Wireless development might just be busy work: Nextair

TORONTO – 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 Are your mobile workers carrying around outdated information?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 that 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 Wednesday’s Wireless Data Solutions Seminar at the Toronto Stock Exchange conference centre, 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. Nor should they try to completely revamp their 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 iPaqs. But the batteries on the devices only last four hours meaning the staff have to recharge them during the middle of their shifts.

Battery life was the ambulance attendants’ main concern. “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.”

Battery life is just one of several considerations. Another is the capability of the wireless application, Fraser said. IT managers 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.

“Unless you’re a shareholder of (Research in Motion Inc.), be sure you’re not locked into a specific device,” Fraser said.

Besides, wireless Internet availability may not always work as advertised. “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 their slogan.

The Wireless Data Seminar was organized by Toronto-based systems integrator Charon Systems, which installs server-based IT systems.

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