Getting more for wireless

Special to CWC

How do you find business value in mobile technology? Proving the worth of wireless was the hot topic at late May’s Wireless Connections 2003 conference in Calgary.

About 300 attendees converged on the University of Calgary conference facilities, including various wireless companies and service firms as well as customer organizations wanting to hear about the latest in wireless.

“Competition is evolving, driving the need for faster response time and increased connectivity with customers, employees and business partners,” said Bernie Borkenhagen, associate director, management consultant for Fujitsu Consulting in Calgary.

He told attendees that “there’s an increased expectation, a need for mobile employee empowerment to make decisions at the customer contact point.”

Companies have to look at financial benefits, but they also need to consider the intangibles – whether that comes down to customer satisfaction or saving lives, he said.

On the “tactical” level, companies can aim for efficiencies and improved data integrity, but from the “strategic perspective,” they need to look at things like competitive advantage and shorter reaction time. He reminded attendees: “IT projects themselves do not deliver benefits. Achieving benefits is a business responsibility.”

Change management is an important piece of selling wireless, said Borkenhagen. He recommended focusing on short-term immediate tactical opportunity projects that show ROI in less than 18 months, “then move onto bigger projects that affect the organization more.”

Canada’s wireless industry is significant, contributing $4.9 billion to Canada’s GDP in 2002, said Peter Barnes, president and CEO of the Ottawa-based Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association.

Already, 800,000 text messages are sent per day in Canada, he said, predicting an expansion of the kinds of services that will be available wirelessly. But he warns: “Services have to be meaningful and useful to customers.”

However, K.P. Wilska, president of Nokia Americas and keynote speaker at the conference, said, “The killer application is killing time.” That means any services that can help kill “idle time” will be attractive – for example, a newspaper electronically via the phone while waiting at an airport.

“We make phone calls to kill time,” he noted. “If the traffic light is red, I’ll call my wife.”

And to drive new services among consumers, he said “we will change the behaviour.” (Nokia is introducing a new phone at the rate of about one per week.)

Devon Canada Corp., an oil and gas company based in Calgary, has 1,200 employees working in not only urban centres, but at extremely remote oil plants and facilities throughout Western and Northern Canada, said Brad Lusk, senior leader of infrastructure, information services and technology. The more remote the location, the less telecom options are offered by the carriers, he noted. That’s why the company uses wireless at its remote sites, usually in the form of RF communications or satellite.

Devon attended the conference to hear about the latest in emerging technologies, Lusk said. For example, Devon is currently evaluating wireless LANs and is starting a pilot, but has been waiting on “maturity, security and encryption issues.”

Other countries are further ahead than Canada with wireless use, said Tomi Ahonen, 3G wireless consultant and author. Mobile phone penetration has reached 90 per cent in some countries, like Austria, Finland, Iceland and Israel, he said. Consumers in Norway are using cell phones to pay for parking. In Finland, they use their cell phones to play the national lottery.

“The raw demand for wireless is exceptionally real, said Harold Graham, vice-president at Nortel Networks. He expects to see one billion wireless subscribers globally by 2006. “It’s always better to be untethered.”

And consumers are expecting “always on – they will not wait for services.”

Wireless data is experiencing 10 per cent annual growth, with an expected 153 million users worldwide by the end of 2003, said Adam Zawel, director of wireless/mobile enterprise and commerce for The Yankee Group.

In corporations, wireless data is driven in three stages, he said, first by end users employing voice and messaging. Secondly, enterprise customers want information in forms and databases and the ability to make transactions. Finally, they want tight integration with back office applications.

However, business process redesign takes time, warned Bill Tam, executive vice-president of sales and marketing for Burnaby, B.C.-based Infowave Software Inc. “Absolutely show business enablement. Find sponsorship beyond IT. Technical success doesn’t equal business success.”

Wireless should lead to “increased efficiency of resources and the reduction of wasted time,” said David Bocking, director, enterprise mobility for Fujitsu Consulting. “It reduces risk with time-sensitive applications, it eliminates corrections and transcription delays and errors. It reduces cost and improves quality. And it gives workers more power.”