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Another problem is the result of the relative newness of the mobile technology. The bureau has ventured into a new territory with technology that is not fully mature and doesn't come with an implementation road map, says Philippe Winthrop, research director for wireless and mobility at the IT analysis firm Aberdeen Group.
The Census Bureau probably didn't take market immaturity into account when signing the contract, surmises Sheldon Needle, president of CTS, which evaluates software for midsize companies. "Mobile is still a fairly raw technology so they should have had their antennas up from the beginning," he says. "If the bureau was in it two years ago, it was even rawer.
"If I were running such a job and the vendor couldn't give me a couple of referrals of large-scale sites they'd done, I wouldn't even talk to them. What happened sounds improbable, but this kind of stuff goes on all the time with huge-scale implementations."
Finally, implementations of mobile technology can be very complex. The systems encompass multiple components, carriers, devices, operating systems and applications that need to be agreed upon well before the systems are installed. CIOs also need to ensure that all parts of the system can be integrated.
A need also exists to develop business rules for each of these multiple components. "We're in new territory here," Aberdeen Group's Winthrop says.
Of course, mobile implementations can be done--and done well. Look at FedEx, United Parcel Service and similar companies. Anyone who's been asked to sign for a package knows these carriers rely on nifty electronic notepads to enter up-to-the minute information about a parcel's location.
With that in mind, Winthrop carried out an October study to isolate success factors in mobile initiatives. He found instances in which enterprise mobility has made significant inroads in organizations and is having a measurable impact on productivity.
Study findings include the following: Of the more than 580 companies queried, the best-in-class ones standardized on one platform as much as possible. Before they selected a carrier, these companies studied how individuals will actually use the devices. They also kept device content separate from device back-office hardware and security.
Winthrop admits the best-in-class practices aren't exactly a business revelation. "We're all saying those things makes sense, but my data on 580 organizations says many aren't doing it," he says. "Chances are the government didn't do as much as the best-in-class organizations did. There should be formal policies in place for choosing a carrier and implementing a system. Otherwise, it's absolutely chaotic."