Where Wireless Works

Mobile technology may work even better beyond the executive suite.

Of course, given the current environment, “there also should be a real ROI to make a case for equipping a workforce,” says Hyers. That’s especially true considering that it can cost “$500 or more per piece of equipment, plus whatever monthly service charge and the cost of IT to run it,” he says. Even a cell phone, which is the lowest common denominator in wireless technology, can cost $400 to $500 a year per user.

Determining that ROI is difficult. At NMS, for example, Workman says that an exact ROI “is hard to pinpoint.” But Benjamin Dehn, NMS’s IS director, notes that the real benefits are gains in efficiencies and “relatively error-free communication” to customers. “It’s not so much the ROI we measure, as the added value that we are giving to customers,” he insists.

At BT Europe, however, “some of the biggest surprises have come from seemingly little things that weren’t considered in the initial business plan, like savings from postage,” says Jonas Tornerefelt, vice president of the company’s field-service unit. “Imagine the savings realized by not having to [mail] forms for 1.2 million service orders every year.”

Not for Everyone

How to equip different parts of an organization is an entirely separate issue. Wireless technologies, after all, encompass a huge number of devices, standards, and integrator issues. “But you obviously don’t need a signature reader in the executive suite,” says Hyers, adding that “the more application-specific, the lower down the corporate ladder it goes.”

Still, says Jodoin, given that 10 million to 12 million PDAs have been sold worldwide versus 425 million cell phones, it’s not surprising that the national cellular carriers have a competitive advantage in this environment, with their widening geographic footprint and added mobile capacities.

Companies are wise to delay the decision on certain specifics of mobile technology, says Guido Bartels, a director of wireless E-business at IBM. “The newest toys are always exciting, but decisions on the technology should always be the last step in the process,” he asserts. Describing his work with clients as “device-agnostic,” Bartels stresses the importance of open standards and flexible architecture when going mobile.

Systems should be judged on their ability to deliver both low-level services, like E-mail and calendar applications, and more-sophisticated processes, such as linking mobile workers directly to the ERP platform. “The biggest failures in mobilizing enterprises come from companies that find themselves stuck with a Ôspaghetti’ of point-to-point solutions,” says Bartels.

Of course, top managers are more likely to value and support any mobile solution if they themselves are mobile, says Peter Finter, a director of enterprise solutions at Canadian network-equipment maker Nortel Networks. At Nortel, 12,000 of the company’s 35,000 employees are “teleworkers” who spend a significant part of their workweek either on the road or in home offices. “Work is an activity, not a location,” says Finter.

But whether management supports it or not, a fully mobile workforce won’t be realized anytime soon. “You can’t expect that every employee will be equipped” with mobile technology, says Hyers, pointing out that numerous employees who work 9 to 5 at their desks do not need to be connected. “Maybe 100 years from now we will see a truly mobile workforce,” he says, “but in the near term, it will remain a function of who needs it.”

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