Devices to Make Mobile

By Allan Alter  |  Posted 08-05-2005

Mobility Becomes a Strategic Goal, Not Just a Productivity Tool

Pedestrians gabbing on cell phones and office workers checking their PDAs are as much a part of the street scene today as traffic signs. But mobile and wireless technologies are no longer just a convenience; for most companies they have become a necessity. In this month's survey, 83 percent of the 357 IT executives who responded said their IT departments support mobile technology. And of those, 72 percent said mobility is essential to their business strategy.

Mobile phones, laptops and PDAs began as personal communication and productivity devices, but today, along with wireless networks, they are now tools for improving business efficiency and customer service. Our survey found that advancing business processes, not personal productivity, is the most important business goal companies seek through mobile devices. A 2004 study by consultants A.T. Kearney Inc. put it this way: "Wireless networks have left home and gone to work. . . . CIOs across a range of business sectors have seized the opportunities provided by wireless technologies to dramatically change how their operations operate."

Consider two organizations in the healthcare industry that have adopted mobile technology to enhance service and efficiency. Saint Luke's Health System, a group of nine hospitals based in the Kansas City, Mo., region, is opening an all-digital, wireless-networked hospital in Lee's Summit, Mo., in February 2006. By connecting to the hospital's wireless network, says John Wade, Saint Luke's vice president and CIO, doctors and nurses will have access to medical records and digitized images on most kinds of wireless mobile devices. And by replacing bar-coded bracelets with RFID tags, staff will always know where patients are. This, he claims, will allow them to provide better care and use their time more effectively. "It's very inefficient for physicians to come to Saint Luke's and look for a patient on the ninth floor, only to find they've gone down to the X-ray department. And why are we subjecting our nurses to those kinds of inefficiencies?" asks Wade.

Meanwhile, Scot Nattrass, director of operations at OTN, a $3 billion distributor of oncology medications and supplies in South San Francisco, Calif., says, "Mobility is essential. We believe in being a high-touch company." By making company information—financial reports, productivity reports and more—available online through the company intranet, "we're trying to take away the need to be in the office, so our executives can go out and press _the flesh," Nattrass adds.

Sample data: How Mobile is Corporate America?

  • 60% of IT departments supporting mobile technology will increase mobility spending in the next 12 months.
  • 81% of these IT departments support PDAs.
  • 50% say they capture and analyze data more accurately thanks to mobile technology.
  • 42% say use of mobile technology has made their company less secure than one year ago.
  • 58% say billing for wireless service is an ongoing problem.

    Next page: Devices to Make Mobile Medicine Easier

    Devices to Make Mobile

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    An assortment of mobile devices also helps OTN's field service agents support customers while on the road. The company supplies oncologists with computerized cabinets to store the medications and supplies they purchase.

    These cabinets track and manage inventory for OTN's customers, and automatically reorder supplies when inventory falls below a certain level.

    When customers want to change inventory levels or order supplies they've never ordered before, they contact the OTN field service staff, who then remotely connect to the appropriate cabinet and adjust its system. With mobile technology, a dozen field service staff can support 1,200 cabinets.

    Why are mobile technologies becoming part and parcel of business operations now? It's a combination of costs, capability and culture, according to Ellen Daley, principal analyst for Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. Wireless LANs, handhelds and WiFi hot spots have become cheap, ubiquitous and capable.

    Software platforms offered by vendors such as IBM Corp., Oracle Corp. and Sybase Inc. can now provide corporate data-to-mobile wireless devices. Perhaps most important, both executives and employees have already embraced mobile technology. "The pressure is coming from two directions: from executives who adopted wireless e-mail, and from the lowest level employees who bought a Palm or a wireless access point from Staples" for their homes, Daley says.

    These developments make it possible for strategy-minded companies to obtain business benefits from mobile technology that go beyond improved communication or responsiveness to customers. Most respondents to our survey who use mobile technology are obtaining those benefits, but IT executives at companies where mobility is essential to business strategy are twice as likely to say they can also capture and analyze data more effectively, reduce cycle times and improve analytics, invoicing and inventory management.

    To achieve these benefits, however, companies must integrate their mobile devices and applications with other enterprise systems—the issue, after ensuring security, that presents the most difficulty to companies which use these technologies.

    The inability to integrate wireless PDAs with an inventory tracking system led to an RFID snafu at a Prada designer clothing store in Manhattan that is cited in the A.T. Kearney report. An RFID-based application was meant to let staff use PDAs to check store inventory and to allow customers to do the same via touch-screen computers in dressing rooms.

    The dressing room system also was designed to display information about the clothing customers were trying on. But staff members abandoned the often unreliable PDAs when they were too busy with customers, and the dressing room systems frequently broke down. "Even when the PDAs worked, sales information was slow to reach the inventory system, leading to false positives," according to the report. Mobile technology opens many new possibilities for inventive CIOs, but as with any technology, innovation provides no value without execution.

    The Bottom Line:

    Finding 1
    At most companies, mobile technology is need-to-have, not nice-to-have.

    Finding 2
    Over half of all employees are now equipped with mobile devices at companies that formally support these technologies.

    Finding 3
    Many more IT organizations now support cell phones, PDAs, wireless LANs and WiFi.

    Finding 4
    Improving business processes, rather than personal productivity, is the main reason companies support mobility.

    Finding 5
    Security, integration and billing problems are the three biggest problems facing IT executives regarding mobility.

    Finding 6
    Four out of ten IT executives believe their company is less secure thanks to mobile technologies.

    Finding 7
    Wireless communications technologies will be in use at four out of five companies.

    To download the survey results, click here.