Opinion: Worthy of wireless

Opinion: Worthy of wireless

By the time I finished reading the page proofs for a'Wireless at Work' special report for Computerworld US, I was ready to turn in my new Palm Tungsten W and confess the embarrassing truth: I'm only impersonating a real user.

By the time I finished reading the page proofs for a"Wireless at Work" special report, I was ready to turn in my new Palm Tungsten W and confess the embarrassing truth: I'm only impersonating a real user. Half the capabilities of this gorgeous gadget are wasted on me. I don't use it as a cell phone (got one already), and I don't even have the wireless connection enabled (too much email would follow me around). Naturally, I use the calendar, address book, memo pad and calculator. But I am clearly not worthy of this much cutting-edge technology.

Fortunately for the wireless industry, overprovisioned editors are nobody's target market. In fact, reporter Bob Brewin found that for many companies, wireless is taking significant hold as a blue-collar technology "far removed from the world of executive BlackBerry pagers or airport lounge wireless LAN 'hot spots' ".

Once you look beyond the decaf-mocha-latte-sipping Starbucks crowd, the true impact of wireless shows up in successful working-class applications serving repair-truck drivers from Sears and bulldozer operators at a Wyoming coal mine. At Todd Shipyards in Seattle, 66 supervisors are making far better use of wireless on their Palm devices than I ever will. They're managing the time records of 1,200 union workers, enabling them to see who's working on which job. The $300,000 system had to work around the physical and geographic barriers presented by 44 acres full of metal structures, which required the installation of 33 access points, some with high-powered antennas.

For our 15-page special report, we conducted an online survey a month ago, gathering feedback from 323 users. On average, they came from companies with more than 5,000 employees and IT departments of fewer than 50. The majority (64 percent) consider wireless technology important to their business goals. And no wonder. The leading five business uses for wireless, our survey found, are mobile access to the enterprise, sales force communication, data entry from the field, logistics support and factory-floor data entry.

Somewhat heartening, though, is that 38 percent of the respondents said the economic downturn has had no impact on their wireless rollouts. That kind of determined backing of any IT project is rare these days. It underscores how quickly the payback must be happening for many companies.

The stumbling blocks of inadequate bandwidth and network availability don't appear to be stemming the steadily rising tide of companies moving forward with wireless projects. Even concerns about security aren't putting on the brakes. By the end of last year, seven in 10 companies had adopted wireless technology, according to an IDC survey of more than 1,200 North American companies across 18 industries. About $2.2 billion was spent in 2002 on wireless hardware, and that's expected to rise to $3.9 billion by 2006, says research firm In-Stat/MDR.

Also intriguing is how the small-business frontier is becoming crowded with wireless users these days (page 44). These second-generation adopters watched, learned and rolled their own, often in highly customized implementations.

"To make wireless cost-effective, the vendors have got to know an awful lot about their clients' business processes," says Gartner analyst Phillip Redman. "That's why you see so many adopters skipping a Microsoft or an IBM and going instead to specialist (vendors) in areas like transportation and warehousing."

Across so many industries, wireless is getting down to business, doing real work and proving itself worthy. Watching it all happen makes me wish I was worthy, too. -- Computerworld (US)

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