The list of Wireless 25 Innovators

How the Top 25 are winning with wireless

Computerworld ROI's innovators are tapping still-emerging wireless technologies for everything from making, selling and shipping products faster and cheaper to ensuring that the neediest patients are seen first at hospital emergency rooms. What's notable in many cases is the relatively low price tag of these projects, which frequently leverage a company's existing technology infrastructure to make an already good thing even better. The following profiles zero in on how and why the Wireless 25's winning projects came about and detail how the innovators tally the return on their investments.



Redford, Mich.


United Air Lines



Celanese Chemicals-Americas


Customer calls to the chemical maker used to trigger something like a relay race. Sales reps would respond by calling a home-office customer service representative who had network access. After retrieving the necessary product information, the home office would call back the sales rep, who would then call back the customer. The process took anywhere from four hours to a full day.

Now, salespeople use handhelds linked to a Web-based SAP R/3 system to get real-time information and deliver it to customers on the spot. Celanese expects to see a rise in customer satisfaction as a result of the fast response times and one-on-one service, says William Schmitt , director of business enablement at Celanese, a division of Frankfurt, Germany-based Celanese AG. The company also expects to add other wireless capabilities and launch a pilot system in Europe and Asia.

Mesa Energy Systems Inc.

Irvine, Calif.


Boston College

Chestnut Hill, Mass.

Founded in 1863, Boston College epitomizes the classic New England university, complete with tree-lined walkways and spired buildings. It was those buildings, in fact, that helped Henry Perry, director of network services, persuade school administrators to fund an ambitious wireless LAN project.

Ripping apart ceilings in structures almost a century old wasn't an option. "One of the selling points [to administrators] was not to have to hard-wire those buildings," says Perry, who worked with Rochester, N.H.-based network vendor Enterasys Networks Inc. to install 350 access points throughout the campus, including the library, common areas and outdoor quadrangles. The idea was to complement the existing network with wireless coverage in areas where it was difficult or not desirable to run wire, says Perry. Students, faculty and administrators can now use their laptops to connect to the school network and the Internet to register for classes, view curricula, e-mail one another and collaborate on projects as they roam about the 116-acre main campus.

Perry and network engineer Brian David will install access points in the residence halls and finish work in administrative buildings by the end of this year.

Financial Services

ETrade Group Inc.

Menlo Park, Calif.

ETrade began offering an integrated brokerage and banking service to wireless customers in May last year. Among other things, the system's personalization feature gives users the ability to customize stock quotes and other information they wish to receive without logging on to the Internet-based system each time. Mobile ETrade's benefits have included the creation of incremental transactions and consolidation of assets, and an increase in loyal and new customers. ETrade executives say they expect to easily add programs to new wireless platforms as they emerge, allowing the company to remain a leader in the industry.

Fidelity Investments


Harris Bank


Thanks largely to its relationship with parent company Bank of Montreal, Harris Bank was the first U.S. financial institution to offer wireless banking services through mobile phones and other handheld devices. Harris Wireless, a financial concierge service, lets customers transfer funds between accounts, pay bills, view transactions in real time and access stock-watch lists, news and weather information. The costs associated with launching the project were comparatively low because Harris was able to leverage the infrastructure of Bank of Montreal, which initiated wireless services in 1999. Later this year, Harris will provide wireless customers with real-time stock-trading services and direct access to their portfolios.

Project team for the city of Fairfax, Va.

Project team for the city of Fairfax, Va. (From left: Gary Mullen, Steve Shillingburg,

Sherry Stanley, John Mason, Paul Briggs, Alex Verzosa; seated behind is Rob



City of Fairfax, Va.

Fairfax, Va.

The Transportation Department in Fairfax, Va., is looking to cut waiting times and boost ridership on public buses by using a wireless system that delivers real-time bus arrival and departure times to transit stops.

Twelve transit buses equipped with Global Positioning System and automated vehicle location systems transmit up-to-the-minute location and schedule information that passengers can view from a variety of display devices, including Internet phones, personal digital assistants (PDA) and bus-stop monitors. Fairfax Transportation Director Alex Verzosa says that the system, powered by NextBus, will free up phone support employees, who frequently field bus schedule calls, and let transit managers monitor driver performance.

The city also plans to use the system to collect route data that can be used to make future service improvements.

City of Painesville, Ohio, Police Department

Painesville, Ohio

The Police Department in Painesville, Ohio, recently launched a wireless project that lets officers use an in-car PC to complete incident reports and check state records from the road. The result: Officers are spending more time patrolling the streets and less time doing paperwork.

The project employs radio frequency technologies to transmit state driving license and criminal record information to the cruisers. It also uses high-speed spreadspectrum technology to transmit officers' reports from patrol cars to headquarters. Officers generate reports using a custom application loaded into their cars' PCs and upload them when returning to the station.

Sgt. David R. Luhta estimates that the extra time Painesville's force now spends in the field is equal to adding two or three officers to its 34-member patrol staff.

Project Team for the City of Richmond, British Columbia

Project Team for the City of Richmond, British Columbia. From left: Edward Hung,

John Lindberg, Mike Lederer, Cathrine Marchell, Ed Jantzen, Eric Gilfillan, Paul

Sung, Robin Jeong, Neyton Lum.

