Decidedly not gee whiz

By Lee Pender, CIO |  Networking

ZACK TAYLOR IS MAKING PLANS to let PDA-toting colleagues in the field file paperless reports back to the office. But Taylor, the security officer and network manager for the Environmental Protection Agency's regional office in Kansas City, Kan., is proceeding with some big-time security reservations. "Somebody can come by with an antenna and start monitoring [information transmitted wirelessly] because this stuff is not encrypted," Taylor says.

Taylor's mix of excitement and concern is emblematic of his peers across a range of industries. Taylor was among 170 IT executives who told CIO about their wireless plans in our reality-check survey. The survey found that wireless is firmly on the 2001 agenda, but concerns persist among IT executives about integrating the technology with existing wired systems and providing security for wireless applications.

A whopping 84 percent of respondents said they support applications now or plan to implement wireless projects in the next 15 months. The rest (25 respondents) have no wireless projects on tap or planned to start after mid-2002.

Among those using wireless now (65 of the respondents, or 38 percent), employee-oriented applications, as opposed to B2B or B2C tie-ins, were the most prevalent. IT executives cited their support applications, such as e-mail, personal productivity and applications for sales force field staff to submit sales data and manage their customer contact information (see chart 1).

Those with active wireless applications run a gamut of technology protocols and standards, with U.S. cellular phone leader code division multiple access (CDMA) and wireless application protocol (WAP) topping the list (see chart 4). Wireless-enabled PDAs, such as the Palm and BlackBerry, are the devices of choice, ahead of pagers, and digital and analog mobile phones (see chart 5).

When asked to name the top challenges in supporting wireless technology, these IT executives hit on familiar themes: system integration, security, end user support and reliability (see chart 2). Within this group of respondents were 28 who represented companies that have implemented applications that allow their customers to access information using wireless devices. This subsection of respondents puts security at the top of its list of challenges (see chart 3).

In the face of such significant obstacles, why are several companies moving ahead? Scott Rynd, vice president for technology services at Brink's Home Security in Irving, Texas, says that for starters he sees a chance to make sales agents in 98 local markets around the nation become more productive using wireless for presentations, scheduling and other functions. A pilot project at Brink's has select field representatives equipped with Palm VII handhelds and NEC Mobile Pro 880 laptops.

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