It was obvious the toughest challenges for CIOs would revolve around ways to improve employee and customer service effectiveness. Less obvious was whether there was genuine potential for savings from a corporate investment in wireless technology, even as experts insisted they offered big opportunities to improve customer service and boost the bottom line.
It was a time of savage cost cutting, so it is not surprising that Australian businesses were eyeing mobile's potential to help them raise productivity, cut inventory, promote sales and further build customer relationships. The clouds on the horizon all had to do with widespread dissatisfaction with the infrastructure, portal offerings and devices.
"The biggest things people are concerned with right now are the cost because of the time you're online, and the security of the connection," IDC Australia research manager Joel Martin said back in 2001. "Those are the two biggest impediments to mobile e-commerce. If you can imagine entering all that data on, say, a credit transaction on the phone, you're being charged by the minute as well as having to enter all this information. So those are the two largest inhibitors worldwide."
Always on Arrives
Fast forward to 2006 and mobility has become a major preoccupation for many businesses, with "mobility strategies" taking a key place on the corporate to-do list. Mobile phones, PDAs and wireless computers breed like rabbits. We communicate with one another from anywhere at any time, carrying portable offices in our pockets or our briefcases. Yes, our wireless signals often get lost inside large buildings and our mobile phones cannot always get a signal, but at least we can travel the globe without having to lose touch with our PAs, colleagues and partners.
A recent Computerworld article cited Telstra projections that 98 percent of the population will have access to 3G mobile services once it aggregated its GSM and CDMA networks. This will open a new era in mobile application adoption, according to group managing director of Telstra product management Holly Kramer.
The article quoted Kramer's keynote address at this year's Wireless Australia summit in Sydney. She told her audience more than 2000 corporates are already using wireless e-mail, signalling its acceptance by enterprise IT departments. The venerable BlackBerry - once a "luxury of the corporate elite" - is becoming more pervasive down the ladder. "[This year] will be a landmark year for wireless in Australia [and will] define wireless broadband services," Kramer said. "Traditionally, it has been fat wireless pipes, but it now expands many aspects of wireless service delivery."
Kramer said business services, including messaging and vertical applications, were becoming critical to reaching customers in new ways, such as mobile EFTPOS payments. "Wireless e-mail will become more pervasive [and] 3G cellular technology is the next step on this path," she said, adding that by 2010 more than 45 percent of the population would have 3G-capable phones. "The more work we can do to build network redundancy and SLAs for business customers the more acceptable it will become."
Kramer predicted wireless would play a central role in business as it became more pervasive and featured in next-generation PDAs and mobile phones. This, and the continuing evolution of wireless broadband devices, she said, would put pressure on carriers to deliver.
However, the challenges for CIOs remain, not least because of the broadness of the wireless umbrella. Mobile computing runs a gamut of technologies, from wireless hand-held devices, to mobile applications, wireless networks, VoIP over Wi-Fi and even RFID. CIOs have to make crucial decisions about virtual and collaborative technologies such as presence and instant messaging, which enable remote workers to be more productive. And the security issues remain.
Wireless technologies from RFID to 802.11 were among the top IT issues aired at a recent National Manufacturing Week show in the US.
"The capacity for devices to communicate is a hugely under-exploited opportunity," Deloitte noted recently. "Connecting these devices could yield many real and potentially lucrative opportunities in both the consumer and business sectors. For consumers, adding connectivity to a range of devices makes all the devices more valuable and useful. For businesses, remote data collection, monitoring and reporting - which are already feasible - can improve efficiency and responsiveness."
CIOs know it. They also know there is still a rocky road ahead.
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