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.

This article was originally published on 08-05-2005
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