patients and selling products, respectively. "In a market as competitive as prescription and over-the-counter drugs, telling a doctor you'll get back to them in a few days versus providing immediate information can make the difference between closing the deal and losing out."
A small sampling of other vertical markets that are reaping the benefits of wireless technology are education (see "Wireless Technology Goes To School," Feb. 2001, Integrated Solutions), the automotive industry (see "RFID: The Ultimate In Car Security," July 2001, Integrated Solutions), and the medical field (see "Wireless Technology Gets Its PhD," April 2001, Integrated Solutions). Some of the benefits realized in these arenas include anytime access to classroom/university information on laptops, improved security, and anywhere access to patient records.
Avoid These Wireless Entanglements
Not only do enterprises have to choose which wireless platform and operating systems to use, they also have to decide which device(s) to support, which of their enterprise solutions they want to wirelessly enable, and which wireless protocol to use. Industry players note five points for capitalizing on wireless technology.
According to Matt Tripani, executive VP and co-founder of Novarra (Arlington Heights, IL), the first thing enterprises need to choose is the software. "Most wireless software applications and middleware require enterprises to use that wireless software's API (application program interface)," says Tripani. The API is a specific method that a programmer must follow to interface one application to another. "API requirements result in expensive, time-consuming customized projects," says Tripani. "You can avoid this pitfall by going with a software application that uses a more open architecture. This will enable the programmer to install the program in a few hours as opposed to several months."
The next important consideration involves the particular enterprise application being wirelessly enabled. A good rule here, according to Jeff Ross, director of business development at Wireless Knowledge (San Diego), is less is more. "Enterprise applications such ERP (enterprise resource planning) and CRM (customer relationship management) are high-powered solutions with fancy graphical displays and tons of reporting features. To attempt to migrate all this functionality to a wireless device is bandwidth suicide," says Ross. "Enterprises need to focus on the critical aspects of their applications that are mission-critical to the field workers' success. Rarely is it ever necessary to offer more than 30% of an enterprise application's functionality to a wireless device." Offering a fraction of an enterprise application's functionality to a wireless device will allow the device to operate faster by freeing up its memory. Additionally, it will help field workers to be more organized and access information more quickly because they will have shorter lists to scroll through and can get to their information in fewer clicks.
The third consideration to keep in mind before purchasing a wireless solution involves choosing the carrier. "Because each carrier has unique merits, one carrier probably won't meet all your needs," says Matt Tripani; "therefore, you will need to harness the strengths of multiple carriers. For instance, a carrier may have stronger signal coverage in one region but be weak in another." Additionally, businesses need to consider what types of wireless protocols are offered. One business may need SMS (short message service) to send text messages while another will require WAP (wireless application protocol) to send voice messages. Other businesses may need to send both text and voice via CDPD (cellular digital packet data).
The fourth point to consider is which devices are right for your enterprise. "The notion that one multi-function device is better than carrying several stand-alone devices is unrealistic," says Kevin Bruder, analyst for the IDC Group. "Most people want small, light, and inexpensive devices they can stick in their pockets and not worry about. When you get into convergent devices you go against the grain of these wishes. With a convergent wireless device, you are now looking at a $500 to $700 price tag, not to mention a heavy and bulky handheld that, if broken, eliminates your ability to page, talk on the phone, and check your e-mail all at once." When it comes to technology, it is very risky to put all your eggs in one basket.
The fifth important factor to consider before purchasing a wireless solution is security. For businesses that send sensitive data over the airwaves, such as social security numbers and credit card information, security is a top concern. "For wireless devices that send and receive sensitive data, TLS (transport layer security) encryption protocol can be used to transmit data," says Tripani. Enterprises that require additional security may incorporate a VPN (virtual private network) to protect their data. A VPN is a private data network that makes use of the public telecommunication infrastructure. What makes the transmission of data more secure over a VPN versus a normal telephone line is that it is equipped with a point-to-point tunneling protocol. Additionally, wireless devices can be equipped with special authentication features known as biometrics to ensure that the person using the device is an authorized user, based on the user's fingerprint or retinal scan. The only downside to using encryption is that it can dramatically increase the bandwidth and thereby slow down data transmission. Each enterprise needs to balance this reality with the sensitivity of its data being transmitted.
Don't Wait For Wireless Utopia
Questions about this article? E-mail the author at JayM@corrypub.com.
The future of wireless mobile computing promises better coverage, bigger bandwidth, and more devices. Some end users will respond to the promises by holding out for the perfect moment when they can implement a wireless solution that has flawless security, bandwidth comparable to their desktop PC connections, and devices that have high-resolution color displays and complex graphics. Don't fool yourself. Downloading large files and watching videos on wireless devices is appealing to the masses, but it has very little to do with extending your enterprise to mobile workers. While wireless utopia is off in the distance, the time to capitalize on wireless technology for your enterprise is here...now.