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By Darrell Dunn  |  Posted 04-07-2007 Print

Mobility is ready for prime time. Mobile systems and processes are now highly reliable, and mobile strategies that exploit a rapidly expanding wireless infrastructure are helping savvy companies make money.

Determine where mobility can advance business goals by conducting an inventory of workers, their tasks, applications and equipment requirements. That's what shipbuilder Northrop Grumman Ship Systems did at its shipyards in New Orleans and Pascagoula, Miss. At both sites, employees were wasting valuable time traveling around the shipyards, especially at Pascagoula's 600-acre campus. It could take an inspection supervisor up to an hour to travel from the onsite office-trailer to a ship, transverse the ship's bowels to an inspection location, and then return to the trailer. After conducting an analysis of job tasks at the shipyards in 2005, Northrop Grumman adopted two types of mobile platforms: a mobile-supervisor information system and a mobile-quality inspector system. Quality inspectors needed to be able to download engineering drawings, and a notebook format best fit their need. The requirement for supervisors, however, was met with a smaller profile device. "We really wanted to keep the supervisors at their stations as much as possible," says CIO Jan Rideout. "Our quality inspectors were also spending a tremendous amount of time capturing data on paper forms and then later inputting that information in our systems."

Northrop Grumman outfitted about 1,000 workers with mobile devices that could leverage an existing Sprint Nextel network. The company can also access a satellite uplink to the Sprint Nextel network that promises to keep mobile devices connected and communications maintained if a calamity such as a hurricane strikes.

Wasted time was also impairing productivity at Fraenkel and Co., a maker and distributor of household furniture in Baton Rouge, La. The company maintains four warehouses--varying in size from 150,000 to 250,000 square feet--where workers were squandering an inordinate amount of time searching for specific products. To solve the problem, in 2005 Fraenkel installed wireless access points throughout the warehouse and gave workers rugged, midsize handheld computers from Motorola Inc.'s Symbol Technologies subsidiary. Now, dispatchers assign warehouse workers multi-stop picking routes, with direct paths to the location of specific merchandise. The system also provides real-time analysis of product availability for customers, allowing Fraenkel to improve inventory accuracy by 85 percent or more, says Donna Helton, vice president of administration and director of IT.

"Organizations are reinventing their business processes to make use of mobile technology as it becomes available," says David Heit, director of enterprise software for BlackBerry-maker RIM. "The most obvious evidence is that mobility is no longer being funded out of discretionary funds."

Mobile technology is finally beginning to fully earn its spot as a trusted enterprise business tool, helping enterprises step nimbly through the continually changing hardware and software landscape. And it can fit hand-in-glove with other corporate goals, too.

Sustainability Victoria, a government-backed company in Victoria, Australia, helps businesses and residents use energy efficiently. Practicing what it preaches, Sustainability Victoria combined three of its facilities into one, cutting energy use by up to 50 percent. Part of the savings come from replacing desktop computers with laptops, which require 20 watts of electricity to operate, versus 100 watts for PCs with LCD screens. Sustainability Victoria also installed wireless access points at its merged facility, which improves productivity since employees can work anywhere in the building. Most important, the two strategies--mobility and energy savings--overlap, since notebooks allow workers to telecommute.

"Our mobility effort fits within the whole Green Star-rated building strategy we are creating," says Patrick O'Brien, IT and facilities manager. "Mobility, reduction in paper, encouraging new methods of working--those are all a part of our mission."

Ask Your Security Office:
What regulatory requirements must we meet within our enterprise security strategy?

Ask Your Communications Specialist:
Are we integrating our communications strategy with our overall mobility effort?


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