Good things don’t always come in small packages

Mobile applications are becoming more popular in industries like health care and transportation, but industry experts warn users cannot do their jobs without the right device.

Consultants at CGI Group Inc. learned plenty of lessons about the pros and cons of Waterloo, Ont.-based Research in Motion (RIM) Ltd.‘s BlackBerry wireless handheld devices during a recent trial with Bell Canada field service technicians.

Enn Martin, director of consulting business development for Montreal-based CGI Group Inc., said that with the RIM devices, Bell Canada technicians were able to download work orders on the road in about two minutes. Before, it took them 20 to 30 minutes to download jobs, because they would have to pull over to the side of the road and find a place to plug in their notebook modems.

But because the BlackBerries are so small, they could only be used by technicians servicing small customers with one or two phone lines. Larger customers who have their own private branch exchanges (PBXs) can only be properly serviced if the technicians are given engineering diagrams, Martin said.

“”If you force someone to look at engineering diagrams on a two-by-two inch screen, you’re going to drive them crazy,”” he added. “”RIM isn’t the answer to everything, and Palm isn’t the answer for everything.””

Martin made his comments last week at Wireless Businesses Cases for Top Management, a seminar organized by the Toronto Wireless User Group (TorWUG).

Bell Canada officials eventually decided not to use the BlackBerries because senior executives wanted all technicians using the same type of device.

Using one platform across the enterprise makes it easier for IT staff to support users and manage the infrastructure, said Eddie Chan, research analyst for mobile and personal computing technology at IDC Canada.

But, Chan added, the choice of device ultimately depends on the application.

The wide variety of wireless clients makes it easier for companies to choose something that suits the needs of their mobile workers, said Michelle Warren, market analyst for Toronto-based Evans Research Corp.

“”If they’re looking for an application where they need something that they can clip on to their belt, and something where they can go out and access e-mail and look at their day-timer, then the handheld products are ideal,”” Warren said. “”If they’re looking for something with more traditional computer applications, that’s where the tablet or traditional notebook can play a really key role.””

Truck drivers, for example, would need devices that are more rugged, such as those offered by Everett, Wash.-based Intermec Technologies Corp., Warren added.

Executives in the transportation and logistics industry want to keep track of where trucks are and ensure their drivers are “”not hanging out at Tim Horton’s,”” said Pam Ferguson, Rogers Wireless Inc.‘s product manager for asset tracking and logistics.

Although some may view technologies such as global positioning system (GPS) tracking as a “”big brother”” method of spying on employees, wireless data services can help drivers do their job by making it easier to keep track of waybills and other paperwork, Ferguson said at the TorWUG event.

Toronto-based Rogers Wireless currently provides GPS tracking and mobile data services to several firms, in addition to applications for health care workers who need to visit patients at home.

Home care workers often need to take pictures of injuries and send them to hospitals, but there is often “”not enough real estate”” on handheld devices for imaging, said Steve Dekker, Rogers Wireless’ product manager for wireless enterprise solutions.

Regardless of which device is used, IT staff need to integrate corporate data from back-end databases into the mobile applications, said TorWUG director Craig Read.

“”There’s a million ways you can integrate corporate data into a mobile system, but if you don’t do it, (the project) will fail.””

Read estimates about 75 per cent of mobile wireless projects fail, and many failures happen when senior managers do not support projects fully.

He added many business managers are short-sighted, and only focus on the next quarterly results, rather than on what a mobile enterprise project can accomplish five years down the road.

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