Managing wireless wishes

By Loretta W. Prencipe, InfoWorld |  Business

THE MESSAGE THAT wireless is the future has made its way through the corporate
ranks. Employees want the Internet delivered to cell phones. The sales staff wants the
company to spring for Palm VIIs and then develop sales-specific applications. The board
wants to know when the company will deploy wireless applications across the
enterprise.

Many companies have caught the wave and do have plans to roll out wireless devices
and applications. But even though the wireless question du jour is "When?" not every
CTO is belting out, "Tomorrow."

Other questions surface: How will wireless protocols shake out? What does it cost
to support this rapidly changing technology? Would the company be using IT resources to
develop a business-oriented tool or a toy that allows employees untethered access to
sports scores, stock quotes, and jokes?

"The challenge in an IT company is that so many high-tech individuals love to
explore [new technologies]. That shuts down productivity," says Larry Reback, president
and CEO of GuideComm Systems, a communication service provider, in Herndon, Va.

Reback and others offer suggestions for handling wireless requests.

Keep it real. Reback constantly communicates to staff the company's technical plans
and goals. "When an IT person wants to implement something new, I ask: 'How does that
map into the top priorities? How does it fit? How does it allow us to accelerate our
goals?' He or she has to show how it will help. It can't be just a toy," Reback
says.

Take baby steps. Allan Frank, president and CTO of AnswerThink Consulting Group, an
e-business solutions provider in Conshohocken, Pa., has a slightly different take on
the wireless buzz. "Don't fight it. Take the 'salami tactic,' " he says. Manage those
requests for wireless "toys" and suggestions for new applications "one slice at a
time." This helps IT avoid feeling pressured and overwhelmed by requests that they just
cannot respond to affirmatively, Frank says.

"The tendency," Frank says, "is for managers to feel reactive and defensive: 'No,
you can't have wireless. We haven't figured it out,' [or] 'Fine, I have all the time in
the world.' " Relax, he says, you don't have to give an answer immediately.

Look for patterns. Reviewing the company's purchasing patterns helps Frank see the
bigger picture. He is especially interested in requests that don't meet standard
purchases. Frank doesn't immediately buy in to every purchase request or every
suggestion for a new wireless application. Sometimes he just waits and wonders whether
there is a new technical angle or purchasing pattern emerging and how it could help the
company.

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