Wireless devices creep into enterprise

Corporations are adopting wireless devices at an increasing rate, though few say they have created formal programs for rolling them out to employees, according to a survey released Monday.

Roughly half of 400 IT managers polled by Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Evans Data Corp. said they are planning to build out corporate networks in the next year so they can be accessed wirelessly. But while the applications are in the making, few respondents said they have game plans for deploying and managing wireless networks.

While momentum is growing in favor of bringing wireless devices into the workplace, from Internet-connected mobile phones to handheld computers to pagers, only 30 per cent of the IT managers polled said they have budgets for making wireless hardware purchases, the Evans Data study showed.

“It’s essentially a grassroots revolution in which employees are bringing these devices into the organizations,” said Joe McKendrick, an analyst with Evans Data. “Employees are still essentially the prime purchasers for these devices.”

Companies that give wireless devices access to corporate networks without planning for it can run into problems, McKendrick said. Possible security breaches stemming from the use of wireless devices with access to corporate networks is the number one concern among IT managers. Also, companies are finding that properly integrating new wireless devices into existing corporate computing systems isn’t easy, the study found. These concerns are compounded by the fact that most of those polled said their companies don’t set formal system requirements for employees who purchase wireless devices for the workplace.

“You can imagine the challenges the help desk has when trying to manage all these different devices,” he said.

Forty-six per cent of corporate IT managers polled said they will undertake development of wireless applications for their businesses in the next year. Those include corporate portals where employees can access company documents and information wirelessly from any Web browser, as well as wireless services for remotely accessing corporate e-mail and other business services, according to Evans Data.

“The killer app for wireless devices is e-mail,” McKendrick said.

Roughly half of the respondents that are planning wireless development projects will start with corporate e-mail. Also about half said they will build a corporate instant messaging system and about 28 per cent will build some type of wireless portal for retrieving corporate data remotely, Evans Data found.

More advanced wireless applications are also finding new appeal in the corporation. About 26 per cent of the IT managers polled by Evans Data said they are working to build wireless connectivity to salesforce automation systems, which would let sales representatives access these systems from a wireless device while on the road. Wireless access to CRM (customer resource management) and ERP (enterprise resource management) systems were also identified as areas of interest.

More IT managers said they are building these systems to be accessed from handheld devices running Palm Inc.’s handheld operating system than the Pocket PC system from Microsoft Corp., Evans Data said.

However, no trends surfaced as to which platform will dominate the enterprise. Palm lead Microsoft with 25 per cent of respondents saying that they develop on the Palm operating system compared to 21 per cent who say they develop for Pocket PC, the research firm said. The per centage of developers supporting Palm’s operating system fell from 35 per cent last year while the number of developers supporting Microsoft’s operating system held steady. About 37 per cent of IT managers polled still haven’t decided which platform to support.

However, McKendrick noted that the popularity of competing platforms among managers heading up IT departments has only a moderate effect on what actually gets implemented. Half of the IT managers surveyed said they have no involvement with their company’s technology acquisition process.

“Mangers play a fairly minimal role as to the purchases of what devices are being brought into the organization,” he said.

For the past two years, Evans Data has conducted a survey every six months with about 400 IT managers at companies with more than 2,000 employees.

Evans Data, in Santa Cruz, Calif., is at http://www.evansdata.com/.

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