Unleashing Today's Mobile Worker

The pace at which business moves nowadays demands mobility; so vendors are tailor-making products to help the executive remain connected to his business whilst on the move. No-one likes to be tied down anymore, not even the traditionally office-bound executive. The pace at which business moves nowadays demands mobility; so vendors are tailor- making products to help the executive remain connected to his business systems whilst on the move.

Many companies have made large-scale investments in back-end systems, which by nature are static installations not necessarily suited to contemporary demands for business mobility. As a result, a whole new group of applications has emerged, acting as middleware between corporate data center systems and hand-held computers in the field.

Mark Lilje, MD of Mobile Data Specialist Range Gate SA, says there are some key steps to take when making use of mobile technology to enhance back-end systems and increase return on investment (ROI).

Mobile computing applications allow businesses to take actions and manage processes according to what happens at the most critical point, where workers do their jobs or link with customers. The effective integration of this mobile technology into business processes gives frontline workers access to critical business data and functionality when they need it, revolutionizing business efficiency, enhancing competitiveness and increasing ROI.

What to Consider First in Getting it Right

Mobile computing applications allow businesses to take actions and manage processes according to what happens at the most critical point, where workers do their jobs or link with customers. The effective integration of this mobile technology into business processes gives frontline workers access to critical business data and functionality when they need it, revolutionizing business efficiency, enhancing competitiveness and increasing ROI.

By embracing mobile technology, companies can enjoy all of these advantages and more. However, there are certain considerations all companies should make in order to maximize their opportunities through the mobile technology revolution.

A company needs to examine how mobile workers operate, on the premises or in the field, and scrutinize the efficiency and accuracy of their operations. It must understand what mobile technology can do for it, empowering employees with the information to make accurate, up-to-date business decisions.

Companies that profit from mobile operations will be those that identify, understand and apply the right technologies to their business processes. It is not just a matter of automating processes; the aim should be to invest in a system that empowers mobile workers with best business practices and the correct information to allow them to most effectively develop their roles and improve their performance. The proactive optimization and management of these mobile processes is a strong driver for ROI.

Mobile technology can improve both the top and bottom line of a business - top line through easier sales processes, the faster supply of accurate information to sales forces and better customer service; bottom line through reduced fulfilment costs and assets. Companies that invest in mobile technology have better control of costs and assets, can make quick adjustments to business operations, and can benefit from major cost savings and gains in efficiency simply by being better able to respond to changing circumstances.

Business Impact

Mobile technology will have an impact on the business internally and externally. On the internal front, operations such as warehousing and supply chain management will benefit - a reduction in shrinkage is one good example of how organizations can immediately extract tangible benefit. External, or in-the-field, mobile applications include proof of delivery, logistics and others in the "track-and-trace" style, as well as service and sales automation.

The first key component for an effective ROI in back-end systems is the mobile technology device itself. This can range from a personal digital assistant (PDA)-type device for executives to robust, task-specific wireless devices for the shop floor, but each must deliver the information required within that role quickly and accurately.

The second is the software application the device leverages. This must support existing business processes to allow a coordinated approach, enhancing and strengthening the systems and operations in place. In order to maximize ROI, the applications must provide improved business processes and actively manage these on a continuous basis.

The third key component, and possibly the most important, is the integration of the mobile device and its software with existing business systems. Many companies can create a great user interface on the mobile device, but they are unable to follow through by linking it seamlessly into ERP systems such as SAP, PeopleSoft or JD Edwards. This is a crunch point, and companies that integrate most successfully have the greatest ROI.

Underpinning the mobile systems is a wealth of technology, including information carrier standards such as 802.11 for local area networks and GSM and GPRS for wide area networks.

Security is a prime concern when dealing with corporate information systems and these standards offer effective security at a hardware level, but over and above this it is important for businesses to take the same security precautions they do on the wired network.

Task Management

Most organizations are now either investigating mobile applications or will be shortly, but they can take their ROI experience a step further with task management. Mobile technology extending back-end systems can deliver task management functions to maximize the time and efficiency of staff. Effective task management handles all assets, including people, and ensures the right tasks are done at the right time and managed in the most appropriate way.

Basically, a company has to be clear about what it needs from mobile technology, investigate the options and coordinate an integrated approach to streamline its business practices. Wireless technology carries with it inherent benefits, which include freeing business people from their desks by giving them "anywhere, anytime" connectivity to networks and the Internet.

However, locally, wireless technology is taking off slowly for another reason, which goes further than the technology itself.

Surely the efficiency of being able to walk around with a tablet PC connected to the corporate network is justification enough for adopting the technology? Not to mention the benefits of rolling it out in rural areas where no data or telecoms infrastructure exists.

Not entirely so, says Brian Tarr, Operations Executive at Business Connection. He says that, in addition to security, cultural issues play a big part in the adoption of wireless technology. According to Tarr, the best business case for wireless, currently, is to look at the real benefits of the technology and how they fit into a business’ list of needs. But he warns that it does not make financial sense to dump an existing wired infrastructure in favor of a wireless infrastructure as the cost implications are very high.

"The big hurdle with any new technology is the initial rollout," Tarr says.  "For example, users need to be wireless-enabled, i.e. cards and equipment have to be bought; then the infrastructure has to be prepared and developed. This could prove quite costly if an existing system is already in place.

"A better method of technology rollout would be to gradually phase it in as and when equipment is replaced or refreshed," he adds. "The cultural issue is also playing a part in the adoption of wireless technology. Adoption of any technology depends on whether it is made a part of a business`s culture and generally accepted as just another business process."

To this end the rollout of wireless technologies depends on how receptive the culture is to using the technology. In any case, the use of technology should not change the way things are done, which means processes should appear to be as natural as possible.

Looking Ahead

South Africans have had to develop a culture of technology use. As was seen with the massive growth in the cellular market, the adoption of wireless will, no doubt, result in people looking back and asking: "Where on earth were we without wireless?"

For now, though, wireless technology is still in its infancy. "Security issues will be resolved, but the challenge of breeding a culture that accepts wireless as part of everyday life is more complex. Fortunately, South Africa is well on its way to nurturing a more tech-savvy society, which will promote the bridging of the proverbial digital divide," says Tarr.

According to research group Meta, by 2007, 65 percent of companies will deploy at least one wireless application. Messaging will top the most-wanted application list, with 50 percent of organizations enabling wireless e-mail within three years and 75 percent within four years.

However, Meta projects that e-mail will serve merely as starting gate for the enterprise wireless movement, not the finish line.

"As users grow increasingly comfortable with wireless e-mail, they will demand more sophisticated technology," says Jack Gold, Vice President of Meta Group. "Companies will respond by deploying mission-critical wireless applications that address asset management, logistics, delivery and a host of other enterprise needs. Moreover, as the types of applications increase, so too will the size of the deployments."

Meta Group expects that within two years companies currently with wireless pilot initiatives will expand the scope of deployment from a limited number of seats to installations of thousands of users. Organizations will move toward large-scale departmental or corporate deployments. However, despite the trend toward increased scale, the average wireless deployment will remain at 100 to 200 users.

Want more info or help? Contact Scott Oleson Senior vCIO/IT Director at Frontier Business Products. 303.390.3600.

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