Commanding the Wireless Helm

Trailblazers and analysts offer tips for starting and guiding wireless technology projects.

Wireless computing may be in its early days, but it's bearing down on enterprises like a tidal wave, say information technology managers and analysts. Smart phones, wireless laptops and wireless handhelds are pouring into Fortune 1,000 companies, whether IT shops are prepared or not.

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SPECIAL REPORT: WIRELESS

Wireless Today...
IT executives and analysts say there are some pioneering best practices for managing wireless rollouts, including running short trials, scrutinizing security and other techniques. more

...And Tomorrow
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Commanding the Wireless Helm
IT executives and analysts say there are some pioneering best practices for managing wireless rollouts, including running short trials, scrutinizing security and other techniques. more

High Wireless Act
Adopting wireless technology puts new challenges on an IT staff, who must measure success by confronting and conquering a physical environment. more

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Managing this change can be tricky, experts say. "We are still in the Model T Ford days of wireless," says analyst Gerry Purdy at Mobile Insights Inc. in Mountain View, Calif.
But there are enough large wireless applications deployed in the U.S. - such as wireless stock trading for consumers - to provide neophytes with some project management do's and don'ts.
Best practices for managing wireless, say pioneers, include assessing business needs before developing applications, launching small trials to work out the kinks and placing a magnified focus on security, safety and standards.
Wireless computing shows signs of taking off. Indeed, the number of users of all types of wireless devices in the U.S. is expected to climb from fewer than 10 million this year to 36 million in 2003, according to Gartner Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn.
A Computerworld telephone survey of 120 IT managers found that 42% of IT departments currently support wireless devices, while another 38% said they expect to support such technologies in the future.
Doubters and Adopters
While some IT managers are taking a wait-and-see approach to rolling out wireless applications, others are moving ahead briskly. "I have to confront the proliferation of cell phones that will be smart phones, but every time we have considered a wireless program, we decided the technology isn't ready yet" in the U.S., says Peter W. Burrows, chief technology officer at Reebok International Ltd. in Canton, Mass.
But because Reebok is a worldwide company, Burrows must juggle the needs of early smart-phone adopters in Europe and Japan while trying to judge which network standards will dominate in the U.S., where wireless adoption has been slower.
The predominant wireless network standards in the U.S. are split between Code Division Multiple Access, Time Division Multiple Access and Global System for Mobile Communications, which is the standard that Europeans rely on. The pathway for which standards will dominate in the U.S. in coming years is still unclear.
"If I install a wireless platform, who can make a prediction so we get five years' life from the investment? I [doubt] any vendor will retrofit the gear [for free] if it gets outdated," Burrows says.
Nevertheless, the potential that wireless applications hold in generating new sales or customer accounts in industries such as financial services is leading some companies to plow ahead.
At Fidelity Investments in Boston, the demand for wireless investing was so hot that the company launched a proprietary application in October 1998 that now boasts nearly 70,000 accounts and is adding thousands of accounts each month, says Joseph G. Ferra, senior vice president of Fidelity Online Brokerage.
At Best Buy Co. in Minneapolis, consumers in the near future will be able to buy retail products such as CDs and software over Wireless Application Protocol phones and wireless handhelds from Palm Inc., says Mark Ebel, the company's director of digital communications.
"We think wireless is going to be big and we want to be a part of it," Ebel says.

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