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For IT, enterprise wireless to get more gnarly in next decade

Video over wireless, connecting devices to the cloud, managing smartphone platforms will demand greater management

May 13, 2010 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - From Wi-Fi to smartphones, wireless technology has become ubiquitous in businesses and is growing more vital every day. But it also can be frustrating as hell for IT groups.

How substantial is the anxiety that wireless technology creates for IT? "HUGE," in all caps, wrote Brad Wright, vice president of global communications technology at Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., in an e-mail.

That's because wireless environments are difficult to support, especially setups like the one at Jacobs, which has 15,000 wireless users in 400 locations, he said. Also, wireless technology is evolving and as it does so, users are growing increasingly demanding and tend to get frustrated by wireless policies and new programs, he added.

Over the next decade, the complexity will only get worse, even for well-prepared companies, analysts said, and a premium will be placed on CIOs and IT organizations that recognize that mobility needs to be at the top of the IT agenda.

Given the wireless mega-trend and associated growing pains, it's fair to ask how midsize and large IT shops are managing wireless and what they're doing to prepare for the evolution of wireless over the coming decade. For example, are companies creating a new position of chief mobility officer, or appointing someone with a title similar to Wright's to oversee all the moving parts? Are IT shops integrating wireless into their technology processes and systems?

Computerworld contacted 10 IT directors at universities and businesses as well as various industry analysts and wireless vendors to ask them how prepared IT shops are to face the next wireless decade. Not surprisingly, IT managers brag that they are on top of things, pretty much. However, some confessed that they feel anxious about forthcoming technologies, such as video over wireless and voice over Wi-Fi, or that they're concerned about their ability to control the deluge of smartphone models and applications and provide sufficient security for all of them.

Small and midsize businesses, and even some large ones, aren't "fully aware of how several of these coming wireless services might impact them from a cost and support perspective," Wright said. "Impacts of video over wireless, voice over Wi-Fi and others are hard to gauge at present, and this will become increasingly difficult as users invent new reasons for such technologies to be used for work or play."

Concerns over rapid change

Controlling wireless telecommunications expenses, for example, has "become a major worry," said an IT manager at a large New York cultural institution, who asked not to be named.

Russ Hester, chief technology officer at the Francis Tuttle Technology Center, an educational institution in Oklahoma City, said the biggest concern he faces is developing a "sound security approach to make more core services available to wireless devices." Hester said he already sees smartphones taking up the bulk of Wi-Fi network usage, and he pointed out that Francis Tuttle is rolling out video-over-wireless capacity for a new culinary school.

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