Opinion: The coming wireless enterprise

EvDO -- whether it stands for "evolution data optimized" or "evolution data only" -- is on the way. Mobile carriers will soon bring ubiquitous broadband data access to wireless devices. The impact will be felt around the world.

Through use of wireless technologies, countries currently lacking telecommunications infrastructure can move directly into broadband in a matter of months. Consider the difference between the cost of laying a wire-line, fiber-optic network and that of building a system of cellular towers.

If there's any one technology that can create and sustain a healthy business environment, it's communications. Access to partners, suppliers, and information is the great facilitator of growth.

What might it mean to a company, in terms of increased productivity and customer service, if it could use wireless to send the first available truck to a repair site rather than having to batch fixed routes in the morning?

Or, suppose an employee on assignment could download manuals, floor plans, and annotated wiring diagrams for a building rather than having to go back to the office to search through the archives.

According to John Jordan, principal at Capgemini, broadband -- fixed or mobile -- will lead to what he calls the "cross-fertilization of financial accounting systems with production systems."

For example, vendors are taking 802.11g Wi-Fi -- which normally runs at 54Mbps -- and are "over-clocking" it, as Jordan puts it, to speeds of 125Mbps. That's better than 100Mbps Ethernet. At that speed, data can be sent back and forth between a remote distribution center and headquarters in real time, wirelessly.

That kind of connectivity would allow a forklift operator to expedite a pallet of goods to a good customer rather than a slow-paying one. Without access to customer information, the forklift operator might have no idea which pallet to pick. But what if profitability-analysis software drove that information directly to the plant floor? Of course, that takes more than high-speed wireless to pull off. Tight integration between operations and ERP is also required.

Or, consider the needs of a logging company. Loggers may want to chop as many trees in a day as possible. But the CIO may know that the market wants nothing smaller than six inches in diameter this month and that, in fact, the company will lose money if its loggers chop those trees down and try to sell them. The goal of operations is efficiency, but the CIO has a different goal. Wireless will bring the two closer together.

Equally important, with broadband wireless we will see better security: more and heavier encryption that doesn't have latency issues to make it impractical. With that in place, enterprises will be willing to use wireless for mission-critical applications.

On another note, here's my last word on offshoring. Consider this: If you used a Spain-based company last year, your costs went up approximately 18 percent thanks to the strength of the Euro versus the dollar. India saw about a 6 percent fluctuation -- in both directions -- in terms of the rupee versus the dollar. How many project managers are trained in international economics? Can you put a contingency clause in a contract to allow for an unfavorable exchange rate? I wonder. It's worth checking out.

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