Wireless technologies and services are clearly capable of delivering corporate information within the enterprise. The business literature is replete with case studies showing notable operational efficiency improvements and even competitive advantages gained by companies that have given their employees the ability to wirelessly access and act on essential business applications and email.
The technology's readiness should be welcomed by those who have considered mobilizing corporate content in recent years only to find that the infrastructure, devices, and software platforms could not really deliver anytime/ anywhere access to corporate data in practical formats. But several technology achievements have finally knocked down many of these barriers.
These breakthroughs include the widespread commercial availability of higher-speed, packet-based wireless networks that can transmit voice, data and video; a plethora of user-friendly devices that offer improved memory, processing, and battery technologies; and value-added software—the content or middleware that resides on the employee's device or the corporate or network server.
"Until recently, one or two of those things just weren't mature," says Richard Siber, a partner in the communications and high-tech practice at Accenture.
His opinion is shared by Norm Korey, vice president for wireless e-services at IBM global services, who calls the concurrent improvement in these conditions "the perfect storm." He says, "These are three things, in the last 12 months, that we at IBM believe have made a significant difference. A lot of enterprises are looking to field force and sales force automation solutions very seriously right now."
Because of a variety of network technology, device, operating system, and application software choices on the market, no two deployments will ever be alike. So what kinds of deployments are mobile advocates talking about? Following are two examples from the competing systems integration firms mentioned earlier and a third offered by Air2Web, a wireless Internet platform provider.
Super-Sized Customer Service Deployment
Accenture helped a large communications provider improve the technologies and processes used to dispatch trouble tickets to its 35,000 service technicians, who typically obtained their work assignments via telephone or fax or by traveling to headquarters in between service calls. With a $180 million investment, the company deployed an all-new wireless dispatching system and associated business processes. All 35,000 service technicians received new, custom-designed, ruggedized notebook computers that could run over a variety of digital cellular networks providing data speeds up to 19.2kbps.
The technicians now receive their assignments via their notebooks, which they also use to pull up customer profiles, service and billing records, and then to submit service records once the job is done. As a result of the process improvements, technicians are completing an additional 1.25 trouble tickets per day per technician. The company claimed a return on investment of $100 million in the first year, $150 million ROI in the second year, and expects $663 million in five years.
"The larger the implementation for the larger enterprise proves obviously to have the biggest ROI," Siber said. His firm believes this deployment provides the greatest financial impact of any single wireless data application in the world.
Mid-Sized Military Inventory System
Earlier this year, IBM deployed a multi-network, multi-device wireless data solution that it designed for Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah, which handles the logistical support, repair, and maintenance of the nation's entire fleet of military aircraft. The base moves 86,000 individual parts in and out of warehouses every month, yet its conventional data entry and parts tracking processes, all dependent on manual systems, caused information and shipping bottlenecks that often delayed parts deliveries by two days.
The new end-to-end system minimizes those delays by using IBM middleware to extend the base's existing paper-centric processes to a variety of mobile devices and networks, including Nextel Communications and Sprint PCS wireless wide area networks, a Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11b) local area network, global positioning system-based asset tracking technologies. The system also automates parts tracking and data entry tasks, wirelessly alerts drivers when a critically important part is ready for pickup, and incorporates phone and email services. The Air Force expects to save $15 million a year from the efficiency improvements.