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When Wireless Works

When Wireless Works

The ROI for wireless was once assumed to be a given. Today, many consider it anything but. But if you follow these emerging best practices, your project can achieve many happy returns.

At the turn of the century, way back in 2000, there were few or no best practices governing wireless investments, and there really didn't have to be. Just saying a project was wireless evoked a limitless landscape strewn with potential profits. Pronounce the magic word, wireless, and CEOs sat up and listened. CFOs unsnapped their pocketbooks.

But, of course, that was then. A good many of those projects either failed to materialise or failed to work. Today, companies support wireless devices and offer wireless applications at rates far below what they anticipated they would if you had asked them 18-to-24 months ago.

There are a number of reasons why wireless projects withered on the vine, most notably a bottom-line focus that no longer encourages speculative investment. CIOs have also been burned by the shortcomings of wireless technology (see "Three Reasons Why Wireless Projects Fail") and by projects targeted at audiences that weren't really there. Jeff Scott, chief technology officer of New York City-based Thomson Financial, which in the last quarter of 2000 deployed a wireless application that delivered financial data to handheld devices, sums up the feelings of many of his colleagues when he says that "the financial services industry has cooled a bit for these services, either because of the market conditions or a changed view of ROI for wireless or both". Barry Strasnick, CIO of Massachusetts-based CitiStreet, is more blunt. Describing an abandoned wireless effort to extend Web site capabilities to handheld devices, he says: "Realistically, you shouldn't trade your [retirement fund] as you're walking through the airport."

Wireless technology has improved during the past few years but still has a ways to go before it catches up to the original hype, says Victor Milligan, vice president of consulting for Gartner (US). "The only way to make sense of it is to build a business case," says Milligan. "If you have a mobile workforce that is part of a mission-critical or valuable business process, you need to have a wireless strategy. That strategy may be to defer, but at least you're making the decision based on information."

Building a business case is not as simple as it may first appear. Many CIOs still have a hard time determining a hard ROI for wireless projects. In a recent CIO (US) survey, the two most popular measures of ROI were increased productivity (54 per cent) and improved internal customer satisfaction (40 per cent), neither of which is easily measured. Furthermore, an astounding 25 per cent of CIOs surveyed said that they didn't measure the ROI of wireless projects at all.

That's not good.

Although the executives interviewed for this article say they will no longer pay for projects that won't pay them back, few are able to define that payback in anything more than general terms. Still, best practices for planning, launching and implementing wireless projects can be derived by examining projects that work and those that don't. And what works are projects that start with a clearly stated problem and proceed by deploying the most direct solution - leveraging the right technology. CIOs who have led those successful implementations are able to track how they increase revenue and how they reduce costs.

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