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Planning key to mobile deployments, but at what cost?

An IDC analyst said it's important to invest in planning well in advance of a mobile deployment, but one attendee said that convincing executives to spend the money is a challenge.

CHICAGO -- According to one industry luminary, it's critical for enterprises to spend money on planning before actually deploying mobile devices and applications, but it's a strategy that may be easier said than done.

During a session Tuesday at Research In Motion Ltd.'s Wireless Enterprise Symposium 2004 user conference, Kevin Burden, program manager for smart handheld devices with International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass., said that there's a big difference between understanding the importance of mobility, and knowing how mobile devices and applications might fit into an organization.

Kevin Burden

Preparation is critical, said Burden, in order to define how mobile technology complements existing business processes. He said that way, when it's time to move forward with an implementation, it's more likely that the technology will serve a meaningful purpose, and less likely that workers will reject it.

However, attendee Timothy Perry, technology director with a large, New Jersey-based pharmaceuticals firm, said it's hard enough convincing executives at his company to invest in a deployment, never mind planning for a deployment that may or may not produce a return on investment.

Said Perry, "They say, 'You're asking for $100,000, so you have to demonstrate that you're going to get real returns in the form of hard-dollar savings.'"

Perry said that in many cases he's competing for cash against leaders of other business units. He said it's difficult to convince his bosses to spend on research that will determine whether or not a wireless application implementation makes sense when another unit can, for instance, show how adding employees to the sales staff will lead to a direct increase in revenue.

In fact, Perry said executives had argued that wireless access to e-mail is counterproductive, because it distracts people from other work that can only be done away from the office, such as networking at a conference, while e-mail can usually be delayed.

While Burden admitted that the ROI of most mobile implementations must often be realized within 12 months, he said the costs related to e-mail mobilization should be considered an investment in the future; mobile business functions allow a company to implement new business processes that would not have been previously possible with workers bound to their desks.

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 Burden also said that in a world where success between rival companies is often determined by which organization is quicker to respond to changing markets, mobility can be a key competitive differentiator.

"The way you get ahead is by being more productive than your competitors," said Burden, "and that's what mobility helps you with."

Now that many companies are emerging from a prolonged period of conservative IT budgets, Burden said those that do spend on wireless implementation research realize that not only is it possible to build wireless systems that improve productivity and provide a tangible ROI, but also that today's wireless data networks are capable of supporting enterprise applications.

"There's a lot of speed on the horizon," Burden said, referencing the advanced wireless networks being developed by Verizon Wireless and Nextel Communications Inc. "What we have now is sufficient, but what's coming will open up a host of new possibilities."

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