Six Tips on Wireless Mobility

How to get the most out of mobile

by James E. Gaskin - After years spent "uncapsizing projects," Neil Reid knows that the issues that sink projects are not technical but political and business problems. His new book Wireless Mobility: The Why of Wireless, published by McGraw Hill, is aimed at IT executives involved with both committee meetings and configuration screens.

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Here, Reid offers 6 tips for getting the most out of mobile.

1. Shift focus on IT investments from cost centric to value centric. When businesses view IT investments as a cost, they focus on cost rather than what the new assets can do to improve business operations, competitiveness, and other critical business functions.

2. Ensure the right stakeholders contribute to significant IT expenditures and trajectories. Yes, it's heretical, but businesses should get users involved in technology decisions, not just IT designers, and coders. Reid believes strongly in what he calls "optimal project sequencing" which helps projects work better after realigning project sequences and getting everyone involved. You know, unusual steps like asking where handheld units will be used before designing the network to support those units. Identify the stakeholders in the project and get them involved in meetings at the very start of the process.

Working at Cisco, Reid has enormous engineering resources. He says that engineers will design and conform to specifications. The trick is for the users, not the engineers, to define those specifications accurately.

3. Maximum value IT systems closely match user demands one year from now. Too often, IT projects address a current pain point. When finished in the future, new pain points will have popped up. If you think only about the problems in the past, you never plan to eliminate the problems of the future.

Train your account managers to ask customers what mobility they need in three years, whether this means outside customers paying you money, or internal customers complaining about you being overhead. Looking forward two years is easy, but the third year takes some effort. The more effort in this area before the project, the better the results.

4. Understand how IT systems effect not just profit and loss, but cash flow. Reid's area, wireless mobility, often speeds other processes that don't appear to be part of the new system. But if wireless units help shipping to fill orders in 45 minutes rather than 60, that's a savings and chance to get more done in less time. Especially in areas with high employee turnover, like warehouses and shipping, a well designed mobility system can get new hires productive immediately, leading to fewer mistakes.

5. Place IT assets at the cross roads of every significant transaction and operational policy. The best CIOs are those very much at the junction of business operations and IT and are able to translate between them. The best IT players should spend half their time talking technical issues and the other half business operations.

Reid admits major wireless mobility vendors do a better job with enterprises than with small businesses, but ease of use for SMB products are getting better. As far as technology driving business, is there any part of your company that doesn't rely on screens with on-off switches?

6. Mobility untethers you from your desk but not your data. But IT has to provide that data in usable amounts, not screen fulls like on desktops. Placing the right amount of information on mobile devices in environments like hospitals means better patient care and therefore higher worker satisfaction. Look at mobility not as a set of standards and technology but as a way to help mobile workers do their jobs better.

Few technologies in a business become more personal than handheld devices, whether smart phones, data units, or the Star Trek Tricorders we're all still waiting for. While you can't give employees a Tricorder, remember to give them the best information and support possible. Do that by developing mobility solutions as joint projects between the business stakeholders and IT.

James E. Gaskin writes books (16 so far), articles and jokes about technology and real life from his home office in the Dallas area. Gaskin has been helping small and medium sized businesses use technology intelligently since 1986. Write him at readers@gaskin.com.

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