Deploying wireless apps: avoiding the pitfalls

Organisations deploying wireless applications should address five key areas to ensure their plans will be successful.

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By  Anna Karhammar Published  January 8, 2004

|~|wireless.jpg|~||~|Many organisations are looking at deploying wireless applications without a strategic plan. Enterprises should address five key areas to help ensure that their wireless application plans will be successful. During the next three-to-four years, we expect 65% of enterprises will deploy some form of wireless applications for their mobile-oriented workforce, whether they be sales, services, delivery, logistics, healthcare workers, road warriors or customer service reps. However, most organisations currently struggle with finding the appropriate application to deploy, with users pulling IT groups into potentially non-strategic directions — wireless e-mail, for example. We believe most organisations should step back and, during the next six-to-12 months, strategically assess which applications — whether new or as an extension of existing applications — make sense to deploy, which can be deployed to deliver an attractive return on investment (ROI), and which applications lend themselves to the organisation’s strategic vision of wireless access for mobile users. To accomplish this, we believe organisations should evaluate wireless deployments based on the following five points: Organisations must assess what the end user needs, not just what the end user wants: Many current wireless deployments or planned deployments are being driven by the end user ‘wow’ factor — executives asking for wireless e-mail, for instance. However, users often do not have a realistic understanding of the costs associated with such deployments — it costs US$1600 plus per user per year for Blackberry — or what the ROI is to the organisation. Although some executives can get what they want regardless of cost, larger-scale deployments should require a strong business case — something that may be difficult in a largely decentralised organisation. In these settings, individual groups often decide on deployments without understanding the bigger corporate picture. For example, 50-100 wireless units per group spread over 25-50 groups, potentially from different vendors. IT groups should ask questions, and provide answers for, the following set of questions: 1 Will the deployment make users more effective in their jobs? 2 Will it help the overall needs of the business through increased efficiency or lower cost? 3 Will it be consistent with enterprise best practices? 4 Will it leverage existing infrastructure and applications across multiple groups? Ultimately, organisations should develop a prioritised list of specific job types and departments that would most benefit from wireless deployments and the applications they require, weigh the user/application types, and concentrate on those which offer the highest return for any strategic initiative. Organisations must ask whether wireless is needed, or if the problem can be solved through other means of mobility, for example, synchronised cradles: With the current state of wireless where there is no universal coverage in all locations or geographies, organisations must assess whether wide area networks (WANs) can provide the reliability and speed required for application deployments at a reasonable cost. Further, many applications have information that changes relatively slowly, just daily or even weekly, for instance. This negates the need for the real time or near-real time connection that wireless provides. It is quite common for organisations to support synching at a fixed location, whether that be in an office, at a user’s home or at a transportation depot, thereby enabling the user to take the portable device, work with and capture data during that cycle, and then return to upload the new/changed data to the back-office system at the end of the day. This approach enables organisations to control costs as they use the installed infrastructure owned by the organisation, and it allows faster, more reliable connections than WAN cellular coverage — 10Mbytes plus versus 20Kbytes-50Kbytes — especially when users are not in large metropolitan areas, or when they must journey into no coverage areas, for example high-rise buildings. We expect the uses of WLAN technology and even Ethernet hard-wired connections installed in corporate settings to continue to provide such capability for a large portion of the mobile community. As applications become more dominant than simple e-mail access — in about two-to-three years — the assessment of speed, reliability and cost will become more critical. Enterprises should plan to go slow and not overextend themselves by attempting to deploy too much technology all at once: One of the greatest failure points for organisations exploring and attempting to deploy wireless applications is overextending. Organisations that have not previously deployed wireless applications should start with a pilot, with a few dozen users at most. During this phase, organisations should provide a means of feedback from end users, because the applications will likely need to be fine-tuned before entering full production. For instance, mobile applications on small form factor devices are especially sensitive to poor user-interface ergonomics. The pilot phase might take three-to-six months. Only then should full deployments proceed. The highest success factor will be for applications that tightly focus on the specific task at hand, trouble ticket, order entry, delivery ticket and so on, for users and do not try to replicate a full set of desktop features/functions on the user’s mobile device. Further, at a cost of US$250,000-US$500,000 for a medium-sized wireless project and US$1 million plus for large projects, organisations should be careful to dedicate sufficient resources before attempting to implement such applications and expect a six-to-12-month deployment cycle. End user organisations must carry out complete application assessment: Organisations should examine which applications can be easily upgraded to wireless and which cannot as part of their strategic planning phase. This is an important component of wireless application deployments. Indeed, organisations should have a strategic planning session with their key application vendors and receive a three-to-five year vision of what the vendor will offer in wireless support, what it will cost, and when it will be available. This will enable the organisation to discover whether the application vendor will provide connectivity in the short term, or whether a third-party middleware solution will be needed. It will also provide a good view of how long the life of a third-party product might be. For instance, an application may be needed now, but the application platform vendor will not have complete wireless capability for 18-24 months. Such an assessment of tactical add-ons versus strategic platform support should be a key factor in deciding where and when an organisation will support wireless applications. Ultimately, we believe all applications vendors will be required to support wireless extensions to their platforms — much as web services were ultimately supported — though this may take another two-to-four years. Enterprises must have a long-term strategic plan and map any wireless deployments to that plan: Questions that should be answered by the strategic planning process should include: 1 How does the wireless application fit into the overall strategic needs of the organisation? 2 Will the current project be a one-off solution or one that can be leveraged for expansion of functionality? 3 Will the platform vendor — Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, Sybase, SAP, PeopleSoft —have the necessary wireless enhancements in the short term, obviating the requirement for the selected middleware? 4 Will the project require extensive integration support from an integrator? 5 What is the required level of investment, and what will be the return? 6 How long will it take to deploy? Meta Group Trend In 2003, organisations will extend pervasive computing from personal information management to enterprise application platforms. By 2004/05, mainstream application platforms will incorporate pervasive middleware, consolidating the market and requiring tradeoffs between short and long term strategies. By 2007, wireless access to enterprise applications and portals will be common, with solutions supporting smart and thin clients, synchronised for connected and disconnected users. Bottom Line Although we continue to believe many organisations can benefit from strategic deployment of wireless applications, they should fully understand all the ramifications of the technology, end user requirements, and cost/return. Only then should they proceed. Business Impact ROI for wireless applications can be achieved only through strategic assessment and proper planning. Jack Gold is Meta Group’s vice president of mobile & pervasive computing. Meta Group is a leading research and consulting firm, focusing on information technology and business transformation strategies.||**||

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