Mobile Computing And Communications Save Time, But...

May 12, 2003
Viewed as a good thing and a bad thing by many employees, mobile computing and communications are making a tremendous impact on how people in the electronics industry use their time. Despite the current economic picture, executives and their staffs...

Viewed as a good thing and a bad thing by many employees, mobile computing and communications are making a tremendous impact on how people in the electronics industry use their time. Despite the current economic picture, executives and their staffs continue to travel to meet with customers and prospects. But the use of mobile technologies is gaining in the enterprise, helped along by telecommuting and increasingly decentralized workforces.

Mobile access to e-mail, the Internet, and corporate databases is increasing the use of popular applications, providing instant and easy access to products, pricing, and inventory information while in a customer's office.

Mobile staffs are also recovering productive time between appointments, during lunch, or while waiting for their next flight at an airport. Route salesmen and reps carry PDAs and tablet PCs to collect data on sales, inventory, and their competition.

The recent growth of wireless local-area networks (better known as Wi-Fi, or IEEE 802.11) is making it easier to access the Internet in airports, hotels, convention centers, and other commercial locations. Boeing is putting Wi-Fi in its airplanes. Hundreds of companies already use Wi-Fi networks for business communications. Every major PC maker now builds Wi-Fi capability into most of its laptop models.

A study by the research firm Gartner Dataquest indicates that an increasing focus on "teleworking" and corporate mobility to improve productivity, as well as the trend toward real-time enterprise (the ability to detect and respond to critical events faster) will not merely exploit mobility but will demand it. At the same time, the relentless push by wireless hardware vendors, virtually giving away their product capabilities with significant price/performance improvements, is fueling demand for wireless technology in the corporate environment.

Unfortunately, no wireless technology meets all business needs. Each has its own tradeoffs in bandwidth, range, and cost. Each corporation must identify its requirements and develop a strategy to support these technologies.

Transforming a company into a wireless enterprise is not easy or risk-free. However, Gartner vice president Nigel Deighton says, "Don't worry about the technology. We have plenty of it and it works pretty well by now. Worry about how you are going to integrate mobility into your working culture. It makes little difference to strategy if technology is unstable and continues to change over the next five years. The crucial point is to understand how wireless and mobile technologies can improve enterprise performance and to start rethinking business processes and working models."

Interest in using wireless technologies as productivity tools and to better manage employees' time is gaining rapidly. For example, the Insight Research Corp. has begun gathering preliminary information for a client about how cell phones are purchased and used by employees within large organizations.

Synchrologic, which develops mobile and wireless solutions for business users, has come up with some estimates of the benefits of using previously "wasted" time for more productive purposes. For instance:

Value of user time $100/hour
Extra hours productivity 2 hours/week
Value of extra productivity $10,400/year
Payback period for handheld 2.9 months
One year ROI 345%

Synchrologic believes it has estimated conservatively on productivity impact. "We hear from many users that the gains can actually be an hour or two per day," it says in a white paper on boosting mobile productivity.

Not surprisingly, the adoption rate of mobile technologies is rising. The Meta Group, another research organization, expects 75% of "knowledge workers" to be mobile more than 25% of the time by the end of this year.

The downside to all of this is that little or no downtime exists. While mobile technologies can boost productivity by creating additional productive time during the working day, cut costs, and build a competitive advantage, they also have the potential to leave little breathing room for employees. Time previously spent waiting for meetings to begin, being stuck in traffic, sitting in the back of a taxi, or waiting for a flight all used to allow for relaxation and contemplation. Now this time is increasingly being handed over to work time, made possible by cell phones, PDAs, and wireless-enabled laptops.

See associated figure.

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