Surviving the Recession, a Quocirca series

Part 4. The mobile factor - preparing for the deluge
Written by silicon.com staff, Contributor

Part 4. The mobile factor - preparing for the deluge

In the latest in this 12-part series, Quocirca analyst Clive Longbottom identifies the opportunities and problems a mobile and wireless workforce can bring. Exciting but complicated times lie ahead... If you listen to the vendors, it's surprising we aren't already wandering around with unlimited bandwidth to fancy portable devices, watching streaming video and carrying out full rich media interactions with our customers and suppliers. That said, mobile technologies are poised to make the world more interesting (and difficult) for us all and that means you need to ensure any changes you make to your systems in the near-term ensure you have the flexibility for the future. Already, in many large organisations, up to 40 per cent of the workforce is mobile. This does not just cover the sales force and field engineers but many managers and home workers. Changes in the wired world with cable and xDSL have provided greater opportunities but those who need untethered capabilities have been somewhat left behind. Those using GSM for synchronising data have rapidly found it obvious that this is only feasible for small data quantities. For those attempting to use cellular technologies to provide access to enterprise applications, it is apparent that the lack of signal stability and current application architectures counts against any business benefits that may be gained. However, GPRS is already happening and 3G will happen (honest). Local area wireless technology (802.11b) already provides 11Mb bandwidth within the campus and will move to 54Mb as 802.11a and 802.11g become available. These technologies, while only facilitators, will provide the capabilities for vendors to make new attacks on the market - and it's you who will need to be prepared. Starting at the device side, it is apparent from history that trying to enforce a device on a workforce is not viable - look what has happened with laptops and mobile phones. The 'device anarchy' which is bound to happen with mobility will make these earlier wars seem puny in comparison, as the workforce votes for a lifestyle statement. The best that you can hope for is to make a corporate statement of conformity. (For example, a chosen device must have GPRS capabilities and be capable of supporting WAP and WML.) However, the device evolution will also be dependent on the vendor's starting point - we already have Compaq, Handspring, HP and Toshiba launching mobile-capable PDAs with phone capabilities, while Motorola, Nokia, Trium and co are evolving the mobile phone to support calendaring and scheduling, contact management and browsing. With the merging of Ericsson with Sony's mobile arms we are guaranteed some interesting device evolutions and we have yet to see if consumer players such as Nintendo will be launching mobile devices in Europe. Next, we have application support - will you maintain yet more interfaces to and from your enterprise applications? Would vendor-supplied interfaces be acceptable to the mobile workforce? If the areas most used by the sales force within a CRM application are contact details and order history then making the user drill down 10 different levels will soon stop them from using the 'solution'. Similarly, having to pan across and down a form to access the information is not intuitive or friendly. We are looking here at specific solutions to specific tasks with certain vendors in the transcoding (such as Clickmarks or Everypath) or portal markets (Citrix/Sequoia or Plumtree) being able to provide generic layered solutions over your existing infrastructure. We also have to consider content - making one size fit all will not be easy. Your solution needs to know the device and its capabilities (screen size, orientation and colour depth) and will also need to know the bandwidth that is available. Based on this knowledge, the content needs to be presented to the best capabilities of the total environment - and this may mean not actually delivering it at all, if the device/bandwidth combination is unsuitable for the content. Then we have availability - having mobile access to corporate data is only viable if the always-on connection is there. Being at a customer's warehouse can demonstrate the capabilities of a Faraday Cage - that is, metal buildings stop radio waves - leaving your sales guy and his expensive mobile toy looking a little silly. Therefore, the ability for the mobile device to operate off-line will remain an important issue and this raises the issue of data synchronisation, from players such as Synchrologic or Xcellenet. Mobility will be an on-going problem, and you need to ensure that you maintain the flexibility for future technology advances. Quocirca's advice is not to take solutions which are architected for any one particular technology but to view the technology as an underlying facilitation layer. Also, don't assume that always-on actually means that. If data access is critical, then you will need data synchronisation. Look to keep the solutions as simple and as generic as possible. The future lies in hybrid solutions utilising both synchronisation to provide 'near-time' information and always-on wireless for 'real-time' information, where applicable. Quick wins are possible by layering suitable technology onto existing solutions - but it must address the needs of the user, or risk not being used. Again, the priorities have to be addressed, solving each issue one at a time. The wired world will remain important for the big data synchronisations, the remote worker and so on. Quocirca recommends that mobility be seen as a major impactor in any project proposal being put together but that it be viewed as a business opportunity rather than a technology issue. Be aware of the technology. Be prepared for the obvious issues such as security, management and ownership but maintain flexibility to enable quick solutions to be implemented to match the needs of the mobile worker. Next week, supply and demand - looking to match the expectations of the customer with you and your suppliers' capabilities. **Quocirca is a leading, user-facing analyst house known for its focus on the 'big picture'. For a full summary of its activities see http://www.quocirca.com, or reach the company's founding directors by emailing quocirca@silicon.com. Previous Surviving the Recession columns:
Part 3. Knowing the customer
2. Prioritising business needs
1. It's a recession - save or spend?
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