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A group for mobility's non-believers

Believe it or not, not all IT managers believe that mobile technology is the best panacea since Web services or Linux. In fact, many believe mobility is a waste because either there's no clear way to measure return on investment, or because the costs associated with developing mobile applications or deploying devices can quickly spiral through the roof. If that describes your IT chief's attitude, then Traver Gruen-Kennedy wants his or her phone number. Gruen-Kennedy -- an icon in the hosted applications field who is known as the "father of the application service provider industry" -- is now the founder and chairman of the Mobile Enterprise Alliance (MEA), an advocacy group that promotes the benefits of enterprise mobile technology. caught up with Gruen-Kennedy to discuss early adopters, ROI efforts and management pains.

To play devil's advocate, if a company's decision makers won't listen to employees who want to adopt mobile technology, how can the MEA get executives to listen to its message?
One of the things we believe in is speaking directly [about] business cases, so we've been talking to businesses. For instance, we have a great case study on Denmark's largest insurance company enabling its mobile sales force to use Siebel. Their workers were using laptops, but they had to synch through the day or at the end of the day, and it became cumbersome.

So by moving to a Web-enabled Siebel application and allowing those notebooks to connect wirelessly across a GPRS network, they were able to increase productivity, and sales increased by more than 10%. There are many cases like that that we don't know about, but we want to get all of them coming forward. So we're organizing MEA awards, which are focused on bringing the case studies forward, and we're studying ROI as a business metric and how it affects the efficiency of a business process. Speaking of ROI, IT pros who deal with mobile technology often say that their biggest obstacle with executives is finding ways to measure ROI. How can companies come to terms with that?
They need ROI tools and ways to measure it that are empirical and also touch on some of the softer things that make a difference in a company. ROI doesn't necessarily prevent you from making a decision; it's a lack of information that keeps you from making it. It's not always as simple for people to compare one way of doing something to another way, unless we can really look at what a change in the business process can mean. Are people increasing sales or taking better care of customers? Can we offer a higher quality of life to workers while also being more productive? We're looking for harder ROI numbers and metrics. Nobody has been thinking hard and deep about this, and we're trying to. What's the biggest misconception among IT executives regarding mobile technology?
Lots of people love the concept of mobility because we all have legs and we all move from building to building and get on airplanes. The challenge people have is they don't believe the technology is secure, which it can be, if you use the right tools and best practices. They don't believe it's affordable, and it is -- if it's applied in the appropriate way. And they really don't believe it's being widely used, but if you look at some of the early adopters -- like FedEx and DHL, some airlines and companies like Wal-Mart --- you realize that mobile solutions are being widely used.

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Get expert Tim Scannell's take on the search for mobile computing ROI.

 Do you envision more companies outsourcing the management of mobile technology?
I think that's happening today, and I think it continues to grow. I think there will be a movement away from hosting applications on devices, and instead hosting browsers on a device that use applications on the Web. But when you develop a Web application, it can be hard to lock down. I think companies are going to increasingly want to separate the devices and what to host on them. Are software vendors -- specifically the big enterprise application players -- doing enough to make it easy to implement and use wireless applications?
I think some of them are thinking long and hard, and have for some time. Oracle and Siebel have been, but both companies have a proprietary view of it. The real challenge is to create Web access to an enterprise application that can be ubiquitously available to a device, like a Centrino-enabled laptop or tablet PC, and then make that application easy to use from wherever you are. A number of our companies are working on how to take a full-screen SAP application and get it into a smaller form factor. But we're going to see a lot of activity in the next 12 months. Wireless phone companies are suddenly working feverishly to build high-speed data networks, anticipating an increasing demand from businesses. Is there a role for that technology in the enterprise?
Wide-area wireless networking -- and roaming seemingly from Bluetooth to 802.11 to a wide area network -- has had issues because the bandwidth hasn't been available, or it's been very expensive. Recent enhancements have enabled the BlackBerrys and other devices to be real-time e-mail devices. The payment mechanisms are becoming more mature and, as that continues, people will use them more and more. We saw this with mobile phones. When people had to worry about mobile minutes, people didn't use them. Now they've become like water. That's what will happen with data.

This would have happened a lot earlier if the governments of the world had not imposed these huge auction prices on this entire industry. They didn't apply that to the Internet, but applied billions of dollars of what are essentially taxes in exchange for frequency licenses, which has stymied the whole industry.

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