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One user's ROI trash is another's treasure

No one is buying technology these days; rather, companies are buying solutions to specific business problems.

In the past few months, we have attended countless industry trade conferences, strategic briefings, one-on-one product briefings and an occasional impromptu meeting in an airport lounge or waiting area. One common thread emerged from all our conversations concerning mobile and wireless technology, systems deployment, wired and wireless integration. That is, that no one in the enterprise is buying technology, no matter if it is two cans and string or a sophisticated 802.11g wireless network. Rather, companies are buying solutions to their specific problems.

Most companies are also looking at systems integrators, value-added resellers and targeted solutions providers to solve these problems with technology, as the trend shifts away from buying directly from software and hardware manufacturers. A lot of companies have quickly recognized this trend and have altered or are in the process of altering their sales and marketing structure to provide a solutions-based approach through business-specific channels. Included in this group are established companies like Bluesocket Inc., ReefEdge Inc., Newbury Networks and Extended Systems, as well as up and coming newcomers such as Tatara Systems Inc. All are focusing on channel marketing and channel solutions as they chase the elusive enterprise target.

One of the lessons we have learned in talking with hundreds of enterprise users and mobile and wireless vendors is that mobile and wireless needs and demands differ dramatically from one industry segment to the next. Although many vendors will try, you just cannot sell exactly the same mobile customer relationship management (CRM) or remoter data access solution to a healthcare provider as you do to someone involved in education or the oil gas industry. Every segment approaches mobile and wireless a little differently, and each has their own individual way to measure the effectiveness of mobile deployments and the return on investment (ROI).

For example, at the Dartmouth University Thayer School of Engineering in bucolic New Hampshire, the ROI of some of the university's wireless systems is measured in terms of how many potential students who log onto the basic level 802.11b system installed within the school's administration building wind up as registered students at the university. The 802.11b system allows potential students to wirelessly access the school's information Web sites and even take a virtual tour of the school and get a taste of academic life.

The Thayer school also utilizes location-aware technology to expand computing resources to the university's computing laboratories, as well as to the engineering school's machine shop, where students can access inventory and parts information and go on-line to order materials, explains Edmond Cooley, professor of engineering and director of information technology at the university. We are also told that wireless technology that extends Web access to particular areas of the college campus -- say, a tent set up for alumni at a football game -- can also be an invaluable incentive in attracting new funding from people who might be impressed with the school's technically savvy nature.

Up front with technology
Dartmouth University's Thayer School of Engineering, as well as its medical and business schools, is certainly at the forefront of wired and wireless computing technology. In fact, the school has adopted an internal credo of providing a "port for every pillow" for students at the university. However, the ROI concerns and demands get a lot more complicated when you switch gears and look outside the cloistered halls of academia at other industry segments where success may be measured in more bottom line terms.

In the pharmaceuticals industry, for example, mobile wireless access not only enhances sales force, customer relations, and inventory operations, but is also used to provide the following benefits that are relatively unique to pharmaceutical sales:

  • Increased access to industry and drug information, so that sales personnel can better interact with doctor clients and function as advisors as well as sales representatives;
  • The ability to track increasing government restrictions on how much time and money can be spent chasing physician sales and developing strong contacts within the doctor community, and maintaining tight controls on sales tactics and practices;
  • A way to make better use of the limited time that most pharmaceutical sales people have introducing and pitching themselves to potential doctor clients, which by some estimates averages about 45 seconds right now;
  • The ability to squeeze more client visits into a typical day by having faster and more frequent access to up-to-date drug and company information, and having more accurate access to client information and histories;
  • An effective way to improve accuracy, reliability and security of the information that is exchanged between physicians and pharmaceutical organizations -- important since there are increasing FDA regulations.
The ROI concerns and demands are no less distinct and important in other industry segments, whether it is utilities, insurance or environmental services. The key is to first understand the user's basic business model and the core demands of that business then discover just what problems must be solved to deliver an effective technology answer.

Just like the people involved in pharmaceutical sales, vendors and system integrators should approach enterprise users as advisors and informed friends before unpacking those suitcases full of technology.

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

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