Mobility in the enterprise has been spotty. Too many "gotchas" have prevailed: unreliable and slow networks, deficient devices, underdeveloped billing and customer care systems, and lack of focus by the major wireless operators. These factors made for complex wireless projects involving a veritable circus of middleware, gateway and system integrator vendors. As a result, outside of BlackBerry, which counts about 1 million users worldwide, we've not seen broad adoption of wireless data in the enterprise. In fact, research shows that the global market for downloading ring tones exceeds that for enterprise wireless data services today.

But in the past two years, we've seen progress on several fronts:

  • Wireless networks have improved. Coverage is better, and 2.5G networks boast always-on capability and offer speeds of one to three times that of dial-up. (How much faster depends on a number of factors, such as distance from base station and capacity loading.)
  • We finally have a suite of business-class devices, across multiple operating systems. Whether phone or PDA-phone combinations, these devices support much greater memory (up to 64 Mbyte on board, with many having some form of removable storage) and faster processors (we'll see the first 1-GHz processor on a phone by next year). Sample business-class devices include the BlackBerry, palmOne Treo (Palm OS), Samsung i700 (Microsoft Pocket PC) and Sony Ericsson P900 (Symbian).
  • Wireless carriers have improved support for the enterprise. Most have dedicated support for midsize to large companies, separate care centers for data and improved billing systems. All have expanded their technical sales resources. Their security story also has evolved.

With such advancements, companies now can take wireless to the next level. Doing so requires two steps. First, you must develop a company-wide mobility strategy that includes a holistic view of wireless: voice and data, in-building as well as mobile, and including plans for WANs and wireless LANs. Second, as wireless becomes a core component of new data center plans, you must deploy wireless to a much larger group of enterprise users.

10-point evaluation framework
This 10-point framework will help you determine whether it's time to dive into enterprise mobility and how to evaluate vendor solutions:

  1. Enterprise mobility requirements. We define a mobile worker as one who is away from his primary workplace at least 20 percent of the time. In the US, approximately one-third of the workforce, or about 50 million users, falls into this category, and Europe is not far behind. Once you have determined whether an employee is a mobile worker, you need to better understand his or her particular wireless requirements: campus, local, regional, national, international.
  2. Applications. Does the employee primarily need remote access plus mobile e-mail and personal information management - meaning access to contacts and calendar? Or does the employee need more vertically oriented solutions such as field-force automation or other applications that might require custom development or, at a minimum, some form of wireless remote access? Also consider whether the employee needs constant connection to the application or whether he can work offline and then remote access in or synchronize the data.
  3. Device requirements. This does not have to be a one-size-fits-all solution. For applications with high input requirements, provide devices with qwerty keyboards or perhaps some level of voice recognition. For heavy use while driving, consider a good car kit to improve reception and provide hands-free capability. Also realise that some data-centric devices, such as the Treo and the Pocket PC, require a fair bit of two-handed use (stylus), while others such as the BlackBerry allow effective one-handed use.

    Keep in mind that the pace of innovation in devices is accelerating, so make sure you have a favourable upgrade program in place. You will probably want to change phones every two years on average. Note that if you adopt new services such as 3G, you will need a new phone (or new PC card) when those services and devices launch. Also ensure that the volume discount program you negotiate will continue if new sets are purchased, as most companies don't get the same "phone is almost free" programme as consumers enjoy.

  4. Network requirements. Recognise that for the next three years, we still will be dealing with what I call "mobility islands." From a WAN perspective, 2.5G will be the default network, with 3G coverage limited for the next three years. Public Wi-Fi is becoming increasingly available in Tier-1 locations, although the biggest challenge here is the fragmented market structure. By early next year, we should see common connection cards, clients and even devices that support both WAN and 802.11 WLAN. For the foreseeable future, neither 3G WAN nor 802.11 will be ubiquitous, so ensure users can access critical applications over 2.5G networks in some sort of stripped-down version.
  5. Corporate liability, or not? An under-recognised obstacle to larger-scale deployments is that within a given company, users are on a hodgepodge of mobile devices and service plans that they have selected personally, even if they bill back to the company. You must recognize that employees will require a choice of handsets, and even carriers, because individual preferences and network coverage will vary. Mandating a particular device and network will work only for a highly desired or mission-critical corporate application.

    Another issue is that traditional boundaries between business and personal use do not exist in wireless. How will you deal with users who want to download tunes, share pictures and play games during non-business hours? You need to spearhead policy development for this.

  6. Support structure. Realise that the more involved the devices and applications, the greater the support requirements. Companies are all over the map in providing support to their mobile workforce. Is this something that you plan to do internally? What are your expectations from the sales/support infrastructure from your wireless operator or other solutions provider?
  7. Security. Not a deal-maker, but a deal-breaker. Mobile VPN support has matured significantly and IPSec support is now a minimum requirement for enterprise deployment. We will move toward Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) VPNs over the next three years. Mobile device management and security are becoming increasingly important - including access control, inventory management, intrusion protection and configuration management. At the least, make sure you can lock down BlackBerries, Palms or other devices loaded with significant amounts of corporate data (such as e-mail and address books) if they are lost or stolen.
  8. Billing and account management. Although billing capabilities have improved to map to corporate needs, we still need a wave of business-to-business management tools that let IT managers better access account management and configuration.
  9. Enterprise application vendors. Mobility is still not "core" to the CRM/ERP applications from the major vendors - Oracle, PeopleSoft, SAP and Siebel Systems. The approach to mobility varies significantly from one vendor to another, with some supporting an offline/sync architecture and others promoting a more connected solution. Think carefully about these two frameworks when evaluating vendors. For example, does a new sales order need immediate input, or can that wait till day's end?
  10. Think about context. Users move through multiple islands of connectivity as they work and travel. So think about what can be accessed or delivered to users, depending on their "state." For example, they won't be able to download a big attachment if they are connected at dial-up speed. This is where developments in location services, presence and multi-modal (such as voice recognition and text-to-speech) applications might help optimise the mobile experience.

Lowenstein is managing director of consulting and advisory services firm Mobile Ecosystem, a leading This article was written for Network World Fusion