Executive Briefing: The Mobile Enterprise

IT has left the building. Mobile employees, the last section of the workforce to have its core activities automated through IT, are increasingly being equipped with devices, applications and wireless communications capabilities designed to bring major efficiencies to field-based business processes.

Those applications – from job scheduling and work management for service engineers, to sales force support tools and data access for executives on the road – are being rolled out to hundreds, even thousands of employees at all kinds of companies. And that group of technology-enabled workers is set to grow fast.

While in 2001 the mobile workforce in western Europe was only eight million, by 2006 around 20 million will spend the bulk of their time away from any fixed location, according to industry research group IDC. And this expanding group of people will need access to critical business information and applications that support their work.

Much of the data they need can already be delivered to their PDAs, smartphones and laptops through conventional cellular networks. But workers are increasingly able to access back office applications over high-speed wireless networks, invariably via a secure virtual private network.

In many cases that access will be through GPRS or (someday) 3G networks, but organisations are already making use of WiFi ‘hotspots’ available in hotels, airports and conference centres and also increasingly using WiFi networks within a variety of their own working environments, such as warehouses and meeting rooms.


The laptop unplugged

By 2005, about four-fifths of all notebook computers sold will be wireless-enabled, according to analysts at Gartner. Understanding the cost implications of this trend will be important for IT managers and other business executives.

“Rapid end-user adoption is happening – with or without the consent of enterprises – because the ability to get quick, easy connections to the Internet or remote access to enterprise network facilities is too compelling to ignore,” says Leslie Fiering, a Gartner vice president. “Enterprises need to understand the cost elements of using WiFi in notebooks so they can budget realistically and apply best practices to manage the TCO [total cost of ownership].”

He believes that growing WiFi use is raising a notebook’s TCO by about 3% to 4% annually – that means an additional cost to the enterprise of $197 per user per year (making a TCO per user of $325 per year).

The notebook operating system and the type of user have the greatest impact on TCO. Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system tends to have the lowest TCO, says Fiering, because of its easier connection set-up, ability to detect WiFi access points and greater robustness than Windows 2000. “The result is fewer calls to the service desk, lower end-user operations costs and less downtime,” he adds. Similarly, users who tend to travel less and use their notebooks at home at night tend to have a lower TCO than travelling workers or road warriors.




Planning a WiFi rollout

  • Establish a pilot that will test and confirm how wireless can work within your business campus and needs

  • Tie in Internet access and a robust data security system

  • Install wireless access points, and equip notebook PCs for wireless use (eg provide PC cards or upgrade to PCs with integrated wireless connectivity built in)

  • Train and turn your participants loose with their wireless notebook PCs

  • After the pilot, build on what you learn to broaden your wireless LAN to cover other areas and users

    Source: Intel




    Operator strategies

    Competition and regulation have combined to force ever lower a mobile network operator’s revenue from conventional voice services. This long-term downward trend is compelling operators to seek new sources of revenue growth. The key strand of this new strategy is the delivery of value-added data services to corporate clients over 3G, 2.5G and WiFi networks.




    Business benefits

    Increased flexibility for users to work how, when and where they want. This flexibility includes mobility within their office, at home or at a public hotspot

    Faster decision-making because of anytime, anywhere access to information Higher employee satisfaction owing to increased flexibility and access to the latest technology

    Greater accuracy of information through the ability to instantly input and transmit data from the field

    Increased productivity of workers through the automation of tasks such as job scheduling and worksheet generation




    PDA projections

    Over a fifth of all companies in the UK now have PDAs on their IT strategy agenda, according to a recent survey by the National Computing Centre (NCC).

    But the 21% that currently equip sections of their workforce with devices is about to be joined by a host of other companies. While PDAs are being used in some capacity at three quarters of all organisations, in most cases they have been brought into the organisation by individuals. In the next few years, that is all about to change.

    The NCC research says 65% of organisations expect that PDAs will be part of their IT strategy within two years. A year ago, just over half made that same forecast. “PDAs are coming increasingly into the corporate fold,” observes the NCC. ________________________________________________________________________

    Speaking mobile

    802.11b Most prevalent version of the WiFi standard

    802.11i Forthcoming, security-hardened version of the WiFi standard

    GPRS General packet radio services (2.5G cellular technology)

    GSM General system of mobile communications (2G cellular technology)

    MAC Media access control

    VBN Visitor based network

    VPN Virtual private network

    WAP Wireless application protocol

    WEP Wireless encryption protocol

    WML Wireless mark-up language

    WiFi Wireless fidelity (wireless local area networking technology)

    WCDMA Wideband code-division multiple access (Europe’s 3G cellular technology)


    Leading voices

    Bill Gates, Microsoft’s chairman and chief software architect “Probably the most exciting thing in computing today is all the things happening around mobile.”

    Paul Otellini, Intel’s chief operating officer “The vision of a billion connected phones and a billion connected handsets is happening.”

    Jorma Ollila, Nokia’s chairman and CEO “The commercial benefits that mobile communications bring pale into insignificance when compared to the overall good they bring to the global community.”

    Washington Post columnist “I would sooner discuss my salary, tax return or sex life on a cellular phone in a crowded restaurant than transmit that data over a WiFi network.”



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    Ben Rossi

    Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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