Unlocking The Business Benefit Of Wireless

Courtesy of InformationWeek

Editor's Note: Welcome to SmartAdvice, a weekly column by The Advisory Council (TAC), an advisory service firm. The feature answers two questions of core interest to you, ranging from career advice to enterprise strategies to how to deal with vendors. Submit questions directly to smartadvice@tacadvisory.com

Question A: Is there a next generation for wireless applications, or have we reached the end of the line for now?

Our advice: The mobile workforce is now the ubiquitous workforce. Workers are armed with cell phones, PDAs track appointments, RIM BlackBerries zip E-mails back and forth, and laptop-toting employees roam from cubicle to conference room. We've mobilized the workforce, but is that all there is to wireless?

Wireless technology is not a panacea. Often, existing technologies are sufficient or just simpler to implement and support. Nevertheless, new wireless capabilities and applications appear every day, and existing capabilities broaden, creating significant opportunities to gain business advantage. Maybe it's time to take another look at wireless technology and position your company ahead of the curve.

The success of a company's forays into wireless technology depends on its ability to find opportunities that provide business benefits. Chances are, your company has one or more business processes that are ripe for selective application of wireless technology.

Identify Opportunities Opportunities to extract significant business value from wireless technology abound in most companies. The trick is to identify them. Ironically, some of these opportunities involve activities and tasks that are performed on a daily basis, and it's their familiarity that impedes us from seeing the underlying possibilities.

In my experience, focusing on business processes provides an excellent source of valuable opportunities. Processes that are already partly or wholly mobile are obvious targets. But processes that are inhibited from going mobile due to current informational tethers also may be attractive prospects. Once those tethers are snipped, and wireless information access is substituted, entire or partial processes may be mobilized. Entirely new approaches to providing a service or executing a business function also may be feasible simply by adding wireless access to information. And, it's always worthwhile to explore wireless technology when engaging in business-process improvements.

  • Can immediate access to information speed decision-making or responsiveness?
  • Does knowing the location of an asset or individual have value?
  • Is data captured manually for later electronic entry?
  • Would greater mobility enhance work performance?
  • Is data collection costly, difficult or dangerous?
  • Could process steps be eliminated by moving a function closer to customers?
  • Could immediate, on-location access to data enable the creation of new customer services?
  • Could wireless data capture improve the accuracy and integrity of information?
  • Would on-demand access to information improve the quality of customer interactions?

Choosing The Best Candidates After giving yourself free rein in identifying potential opportunities, you will likely end up with too many candidates rather than too few. With more mature technologies, you might resort to standard ROI calculations, but with a newer technology such as wireless, other factors might sway your decision. Perhaps a low-risk entree into wireless, with associated lower business benefits, might serve as a non-disruptive proof-of-concept, setting the stage for more advanced efforts. Or, your company may have an appetite for a more complex and technically risky application that promises more substantial business benefits.

-- Ian Hayes

Question B: What are the most important skills for IT managers to develop now in preparation for the future?

Our advice: Given all the business and technology drivers of today, the question that many IT managers ponder is how to prepare themselves to survive and be successful five and 10 years out. The answer isn't to focus on specific technologies, because it's difficult to predict which ones will be prevalent in 10 years. Rather, the answer is much more a matter of personal preparedness. Here are my Top 10 capabilities for IT managers:

Leadership: Effective leadership allows IT managers to transcend geographies, organizations, and cultures. It will produce desired results despite the ambiguity and level of risk. The key is to be an authentic leader.

Relationship building: Having a significant personal network of people will continue to be a smart way for IT managers to operate in their careers. Remember that relationships—not technology—are the basis of personal credibility.

Learning: IT managers need to understand how they learn, from the point of view of both effectiveness and efficiency. That's the only way they can practice continuous learning.

Business acumen: IT managers must be able to talk with businesspeople in their language. But even more important, they must understand the industry, where their companies play in that industry, their unique selling proposition, how they make money, and what their customers are like. How else can they possibly understand where technology can help add to the revenue stream?

International cultures: Globalization and the offshoring of jobs to foreign countries require that we learn to work with and understand international cultures. The "American way" won't always bring success in how we run our business or in how we develop and nurture our relationships.

Listening: Probably the least understood skill is that of listening. Managers need to hear what's not expressed in words—the body language, the tone being used, etc. Too often, we're busy determining what we're going to say next, rather than understanding what's being said.

Mentoring: If IT managers are going to have an effective organization, they have to help develop the people who work for them. The real legacy an executive leaves is an effective, skilled organization.

Project management: The emphasis of the future has to be in the leadership and interpersonal skills that ensure sound project-management practices. Projects fail because relationships and expectations fail.

Change management: This is a necessity, as change becomes our steady diet. IT managers won't be able to lead others through changing times and situations if they can't learn to change themselves first.

Producing results: Successful leaders will get results by setting the direction, aligning the people, and motivating them to produce results. It can no longer be done by just commanding people to do work.

-- Bart Bolton

Ian Hayes, TAC Thought Leader, has more than 26 years experience in improving the business returns generated by IT investments. He helps companies focus on value-creating projects and services by better-targeting IT investments, improving the effectiveness of IT execution, optimizing the sourcing of IT activities, and establishing measurement programs that tie IT performance to business value delivered. He is the author of three IT books, most recently Just Enough Wireless Computing (Prentice Hall PTR, 2002), and hundreds of articles, a popular speaker at conferences, and his clients include many of the world's top corporations.

Bart Bolton, TAC Thought Leader, has more than 30 years experience leading the consulting arm of a major IT equipment manufacturer. He is recognized as one of the country's leading experts on building effective organizations. His specific areas of expertise include development and documentation of best practices, individual and organizational development, and change management.