A Look at the Past…An Eye to the Future
A Look at the Past…An Eye to the Future
By: Boris Fridman
Aug. 22, 2001 12:00 AM
The inexorable link between business and technology has been propelled to a new level in recent years. With the development of the Internet and the resulting boom of Web-based businesses, technology has made information more important and more accessible. In the past decade, businesses have made previously unimaginable claims: to run on Internet time at Internet speed, and to bring the world together via the language of technology.
As the pace of business accelerates, customers expect and insist on high-quality, quick-turnaround service. As a result, businesses need to operate more efficiently, streamline internal processes, equip employees to meet more challenges, and deliver superior service. Furthermore, the prevalence of technology has made it more difficult than ever to maintain a competitive edge. Thus, the demand has grown for a technology to make this possible. This demand stimulates innovation, fuels R&D spending, and creates a market for new high-tech goods and services.
Wireless data has emerged as a technology solution to solve these business problems - mainly, the need to increase productivity, enhance efficiency, improve customer satisfaction, and enable market leadership. This need spurred rapid developments in the quality of wireless networks, devices, applications, and platforms, notably in the areas of speed of coverage, size, availability, and cost. New products and services have made wireless the winning alternative for companies interested in taking advantage of new technologies that allow them to achieve their business goals.
User Needs Drive Innovation -
One of the early innovators was IBM, the first company to react to the need for a network to support and standardize the transmission of wireless information. IBM established a private network for its field-service representatives who were losing precious time and resources because of cancelled appointments, limited inventory information, and a lack of data. Immediately upon the company's implementation of the wireless network, technicians benefited by gaining access to updated products and scheduling information. Customers, for their part, were more satisfied and more likely to make purchases.
Once businesses realized the power of wireless data, the technology became a necessity. Along with the need for more access to wireless data came the need for a more sophisticated infrastructure, a wider variety of mobile devices to match the requirements of a given workforce and nationwide wireless data networks. Developers built applications specifically for wireless business. In order for those applications to realize their full potential, wireless platforms and design tools were quickly created and deployed.
Moving forward, businesses will continue to put pressure on innovation. Just as IBM has sparked a new paradigm in field service, other companies will establish the practices that will create our future business imperatives and norms.
The State of Wireless Today:
According to Gartner research in a May 7, 2001 press release, "...there will be almost 800-million worldwide wireless data users by 2004 so enterprises must get prepared to support these technologies." Indeed, enterprises have a challenge ahead in ramping up new technologies. Enterprises large and small have inherently different business problems, but one common need - technological superiority in their given market sector.
In response to such market predictions, device manufacturers have upgraded the capabilities of their products, all the while making them smaller and more cost effective to deploy. Wireless network operators have, as we have seen, increased the speed with which their customers can operate. They've been able to reach more customers by expanding their coverage areas. Application developers and platform providers have made access to databases, e-mail, legacy applications, and the Internet a reality. Technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace - becoming smarter, faster, and cheaper.
The reality is that technology decision-makers are currently using wireless to speed existing business processes, but not necessarily to implement new initiatives. Wireless has been deployed largely in field service and other traditionally mobile professions where a clear return on investment (both tangible and intangible) can be demonstrated. It is also used to provide all types of employees access to existing internal resources, such as e-mail or messaging. However, there remains much room for growth in the market. New forms of commerce, such as location-based services, m-commerce, and new services, could be brought to bear with the innovative use of technology, for business-to-business, business-to-employee, and business-to-consumer applications.
Multiple device types will continue to coexist, many times with a single user carrying several devices to meet disparate needs. The user will choose the appropriate tool from a virtual arsenal to accomplish a given task, specifying what information he or she wants to receive and which interface is the most convenient. End-user feedback will continue to be a driving force in purchasing decisions for devices and, in turn, development needs for suppliers.
A major trend has been the shift to using intelligent client devices, which can process and deliver more complex information. Because companies that are currently dependent on and familiar with thin clients are still in the process of learning about the capabilities of intelligent clients, businesses will embrace both classes of devices to accommodate end users before moving to a strictly intelligent client model.
Platforms, Applications, and Content
For example, employees requiring access to critical information, when offline during breaks in network coverage, will require an intelligent client application with a local data store and message queuing. Users who are connected only occasionally may prefer the simplicity of Web-based applications.
In terms of content, "intelligent push" technology transmits relevant information to devices in a timely fashion. Without intelligent push at the core of wireless information delivery services, wireless data users will soon become frustrated by the amount of time and energy it takes to find small amounts of data by browsing the Web on their phones.
Today, the average Internet user gives up if it takes more than eight seconds to fully access a Web page. The same users will not have the patience to expend excess time and effort scrolling through multiple screens on a WAP-enabled smart phone to check one simple stock price. Much of the related technology required for making intelligent push technology a reality is already in place or will soon become available. Intelligent push technologies can format data appropriately depending on what device the user has active at that particular time. Applications, protocols, and devices need to support push technology before we can consider a future with ubiquitous access to wireless data.
While the expectations are high, the realities of the technology, the current adoption, and the potential for universal adoption continue to pose unanswered questions about capability standards and price. In a June 13, 2001, announcement, Gartner reported on the results of a survey at a conference in March 2001: "... 54% of those surveyed said they are only willing to spend up to 10-20% more for next-generation wireless data services, on top of existing voice services."
Challenges of Adoption Remain
The looming issue for many a participant in the wireless industry is that of the cultural adoption to wireless. Is it complete? What are the roadblocks and opportunities left in the market? Arguably, the greatest challenge is one of definition. The industry has fallen victim to an identity crisis. Terms such as architecture, infrastructure, and platform are both undefined and overextended. How is a customer to know what to expect from a solution without knowing which questions to ask?
Vendors do not agree on the concepts that shape the market. Furthermore, those with similar offerings refuse to admit that they have close competitors, making it impossible for a potential customer to make an informed comparison. Each company claims to have the only acceptable solution, yet no one vendor is right for every environment. As a result, the tremendous hype concerning the current and future capabilities of wireless technology has frozen some potential customers out of the market.
Conclusion: How Will the Future of Wireless Shake Out?
At present, this industry is anyone's to capture. With a mix of solid technology, clear definitions, and an eye to the future, a provider or vendor can come out on top. Likewise, customers bear a large part of the burden. For it will be those that demand education and hold their providers to a high standard who will get proven solutions, and in turn, realize a sizable ROI.
The wireless industry has gained legitimacy as the technology has made its way across and through vertical markets. Mobile devices are not merely executive toys; they are news networks, personal assistants, and windows to the world. In the years to come, businesses will gain the experience and know-how to make smart decisions about wirelessly enabling their enterprise, which technologies to adopt, and what to expect from their solutions.
21 WORDS FOR
THE NEW MILLENNIUM
Every geek knows that the 21st century started this year, 2001, not last year. In celebration of this, we have our own list of new words to replace the ones used at the end of the last century. And here they are!
I know there are lots more new words, and you know what they are! Send me your wireless words for the 21st century and we'll post them right here inWireless Business & Technology. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
*This term is no longer in use, there is no equivalent term, but there should be one next year.
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