Magazine Article | May 1, 2001

Wireless For The Long Haul

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

We've all heard the wireless doubts...the pitfalls, the hesitancies. Despite this, industry professionals agree - wireless technology is here to stay and will change business as we know it.

Integrated Solutions, May 2001

They were not just phases or fads. In fact, the cell phone revolutionized the way we communicate. And the Internet revolutionized the way we get information, products, and services. Now, contrary to the belief that today's solutions have too many pitfalls, industry professionals believe our next leap forward will be wireless connectivity. Sure, wireless is not completely ubiquitous. There are still pockets around the United States that don't have wireless data coverage. But industry professionals believe the technology and devices will evolve and business as usual will change. "The market will grow by leaps and bounds over the next few years," explains Trilok Manocha, CEO and president of River Run Software Group (Stamford, CT), "to the point that these solutions will become the standard way of doing business for companies with mobile workers."

Add Checks And Balances, Increase Productivity
Enterprises everywhere are trying to obtain a tighter grasp on the workforce. They're trying to improve efficiencies and reduce costs within the supply chain. But let's face it, field employees leave in the morning and come back at the end of the day. And that's as close as many employers come to checks and balances. However, wireless solutions are changing that. "Newer offerings will enable wireless e-mail and PIM (Prodigy instant messaging) synchronization to an organization's existing groupware systems," adds Manocha. "These are necessary first steps. The real value will occur when wireless solutions can combine information from multiple sources, such as companies' intranet sites, legacy systems, and business logic."

Today, wireless technology can allow the entire enterprise to communicate with the mobile workforce, thereby increasing productivity. "IBM and Sears field technicians have been using wireless devices to get dispatched, do parts queries in the field, and send status information back to the enterprise," explains Manocha. "The significant change occurring in field service is that technology is making wireless solutions affordable for small- and medium-sized companies." In the transportation space, a long-haul trucker can deliver a load in California and using wireless technology, find the next load that he wants to bring back with him to Arkansas. "Enterprises need their people to have access to the latest information and in many cases, they want changed information to be pushed to their users," adds Manocha. "Furthermore, organizations want the mobile solutions to be intelligent in the sense that they eliminate potential mistakes by the mobile workers." Despite this, most agree we're in an early-adopter stage of our leap toward wireless technology.

Follow The Leader, Make An Investment
Initially companies will have to make an investment. They will have to put in the infrastructure to take this leap forward. And because of this, there has been hesitancy in certain market segments. "We have seen companies hold off on wireless implementations," says Manocha. "This is usually the result of ignorance or fear of attempting something new." But in marketplaces where leaders have stepped up and proven wireless technology is advantageous, these doubts are quickly dwindling. "For example, in the LTL (less than truckload) marketplace there is a company called NewPenn," explains Erik Bleyl, VP of transportation logistics at Aether Systems (Owings Mills, MD). "NewPenn became the standard in trucking when it automated its full distribution line so that it could track pallets and shipments. Other companies are now looking at NewPenn and saying, 'Wow, their efficiencies are 10% to 20% better than anyone.'" In the packaged delivery space there are companies such as FedEx and UPS doing the same thing. "They've gone to delivery automation to help reduce not only internal operating costs, but also shrinkage," adds Bleyl. "With tracking, these companies can see how much product was returned, what wasn't delivered, etc."

While in these markets competitive advantage is the driving force behind most implementations, ROI (return on investment) may come in various forms explains Bleyl. "We have a customer where ROI came in the form of a reduced time/money loss. Manocha says, "We have seen payback in six to nine months, which is longer than most fads. This is proof that wireless technology is here for the long haul."

Questions about this article? E-mail the author at StacyM