Vertical horizon

Overworked CIOs should refuse to support end users' wireless devices unless the handhelds are for a specific business requirement. And saving hotshot executives a few minutes of their precious time so they can thumb their way through e-mail while waiting in airport security lines isn't a business requirement.

But don't start practicing polite but firm ways to say no just yet. That's because the wireless industry will be unleashing in the coming months and years a slew of vertically focused products designed to deliver true business value and not just gee-whiz convenience.

As a result, handheld wireless devices have the potential to shake the foundation of IT much like PCs did so long ago. Just as the PC disrupted corporate IT by appealing to broad numbers of workers with horizontal software like Excel and Word, wireless systems will similarly discombobulate your department by luring end users with claims that they can solve business-specific application needs.

According to The Insight Research, enterprises are poised to spend $US7.6 billion in 2006 on wireless data services alone. That figure doesn't include the billions of dollars spent on the hardware and software designed for those markets. Nor does it include the billions more you'll spend in your collective budgets to secure and support these myriad devices.

If the handhelds on your horizon merely meant more expense, you wouldn't have to worry. But they're much worse.

You'll be confronting the deployment and management of complex, n-tier applications running on a mix of largely unexplored operating systems. Compounding the problem is the endless array of hardware configurations and suppliers that you'll get to choose from. Plus, you'll have to think very carefully about the added information-security burdens. You'll need to attract new people with wireless skills or train existing staff on new stuff. And you'll have to cull through an untested crop of consultants to find the gems who know your business and wireless technology.

Wireless technology is moving at such a fast pace that it would be unwise to cast your wireless policy in stone today, let it evolve. Training will be key, too. Whether you support callous-handed journeymen working atop telephone poles in ice storms or soft-handed heart surgeons, it's likely that whatever wireless handheld device and application you give them will be a brand-new experience.

You won't be the only person suffering through the upheaval wireless technology brings. End users will need a lot of hand-holding for their handhelds. Be kind.

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