Strategic or opportunistic – that's a determination many in the mobility industry have been trying to make when evaluating different types of mobile enterprise solutions. For companies with large numbers of mobile workers in the field, almost any mobile solution can be defined as "strategic," but what is a strategic investment, and how is it different from a point solution?
The primary differences between strategic and opportunistic mobility are scale and scope. Strategic mobility investments generally involve top management in a company-wide investment in mobile technologies. Enterprise applications are enabled across different groups of workers with a wide range of activity profiles. Sometimes, the best strategic deployments involve organizations that have already been using mobile devices and technologies – that way, it's easier to get practical, day-to-day feedback about what does and does not work. User involvement in application development is a key success factor for any mobile enterprise solution, and this is especially true in big, top-down deployments of strategic mobile technologies.
With 10,000 devices in the field, spread across 50 train stations, the case study for mobile applications deployment at Nederlandse Spoorwegen (Dutch Rail) is an excellent example of a strategic investment in mobile technologies. After standardizing on the Microsoft Pocket PC device platform, Dutch Rail management was able to mobilize key business applications for several types of workers, ranging from train conductors and customer service representatives to scheduling, maintenance, and security teams.
Experience of handheld devices had already taught the Dutch Rail IT team that the most effective way to mobilize information is to put it into context, providing workers with the most appropriate types of information for job, location and time of day. In the case of train maintenance, workers in any given station need only the information that is germane to the equipment in that station, so it becomes counterproductive for workers to spend their time scrolling through schedules and information for trains in other stations. To build this location- and context-aware application infrastructure, Dutch Rail relied on an end-to-end Cisco WLAN infrastructure in every station and two products from a small Swedish vendor, Appear Networks. The Appear Context Engine and Appear Synchronization Module focus on providing all workers with the information they need to best do their jobs. Given the scope and scale of the deployment, Dutch Rail relied on professional services from systems integrator Capgemini.
Despite the size and magnitude of the strategic investment in enterprise mobility, Dutch Rail reports that returns on investment began a mere four months after going live. More important, the company reports an efficiency improvement equivalent to 25 minutes per worker per day across all shifts. The Cisco WLAN and those 10,000 handhelds are humming day and night to keep the Dutch trains clean, safe and on time.