Taking the Leap
For the majority of enterprises out there that want to mobilize their corporate content, the big question is how to get started. Depending on the type of solution envisioned, mobilizing enterprise data can require partnering with numerous vendors and service providers, not to mention screening competing network technology, device, software solutions, service providers, and consulting services firms.
Vartabedian recommends that companies first evaluate the mobility needs of their workers. Determine which employees are mobile, where their travel takes them, and what their tasks are; and then identify mobile applications that will meet both the users' and the companies' needs. Is the answer a nationwide network and ability to synchronize data in real time, or will campus-only wireless connectivity or intermittent synchronization suffice? "The technologies fall out on their own," Vartabedian promises. He also suggests screening potential partners based on their core capabilities and ability to partner.
Some of the answers might surprise you. Nextel Communications, which pioneered enterprise-centric wireless voice services and led the development of Java-based wireless data services, is the only carrier with in-house systems integration expertise, according to wireless data advocate Brenda Lewis, principal of Transactions Marketing, Inc.
Traction Software, Inc., which provides enterprise weblog software that Fortune 100 firms use to share information among team workers, can now configure its content for delivery and display on wirelessly connected PDAs.
Mobile phone giant Nokia, known as a consumer-focused company, is a well-established supplier of network security appliances and VPN client technologies. It is now going all out to deliver smart devices that it believes will help convince enterprises to adopt its mobile data, security, and VPN technologies. It is also developing applications targeted to specific markets, such as its new camera phone programs aimed at the real estate industry.
Jake Sagehorn, director and general manager of Nokia's business applications business unit, says his company will work directly with large enterprise customers who have serious need to integrate applications into a device. Companies wanting to work more independently can tap into Forum Nokia, its developer community, to find third parties who can build applications in close cooperation with wireless carriers.
How Far to Jump?
Just because advocates say corporate content can be mobilized, does it mean you should? Many advise treading carefully, particularly in today's budget-constrained operating environments.
"A lot can be done with wireless right now. It just depends on what the enterprise wants to do and the extent of the applications they want to mobilize." Vartabedian says. "They shouldn't feel compelled to give wireless access to folks that don't need it."
Dale Gonzalez, vice president of engineering-wireless at Air2Web, suggests that enterprises think small and deploy complete but well-defined services and to avoid approaches that can't be achieved in the near term. "If you're considering a project and it looks like it will take a year, you need to reconsider it," says Gonzalez. His argument: ordinary changes in business procedures and tasks can often thwart a slow-going process before it gets off the ground. Stick with projects that can be deployed in 6 to 8 months or less, he says, to accelerate your transition to mobile technologies.
Do Networks Matter?
While cellular operators have begun (and in some cases achieved) upgrades to offer data services over packet-based networks at speeds that are faster than dial-up modems, even the industry's advocates admit that nirvana's not here yet.
"If all this is going to work, the high-speed networks have to be deployed," Sagehorn insists, defining high-speed as 100kbps or better. "We're trying to help lead the way, but given that the market hasn't been so good for carriers, 3G deployments have slowed down."
Lewis says companies should not assume cellular networks are the only options available. She urges corporations to consider non-cellular alternatives, particularly when implementing mission-critical enterprise wireless data services such as field service, customer resource management, and sales force automation, as well as remote (wide area) access to corporate LANs.