Eight ways to get ready for mobile usage

Remember the guy in that meeting last week who seemed to be paying close attention to everything but kept glancing into his lap? He was probably doing e-mail on a BlackBerry or some other handheld device. Can you say “Annoying”?

If IT thought the PC brought major changes to the enterprise, just wait for wireless to take hold. From Wi-Fi (802.11b) to Bluetooth to new kinds of mobile telephony and data services, this is genuinely disruptive technology.

The U.S. is lagging behind Europe and some parts of Asia, where wireless has transformed businesses in small and large ways. But ultramobility is coming fast here, and companies need to be ready with some rules of this new data road. Here are eight observations and suggestions:

1. Think about security now, not later. Remind employees that they’re talking on radios when they use mobile phones. Wi-Fi, which is springing up all over the U.S., has some fundamental security problems in its current incarnation. If you set up an 802.11 network on your premises, remember that you may be exposing your systems to people in your parking lot. Don’t allow access to sensitive data except with a VPN or other serious encryption. Also, be sure to secure laptop computers so that when employees sign into a Wi-Fi network from a remote location, their data won’t be open for inspection.

2. Don’t give everyone a BlackBerry. These small devices are wonderful for some people, such as those who absolutely have to be online all the time. But they’re relatively expensive. They’re also addictive for some users, who are prone to sending e-mail in the middle of family dinners and other inopportune occasions.

3. With that in mind, persuade higher-ups to ban all wireless devices in meetings and make the policy stick. If these gatherings are so boring that people feel the need to do e-mail on their BlackBerries, fix the meetings.

4. Think about how your Web site’s information will look on the small screens of most wireless devices. Create mobile-oriented miniportals by essentially retrofitting existing data on your servers to supply key information for on-the-road employees and others who may want to look up data quickly on your site. Forget the graphics, and remember how efficient text can be.

5. Don’t expect high-speed 3G mobility to arrive anytime soon. But do think about how your company can use that bandwidth when it does arrive.

6. Look hard at the new generation of devices, such as Handspring’s newly launched Treo, a combination PDA/mobile phone. It’s a natural match, and the convenience factor will be hard to beat. Again, however, make sure security is part of the system from the outset.

7. Want to learn new ways to use mobile devices? Ask your kids. The explosion in short messaging was launched, by many accounts, when teenagers in Finland figured out how to use the text-messaging systems to do more than tell phone owners they had new voice mail messages waiting. Now, Short Messaging Service is as popular as voice in some countries, and it’s often more efficient and cost-effective.

8. Be prepared for new tech-support duties. This stuff is wonderful to use when it works right, but it doesn’t always work. IT needs to hammer on the suppliers to make more reliable and simple products, for everyone’s sake.

Mobile technology, like any technology, will be both a blessing and a curse. But if you want more of the blessings, plan ahead.

Dan Gillmor is technology columnist at the San Jose Mercury News. Contact him at[email protected].

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