You claim that wireless technologies can transform companies. Does that mean every enterprise is a candidate for
mobile technology? It really does. I think there are few businesses that can't benefit in some way. Some of the most innovative uses of wireless LAN technology are in the most mundane settings, like fast-food restaurants, which we don't normally think as particularly tech-savvy or ripe opportunities for advanced technologies, but we're seeing some there nonetheless. Does the name of your report imply that there are a lot of boring wireless applications out there? In a sense, it does. I think there's been a lot of effort to provide mobile and wireless functionality to existing apps. Certainly, that can provide distinct value, but there's a lot more territory to be explored, I think, with some of the new capabilities that wireless technology allows. Have you seen any wireless technologies that aren't paying off? I don't think it's necessarily a function of the technology but of the ways in which it's deployed and configured. With some wireless LANs, there are problems with RF interference, either dead spots or other RF signals that interfere with them.
One of the biggest [problems] is that, as wireless LANs grow in size and scope, the companies deploying them discover how much manual labor they require in terms of initial configuration, applying [settings] to each device and access point, and periodically upgrading the software, firmware, security settings and antivirus updates. Those things can be onerous when you have to do them manually, and that's driving a need for automated management software. In your report, you focus on several different types of wireless technology, but which one has the most ROI potential today?
I think it's wireless LAN technology; that's what's driving the rapid adoption by businesses. In turn, that has been fostered by having the same standards across three distinct markets: homes, businesses and public access hot spots. If you have a device equipped for 802.11b, you can easily use it in any of the areas with little additional learning required. From the point of view of the corporate IT manager, when your teleworkers at home are using the same equipment and access technology as the office, it's a lot easier to support. What's the difference between RFID technology and location-based services?
In the broad sense, when people talk about location-based wireless technologies, people are thinking about services tied to a person's location, like a handset that's tied to the timecard application, so a construction boss knows that a worker is really on the job site.
But I think there's another really promising area, that being the combination of location abilities with the knowledge of the person's schedule and some outside data source, like traffic reports or airline schedules, and assembling a service that makes use of all those ingredients to provide an intelligent assistance. For instance, you could be in a meeting, and your PDA knows you're scheduled to be on a flight in an hour. But based on your location, it knows you haven't left for the airport and that you can't make your flight, so it sends you alternative flights based on your schedule and flight scheduling information it pulls from the Internet. RFID technology, which the report mentions, is creeping into the enterprise, but there's been some concern about individual privacy issues. Do you feel that the implementation benefits outweigh the potential risks?
I think they do. I think the privacy issues will definitely have to be addressed over time, but I think there are a lot of settings where they don't come up. When you talk about tagging raw materials or finished goods that move through a supply or distribution chain, there's no privacy issue there. So I think that we'll see a rapid proliferation of RFID solutions, even if those [implementations] that affect individuals are somewhat slowed. How should companies approach wireless technology? Is an overall strategy needed, or is it recommended to implement certain things on an a la carte basis?
The guiding principle is don't adopt technology for its own sake, but to solve a real problem. Those problems that wireless technology tends to solve have to do with delays in the flow of information, and, as a result, the flow of decision making. In the case of RFID technology, the result ought to be that it permits very finely grained management of a supply chain to take cost out of it, because you can minimize [inventory] shrinkage due to loss or theft.
The same applies to a wireless LAN. If you're using one to keep customers in the restaurant longer, also look to your wireless LANs to Internet-enable various pieces of equipment. Even if it's a french fryer, you can collect information from it to monitor its status and usage, running the whole operation a lot more efficiently with real-time access to data. The point is that it would not have been cost-effective to network all of your devices with a wired network, but if a company can cost-justify the wireless LAN in terms of customer traffic, then -- for a very low cost -- you can apply that technology to your other business processes and get a very high ROI.
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The report, "Getting Creative with Wireless Business Applications," is available from Summit Strategies for $1,975.