Spend wireless budgets wisely: study

Cellular technology, when it first arrived on the scene was the epitome of the rich man’s toy with its limited range and high costs. Today, cell phones are almost as pervasive as cars – and though communication ranges have dramatically increased and costs fallen for almost all mobile technologies, they essentially still fit in the realm of toys. They are useful but not imperative.

A recent Forrester Research Canada Inc. report, Stop Wasting Your Wireless Budgets, found that companies are caught up in the hype and buzz surrounding wireless applications and devices but that they are used, for the most part, solely for personal information management (PIM).

“I think that people are making choices based primarily on what they see the devices being able to do today rather than looking at whether their company really needs wireless,” said Jordan Kendall an analyst with Forrester in Toronto.

Forrester spoke to 35 Canadian companies with wireless projects in the pipes and found that while most used wireless technology for PIM, they will be shifting their focus toward “mobile extensions of corporate application.”

These applications include customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning and field service. While only 17 per cent of the companies presently support wireless CRM and 23 per cent wireless ERP, those numbers will jump to 60 per cent and 54 per cent respectively by 2003. PIM support stands at 97 per cent today and will show no change two years hence.

Using a mobile device for e-mail is useful but from an investment perspective difficult to quantify, Kendall said. “There is a return, but it is soft.”

He said in these tight economic times, when IT budgets are being cut, it is important to justify projects based on whether they will return the investment. When it is difficult to measure the benefit, it is difficult to justify, he said.

speed and apps needed

Joe Greene, vice-president, telecom and Internet research with IDC Canada in Toronto, cited IDC’s own research (done for IBM) where 100 Canadian CEOs were asked if wireless seemed like a good investment with the potential for a solid return. The answer was a definitive yes, he said. But Greene said we are still a few years away from the kind of CRM solutions companies envision. Part of this is due to slow network speeds, he said.

“Speed…is essential for those kinds of applications.”

Jeremy Depow, senior analyst with the Yankee Group in Canada in Brockville, Ont., places the limitations more on a lack of CRM and ERP applications.

“I think it is an app issue,” he said. He added that we are probably less than a year away from seeing powerful CRM and ERP applications. “But there are some things that need to be ironed out,” he said.

All three agreed integrating the various applications and devices properly is one hurdle to overcome. And once all the issues are resolved?

“It is going to be tremendously useful,” Depow said.

Kendall said companies need to focus now so when the time comes to integrate mobile CRM and ERP solutions they have a strategy.

“Right-out-of-the-gate companies need to separate their corporate wireless efforts from their PIM efforts,” he said. “It is really easy to get caught up on the PIM side and spend all of your money there.” We will see 10 to 20 per cent of the corporate wireless budget, at most, go to PIM, Kendall said.

Over the next 12 months we will see a lot of packaged wireless applications become available with standard CRM type functions like delivery, route management and remote customer service, he predicted.

Since there will be a wide array of languages and platforms to choose from, it is very important for companies to do internal analysis to make sure what ever solution they do pick, regardless of language or platform, that it does exactly what is needed, he added.

“For a lot of people it is a wait-and-see, they need to keep their eyes open, they need to be undertaking the analysis now and starting to identify the tasks that are prime candidates for wireless automation,” Kendall said.

Whether employees will be using PDA, WAP enabled cell phones, wireless laptops or another, as of yet not invented interface, is still too early to tell.

“That is a very big issue right now and it is hard to give a definitive answer because it is very speculative,” Depow said.