Trigger needed to push wireless solutions

At a recent Yankee Group conference, forecasts were made about the future of the mobile industry. Among these, analysts predicted that by 2005 more than 42 million people in the enterprise will wirelessly exchange e-mails and manage other data applications.

While this news is hopeful for the wireless industry, which has been hard hit by the strained economy, 28 months isn’t much time for the enterprise to embrace technology that until now has been on most organizations’ back burners.

Sarah Kim, an analyst with the Yankee Group in Boston, said the lack of wireless technology in the enterprise can be chalked up to timing.

“The wireless revolution came at a bad time. Enterprises were really thinking about the efficiency created by wireless technology, and then the economy tanked. Companies that have had to cut back on employees because of economic constraints are not interested in looking at new initiatives right now,” she said.

Michael Moskowitz, president of Palm Canada in Mississauga, Ont., agreed that most enterprises haven’t made wireless strategies a priority for this quarter or even the next. However, he sees corporations considering mobile solutions as a future priority.

“We’re not there yet, but we will be shortly. Corporations are thinking today about planning for tomorrow so that they’ll be ready for implementation when the critical adoption time comes,” he said.

In order for this adoption time to actually come, whether it happens by 2005 or not, two things have to happen, according to Barry Oxby, a partner at Sierra Systems in Calgary.

The economy needs to take the turn that people have been waiting for and the wireless industry needs to find the trigger application or product that will make the need for the solution widespread, Oxby said.

“It’s happened with the Web, it happened with client/server, and if you go back further in time it happened with the desktop computer, which didn’t take off until Lotus came onto the market. There’s always a trigger, and I haven’t seen one in this industry yet,” he said.

What Moskowitz is hoping for is that Palm’s software will serve as that trigger. Palm’s wireless strategy for the enterprise consists of both one and two-piece solutions for connectivity.

Its one-piece solution is the Palm i705 PDA, which has been designed to combine e-mail, messaging and personal information management (PIM). Its two-piece solution is based on the much talked about Bluetooth technology, which enables a Palm device to communicate with Bluetooth-enabled phones and other Palm handhelds. This combination approach is designed to allow wireless Internet connection for access to Web applications.

“We’re looking to give customers choice,” Moskowitz said, noting that the data-centric approach to wireless data is applicable for both vertical markets such as health care, the financial sector and real estate, and for accessing horizontal applications such as CRM and sales force automation.

“From a corporate standpoint, the critical data between the automotive sector and the real estate sector might be different, but accessing the information would be the same,” he said.

According to Kim, until the enterprise can truly understand the value of wireless solutions, the industry will have to bide its time.

“The wireless industry has a long way to go in helping users understand the value of the hardware through applications,” she said, noting that wirelessly enabling an enterprise is a huge undertaking that requires an IT department to completely rethink the company’s architecture.

“It’s not just horizontal sales force automation-type things that they have to think about. It’s specific in-house applications that they need to think about in a mobile environment and figure out how to make that efficient,” she said.