Today's column concerns delivering on promises. We don't have to remind you how tough the economy has been and how much of an impact the continuing slump in technology demand has had on every applications industry segment. Analyst naysayers have had an extended field day talking about poor shipment projections, paranoid IT executives and gun-shy corporations that have cancelled all plans until better news shows itself on the horizon.
We are just as guilty of these actions, although we tend to think of ourselves more as "half-full" than "half-empty" glass types of people. After talking with a number of people in the trenches, as well as experts in the know, we are happy to report that this doom and gloom environment may be shifting toward brighter skies -- nothing significant at this point, but enough activity that suggests we have turned a corner and are making some progress.
Our cautious conclusions are based on discussions with IT executives, mobile and wireless developers, new technology initiators and some heavy-duty systems integrators who report some very clear signals that the tide has turned in terms of this very long and debilitating slump. Companies that have been thus far very reluctant to engage in any type of new mobile and wireless initiatives are suddenly launching into small and modest deployments that involve careful development of user interfaces, controlled and highly-managed pilot projects, and close cooperation with executive on the business side who usually provide the necessary funding.
Our discussions with some of the top integrators and consultants in the industry (we're talking Big Five here!), have revealed the following strategies, developments and revelations from within the bowels of the IT enterprise:
- A large number of companies are moving forward with mobile and wireless plans, despite the lethargic nature of the economy, although most of these initiatives are focused on revenue-generating activities and strategies that deliver a positive ROI payback within a few months;
- Many companies have completely restructured the entire mobility planning and deployment process, looking first at how any initiatives will impact the entire business model and current revenue strategies. Many companies are also looking for a more "holistic approach" to technology, specifically one that delivers more value to the entire business and not just the IT department;
- Vendors and systems integrators are being asked to be held accountable for promised ROI gains from mobile and wireless deployments, and are responsible if solutions do not deliver what is expected;
- The cost of mobile and wireless initiative is still important, so companies are looking for relatively inexpensive ways to get their feet wet in new projects. This is causing some concern among developers who feel that small and conservative projects may not easily scale when they are expanded;
- The most successful deployments often start right at the user level, and may require that vendors and integrators get their hands a little dirty by following these workers as they go about their daily job functions. The only way to understand user needs and build adequate solutions is to have a thorough knowledge of how these tools will be used in the field;
- Before embarking on any kind of a mobile or wireless deployment, vendors and users should have a clear understanding of the expectations of the project, as well as the target ROI benefits. Field workers, for example, may measure ROI in terms of the number of steps that are reduced to accomplish a specific job function, or even how well a mobile system is absorbed into their workflow. However, the accountants may look primarily at bottom-line returns from added sales and revenues. Be sure to have answers ready for questions from multiple corporate camps.
All of the experts and companies we polled agreed that while the success of a project is never guaranteed, it helps tremendously to have a "deployment hero" on board from the very beginning. Often, this person is a respected field worker or in-the-trenches champion who can easily rally the troops around a mobile project once he or she is convinced that it can work and can ultimately boost productivity and sales. It also might be someone within the IT organization, who understands the value of extending the network and corporate information resource out to workers in the field.
Conversely, this hero might be a person who has never come into direct contact with mobile technology, and is a top producer within the organization. In this case, it may be difficult to convince them that technology tools will not present a roadblock in this challenging economy. In this case, the smart vendor should have a ready supply of successful case histories and deployment examples that relate to the potential client's business environment and objectives. It also wouldn't hurt to approach the user as a strategic partner and advisor, rather than someone who is simply interested in selling products.
Tim Scannell is the president and chief analyst with Shoreline Research, a Quincy, Mass.-based consulting company specializing in mobile and wireless technology and initiatives. Shoreline works with end users, looking to implement mobile solutions, and vendors, developing new products and seeking business and customer opportunities. The company also specializes in training and strategic planning projects. For more information on Shoreline Research and the company's strategic services please go to www.shorelineresearch.com.