It's been said that email made the Internet, and while that might tend towards the hyperbolic and fly in the face of Al Gore's personal history of the Internet, its significance can't be taken lightly. And now -- with the Internet having become a pervasive part of our lives in such a short time -- email is poised to do the heavy lifting again to help firmly establish wireless data communications.
Wireless computing is hardly new, with vertical and niche apps having been around for years -- perhaps the most visible of these are used in the package delivery business by the likes of UPS and FedEx. Those early adopters proved that wireless worked -- albeit at a significant cost. The trick is to bring wireless access to commodity platforms using public networks and applications that weren't necessary built to share their data over long distances. So there's a bit more to figure out than going mobile with a brown truck and neat brown uniform.
The most important step towards implementing wireless computing is the first step. My not-so-novel suggestion was to pick an app that would travel well -- and easily -- and that didn't require shipping boatloads of data about. It was the basic -- I'm sure I'll be struck by lightning for using this phrase -- low-hanging fruit approach. And the lowest hanger is email.
Choosing email as your company's first mobile application is about as close to perfect for a number of reasons -- not the least of which is that it may be the easiest app you ever roll out to your company's mobile minions. Email is on of the fundamental corporate communication vehicles, so it's likely to catch on and be successful -- just as portable computing and cell phones scored big in the past. And with the definition of the mobile worker ever widening to now include those employees who may never queue up at an airport security checkpoint but still spend big chunks of the workday away from their desks, it's clear that the traditional methods of communication are becoming strained.
The wireless email evolution
Several companies, including Synchrologic, Air2Web, and JPMobile, offer mobile email packages that integrate with the two most popular enterprise email servers -- Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Domino -- and can deliver mail to a variety of devices. The latter point is key. It means that there's a good chance that your mobile mail participants can use the devices they already own -- Palm or Pocket PC PDAs, BlackBerry units, or data-ready phones. So you might not have to shell out big bucks for client devices, and you can use your mobile mail rollout to test the effectiveness of a variety of client types.
Of course, you will have to peel a few bills off the IT budget bankroll to pay for the server software and wireless carrier costs. And whenever money walks, ROI talks. Because email isn't generally associated with any particular application or corporate function, ROI has always been an elusive subject. What's the return on investment for email? Try not making the investment and see what returns. That might've worked once, but you'd probably be pushing your luck by playing that old tune again.
In fact, you can build a convincing ROI case for wireless mail. And it's all about productivity. Way back when, notebook PCs cracked the corporate culture because they let travelling workers toil away during off hours -- and, arguably, email was the killer app then, too. Likewise, it's not too tough today to justify spending a couple of quid to effectively stretch workdays just enough to stuff a little more productivity into 24 hours.
Deliver the mail regardless of where the recipient is -- in a cab, on a bus, or queuing at Starbucks -- and that otherwise "unproductive" time can be used to slog through some correspondence. A little email housekeeping while travelling between appointments or during a commute can add up, and let you reclaim the time spent at your desk on the morning ritual of poring through the day's mail. That's almost like gaining time -- and you're probably not going to use that time to open a box of chocolates, don your fuzzy slippers, and watch Webcasts of As The World Turns. No -- you're going to use the time to get more work done. I know how this stuff works -- I use a BlackBerry every day to turn my bus rides to and from the office into productive time.
So if wireless email can, in effect, add an hour or two of productive time a week for each user, what kind of value might that offer to your organisation? Some of the mobile email vendors and analysts have run the numbers on that very notion. Synchrologic, for example, speculates that a one-year ROI of 181 percent can be achieved with wireless email -- using what the company considers conservative numbers. Ipsos-Reid came to the same conclusion -- with far grander numbers -- in a study of the benefits of implementing RIM's BlackBerry-based wireless mail.
A couple of minutes with your calculator and you should be able to justify a wireless email system without much sweat -- the productivity perspective is pretty convincing. Keep in mind, too, that email is an element in your company's communications infrastructure, so it's not a stretch to consider it as a platform that can facilitate other apps.
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