The Need for a Mobile Strategy is Now

By Allen Bernard

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As mobile technologies continue to worm their way into businesses of all shape and sizes (what self-respecting businessperson does have a cell these days?), the need for a comprehensive mobile strategy is growing by leaps and bounds.

While the primary uses for PDAs, smart phones, and cell phones is still messaging, Pandora's Box has been open; making it only a matter of time before all manner of corporate intelligence will have to be made available via wireless.

To head off the hodge-podge, ad-hoc manner in which many new technologies have grown up over the years — leading directly to today's heroic efforts to untangle 30 years of organic growth — companies need to put in place a mobile strategy that takes into account security, new uses, current uses and a vision for how far, how deep and how wide they are willing to open up their back-end systems.

"What this means, is organizations … need to really step up and realize that there is a need to develop a mobile strategy within the organization," said Philippe Winthrop, director of Aberdeen's Wireless and Mobility research group. "It's cost management, it's technology management, it's the security issues, it's managing the integration with other systems."

It's all about control, asserts Jay Highley, president and CEO of Integrated Mobile, a Columbus, Ohio-based company that focuses on helping companies come up with an implement mobile strategies.

Highley's top three reasons for moving ahead now with a strategy as opposed to waiting for one to be forced upon you are cost, security and competitive advantage/productivity.

"This is the reason Integrated Mobile exists," said Highley. "I've looked the CIOs in the eye and the finance people in the eye and they just throw their hands up and say, 'I don't know how many devices I have, I don't know how much it costs me, I know it's growing … but where are the tools?'"

But tools are only one part of any strategy. The first step is deciding who is entitled to what level of access and who really needs a company-paid-for mobile device in the first place. That's the approach of Sue Evert, a telecom analyst for FiServ, a Fortune 500 provider of information management systems and services to the financial and health benefits industries.

She is also responsible for managing the mobility of about 350 of FiServ's employees. Evert makes her decisions on a case-by-case basis; looking at individual employees communication needs. Salespeople get the best of the best and, on the other end, an on-call sys admin might have a just a pager.

"We're controlling the fact that we're paying for them, then they take what we give them," she said. "You can't let people dictate to you, 'Well I want this, I want that.'"

Evert also limits employees choices of providers to keep costs under control.

"I think it's extremely important," she said. "At the moment our strategy is … we will divide the people up into groups then provide them the best that we can for their particular needs."

This is not the case for Elwyn Hull. As telecom director for the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Hull is tasked with appeasing a large group of doctors and professionals who do not take dictation kindly. In his case, a mobile strategy has to take into account all of the existing technologies it can.

"The first thing that a telecom director and companies need to look at is will their PBX platform or their data infrastructure support all of these devices that people want to use," said Hull, who is the incoming president of the Siemen's user group JUST-US. "And that does give us problems and sometimes the users are frustrated because our infrastructure may not support the functionality they want."

UTSMC, for example, uses Novell Groupwise for collaboration, messaging, calendaring and the like, but many wireless vendors don't support Novell. Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes, sure, but not Novell. So, when a doctor wants to sync up his latest whatever it is often difficult.

To get around another potential problem, Hull is rolling out wireless to the entire campus, about 40 buildings. But, this is a new idea. Originally, he wanted to just do some hotspots like in the library and sections of the hospital but, once he looked at the issue from a strategic point of view, he realized everyone would want WiFi connectivity everywhere.

The next phase to complete is upgrading their PBX switch from a Rolm 9751 to a Siemen's Highpass 4500 that supports both TDM and VoIP. Once again giving as many people as many options as possible.

"If you don't have a strategy then you sort of run into this 'Well, I'm going go out and get whatever I want because nothing is being offered to me'," said Hull, referring to his strong-willed constituency.

But he makes a good point: If you don't do it, mobility will come into the company on its own and, like instant messaging, wireless routers and USB drives, IT will be stuck playing catch up.

"It's funny how history has a way of repeating itself," said Aberdeen's Winthrop. "This whole question of heterogeneous applications, heterogeneous platforms, heterogeneous devices; the whole issue of this fragmented environment comes from a nascent market."

And, as ubiquitous as mobility is now, we haven't see anything yet.