Mobility, Version 2.0

LOST ANGELES -- CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment 2006 -- Midway through a period of increasing IT investment, enterprises are moving from early wireless deployments focused on increasing efficiency and lowering costs to second-phase programs that will transform business processes, according to a panel of CIOs at CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment.

"Initially, our clients looked at narrow vertical slices in pushing out mobile field technologies," said Paul Daugherty, chief technology architect at major consulting and systems integration firm Accenture . "It was about automatic data-capture and eliminating paper-based processes. Now they're starting to see the real value beyond that, and how they can use these technologies to transform that process and the roles of workers completely."

"At first companies always look to the simplest things," agreed Paget Alves, southern regional president for sales and distribution at Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S). "Getting a ruggedized mobile device in the hands of individuals making deliveries, for example. Then they take it a step further: having simple repair instructions on the device in case a technician gets stuck, for instance, or seeing if the inventory is in the warehouse. Then you've eliminated several maintenance calls, and you begin to capture lots of functionality in what were heretofore disparate processes."

Along with Alves and Daugherty on the CIO roundtable -- introduced by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in a surprise appearance at CTIA -- included Nelson Lin, CIO for Konica Minolta Business Solutions, and Donald Goldstein, CIO of real estate management service company Trammell Crow.

The panelists generally said that IT spending is increasing at around 6 percent to 7 percent annually (Lin, of Konica Minolta, disagreed, saying "I'm struggling just to keep spending where it was last year"). Citing his company's research, Daugherty, of Accenture, said that the IT industry in general is in the middle of a six- to seven-year "boom cycle."

Daugherty also noted that a recent Accenture survey of 500 large-enterprise CIOs found that "high performers" -- companies where the IT department contributes more to the corporate bottom line than their competitors -- tended to adopt mobile technologies much more rapidly than their peers. The high-performing IT divisions, Daugherty said, adopt mobile technologies 75 percent faster than average companies.

In addition, the Accenture study shows that the uptake of mobile systems is occurring most rapidly in some surprising industries, including chemicals, power utilities, and industrial manufacturing. Adoption is lower, Daugherty said, in sectors such as banking and government.

Trammell Crow, which manages decidedly low-tech services like construction and building maintenance, has installed a wireless system that allows facilities managers to directly email service and repair requests to building engineers, using mobile devices such as BlackBerries. Upcoming in the next 18 months, says Goldstein, is the next phase: a "command center environment" that will manage building components automatically.

"Repair messages will go straight to engineers without the manager making the call," says Goldstein. "The system will find the engineer who's closest to where the service is needed, so they'll be more productive -- driving customer satisfaction and driving down costs."

In the last two years Konica Minolta has armed its technicians with mobile devices carrying EV-DO cards so they can respond more quickly to service calls and have better access in the field to parts inventories, customer information, and maintenance histories. The next step, says Lin, is rolling out similar capabilities to other KM mobile workers.

"The next place we're targeting is the sales force," he says. "We'll be mobilizing our CRM applications to give them better access to leads and more home-office information, so they can be proactive in doing their jobs every day."

The next two years, the CIOs agreed, will see increasingly widespread deployments of mobile applications fueled by increasing network speeds, expanding coverage, and rising comfort levels with wireless technologies among both mobile workers and IT pros.

"We're definitely seeing that inflexion," said Sprint Nextel's Alves, "both of adopting new technology and investing in what you can do with the technology that's already out there."

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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