Ask the right questions before adding wireless access to enterprise apps

Will a wireless implementation give workers at your company better access to corporate information systems? Are your mobile workers carrying around outdated information?

These are just two of the many questions IT managers should ask themselves before they start building wireless versions of

their enterprise applications, according to Simon Fraser, president of Toronto-based Nextair Corp., which develops enterprise wireless software.

Fraser, who spoke to about 70 IT managers and industry watchers at the recent Wireless Data Solutions Seminar, warned many IT departments approach wireless applications as make-work technology projects, rather than as services that will help workers do their jobs.

He said companies shouldn’t even consider integrating back-end data and applications with wireless networks unless mobile workers actually need them, and they should not try to completely revamp existing software or databases.

“”It should be about adding value to an existing software investment,”” Fraser said.

Although he admitted a lot of his recommendations are elementary, he said many IT managers he has met do not place enough emphasis on figuring out what their users actually need.

For example, he said one of his clients, an ambulance service, equips its medics with handheld Hewlett-Packard iPaq PCs. But the batteries on the devices last only four hours, meaning the staff have to recharge them during the middle of their shifts.

“”They didn’t care what (the user interface) looks like on the screen, whether it was black and white or a colour screen or whether there were pull-down menus,”” he said, adding battery life was the medics’ main concern.

Fraser said when IT managers install wireless versions of applications, they must decide whether they want to install client software on every device — meaning workers can use the applications when they’re out of the range of the networks — or whether they want a server-based application, meaning the data is being constantly updated.

Companies should also make sure that their wireless implementations can work on more than just one type of network (such as GPRS or 1XRTT) and one type of device.

He added IT administrators should be able to update and manage devices wirelessly, rather than relying on users to insert the devices into cradles hooked up to PCs on a regular basis.

Another piece of advice?

“”Always-on networks are not always on,”” Fraser said, warning that users cannot always access 1XRTT networks in their coverage areas, despite the fact that some carriers use “”always on”” as an advertising slogan.

The Wireless Data Seminar was organized by systems integrator Charon Systems.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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