Three Questions for IBM's Adkins

Rod Adkins says he has always been a "gadget guy," so it's not surprising that he's general manager of IBM's Pervasive Computing Division, which is working on easing the integration, deployment and management of mobile applications. Computerworld asked Adkins about the headaches of mobile/wireless applications in the enterprise, how to achieve a return on investment and about future trends.

What are the big headaches for IT departments dealing with mobile/wireless computing? CIOs are beginning to see two or three devices per employee: thick clients like a mobile laptop, a phone and a PDA. So this proliferation of devices will continue to be a challenge and an opportunity.

Our focus is on ease of integration and deployment, which is the requirement we're hearing from enterprise customers. We're addressing the integration challenge with a class of [middleware] products we call WebSphere Everyplace Access that extend the enterprise infrastructure to new wireless and mobile devices.

Enterprises want to start simple, starting with e-mail and personal information management. Then they want to extend access to HR applications, and then applications like SAP, Siebel, sales force automation and field force automation.

There are some different skills required for wireless, as well as network migration challenges, but issues like integration, scalabilty and security aren't new. They're very familiar challenges from the e-business arena.

How are IT shops going to achieve ROI on wireless projects? We have a Wireless ROI Predictor tool for our customers to look at business metrics and understand the gains they'll realize.

For instance, there are major gains from making sure your sales force is in the field and highly productive in the field. You can prevent the salesperson from having to come back to a central location to deal with customer profiles or getting product information or orders or looking at what's in inventory if you can extend that capability to the mobile/wireless device. That worker can stay in the field and continue to be productive.

The same with field service. It would be neat to deal with trouble tickets remotely and get service-call information on a real-time basis with a mobile/wireless device. That way, you [could] keep the service personnel in the field, and they can deal with more service calls.

What are your predictions for mobile/wireless computing in the enterprise? One trend is that it will be multimodal -- able to deal with voice and text input -- and that will be a significant requirement in the future. As the devices get smaller, and the physics of our hands don't change, voice as a natural human interface will become more important.

And whether it's a smart card or handheld device, these devices will be able to do transactions, so we'll have an electronic wallet or smart card for wireless payment transactions.

Then there are the push technologies, or intelligent notifications and location-based services. One day, you might speak to the telematics system in the car. For example, I might say that I'm interested in some red socks today. The system will be smart enough to say that, based on my location, two miles away, Macy's is having a sale on red socks.

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