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Wireless deployments: Progress or politics?

With more than 35 years in the industry, Jack Gold has seen his fair share of progress and politics in the technology arena.

Before founding Northborough, Mass.-based J. Gold Associates and becoming its principal analyst, he spent 12 years with Stamford, Conn.-based research firm Meta Group as a vice president in Technology Research Services.

In recent research, he addressed wireless device and application deployments and the issues that often cause corporate infighting and implementations that fail to meet expectations. Gold spoke with about the political hostility and offered advice to enterprises battling for wireless on their home front.

Jack Gold
Jack Gold
Why is there so much political hostility around wireless device deployments, more so than other technologies?
First of all, people don't like change. Second of all, a lot of wireless technologies are being pushed onto the IT groups, as opposed to having the IT groups deploy them. The BlackBerry is a perfect example. Thirdly, many IT groups are already overburdened and don't have the resources to take on anything new. You say it's wise to deploy devices that employees want, not what you think they need. Isn't that often contrary to the needs of a business?
Simply put, you should be deploying what employees need to get their jobs done. It's about finding the most appropriate device for end users and their particular tasks, not what IT decides is a universal device for everyone. It's unlikely that one universal device can meet all the needs for all the users in the organization, so I suggest not going down that road. What's the average lifecycle for a wireless device right now, and are there things companies can do to extend it?
Once you buy a device, the average life for that device is two years. But the shelf life is a different story. Once a company brings something to market, it's usually on the shelves for nine months before it's no longer available for you to buy.

But there are a few companies -- such as Intermet Corp. and Symbol Technologies Inc. -- that have industrialized mobile devices on the shelves for two to three years. If you don't go industrial, you won't find the long-term stable products you see in the PC realm. However, keep in mind that wireless device price tags aren't as high as you'll see in the PC market, so it evens out the score. What are some of the more unrealistic user expectations that you've seen?
Many people think, 'It will work all the time, wherever I am,' but everyone with a cell phone knows that's not realistic. Plus, users want to access the same amount of information on their device that they can get off their PC. While on the surface these things seem like reasonable requests for a wireless device to handle, it simply can't. They have smaller form factors, smaller screens and they don't have keyboards or mice, so rearchitecting the content flow is important for users of small devices.

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Is it getting easier to wireless-enable enterprise applications?
Yes, it is for a couple of reasons. The third-party vendors in the market -- like Sybase Inc. and IBM -- are making it easier through connectors and tools. The big vendors are offering more mobility options. It's not everything we need yet, but within the next few years you can expect to see the major platform vendors offer mobility just like they offer Web capability today. Why has wireless-enabling proved to be more difficult than Web-enabling applications?
Mobility is a harder problem to solve because it has more diversity. The Web was pretty straightforward as far as standards go. Everyone knew to do HTTP and HTML, but mobility is more complex without those clear-cut standards. For companies making their first forays into wireless applications, what types of projects should they start with?
Keep it simple. Find one that you can deploy painlessly, which translates into not taking three years to architect and engineering it. Get a group of users in the field with field force applications, identify the problem they're trying to solve and solve it. Don't try to do everything for everyone. What about companies that have already completed a number of wireless projects. What should they keep in mind as they scale?
If you have multiple projects, see how you can leverage what you've done already for new projects. Also, find ways to integrate what you've done in the past for your future. Five standalone projects, for example, don't work as well as five integrated projects with one platform and one management group overseeing it all.

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