City of Richmond, British Columbia

Richmond, British Columbia

A variety of wireless handsets provides Richmond city crews anywhere-access to a proprietary database that contains information about the city's flood defense systems. The database, which itself receives wireless data from transmitters installed on 180 city water pumps, temperature sensors and water-level monitors, tracks variables such as pump performance, street temperatures and water and sewage levels.

The ability to query the database from the field allows mobile city crews to prioritize system maintenance tasks according to problem areas requiring the most immediate attention. The database can also "push" critical information. If it detects that a neighborhood's water or sewage height has reached a dangerous level, for example, it can transmit an alert to wireless handsets, allowing safety crews to respond faster.

Project team for Miami-Dade County Building Department

Project team for Miami-Dade County Building Department (Front row-

Laura Manos (left) and Carmen Suarez; Back row-Mercedes Cohen

(left) and Marlene Costales).

Miami-Dade Building Department


Thanks to the recent wireless efforts of the Building Department of Miami-Dade County, Fla., building contractors can now access county inspection results in as little as 10 minutes instead of two days. The expedited results process translates into money- and time-savings for contractors and, the building department hopes, more construction investments within the county.

The streamlined results process came after the building department outfitted its field inspectors with wireless handsets. While still in the field, inspectors can now directly submit their findings to central servers for immediate publication on both the department's Web site and a voice response system. The process eliminates the need for permit clerks to enter inspection results from hard copy into computers, which saves time and frees clerks to perform other permit-related functions.

Project Team for NASA

Project Team for NASA: (Back row: Mick Baitinger, Julie Breed, and Keith

Walyus; Front row: Jeff Fox and Rick Saylor.

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Greenbelt, Md.

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center's Spacecraft Emergency Response System (SERS) employs advanced automation, expert systems and software agents to monitor the performance of satellites worth $50 million to $100 million.

When the system identifies potential faults or emergencies, it sends detailed wireless alerts to the most appropriate personnel and facilitates remote interaction among their wireless devices, including two-way pagers, Internet phones and PDAs.

From its start in 1996, SERS's main aim has been to "reduce the cost of spacecraft mission operations without increasing the risk of losing the spacecraft or reducing the throughput of scientific data," says Julie Breed, branch head at the center. Prior to the automated monitoring, satellite mission control was typically an expensive enterprise, requiring eight or nine engineers to take turns monitoring around-the-clock. Now, it requires only a single engineer from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m, Monday through Friday.

That saves thousands of hours of labor on each mission. The project, Breed says, "has already paid for itself many times over."

The first SERS mission, TRACE, which has been operating for more than three years, shows that the system can reliably handle its load. To monitor the health and safety of TRACE, the system uses a combination of networks to examine more than 5,000 satellite parameters six or seven times each day.

Recent analysis of SERS logs shows that the system has alerted on-call staff to 3,300 potential problems, only 12 of which were serious enough to force a return to base.

Another half-dozen new satellite missions have committed to SERS upon launch. According to Breed, "A mission now has to justify why it would not use a system like SERS."

United States Army, Europe Automatic Identification Technologies Branch

United States Army, Europe Automatic Identification Technologies Branch: From left: Michael

Thomas, Connor Smith, Dan Goodspeed, Jack Jones, Yolanda Craggette, Steve Williams,

George Dardoufas, Jeff Rash, and Alfibio Perissinotto.

U.S. Army, Europe



The U.S. Army, Europe (Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, Logistics) employs an advanced, wireless Automatic Identification Technologies (AIT) Network to track critical parts and supplies in transit to operations in and around Europe. AIT uses a combination of automated RF and satellite-tracking technologies to monitor supply shipments and troop movements between Germany and the Balkans.

The system publishes the asset location information it gathers through a secure Internet feed to managers in charge of distributing and deploying assets to field operations, such as the security forces operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The project supports a long-term U.S. Armed Forces commitment to enhance the efficiency of global supply chains through improved logistics operations.

"The AIT Network is presently recognized as the most extensive RF identification and satellite- tracking network system in the free world in terms of investment in commercial hardware and software, and the yearly support costs in Europe and the U.S.," says AIT Branch Chief Thomas F. Young.

Prior to AIT RF and satellite-tracking programs, the military managed supply shipments within individual organizations. Now, under a unified tracking system, service organizations have better information on inventory in the pipeline.

For example, a commander in Kosovo can "see" where in the supply pipeline in-bound helicopter rotor blades are and doesn't have to do a panic reordering because he lost sight of the shipment.

Health Care

Oakwood Healthcare Inc.

Dearborn, Mich.

Oakwood Healthcare guarantees all incoming patients that they'll see a physician within a half-hour. But now that hospital admitting clerks use handheld devices to register patients and wirelessly access their records, it often takes less time than that.

Oakwood's $100,000 wireless project includes a wireless LAN that affords physicians, nurses and other staffers at its Annapolis Health Center easier, faster access to patient data. This translates into faster treatment, since clinicians can access information from a patient's bedside, rather than travel to a nurse's station to read from handwritten charts.

"Were hitting around a 20-minute turnaround time," says Dan Paton, information services adviser. The project also supports wireless voice headsets, which improve clinicians' mobility.

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