Wireless computing is becoming an increasingly important facet of enterprise IT and communications strategy, and will undoubtedly become even more integral.
Wi-Fi deployments have increased on the back of the growing trend towards more flexible working, which has the potential to deliver many benefits, from cost savings and productivity improvements, to improved staff loyalty and enhanced customer service. Wireless technology is fundamental to flexible working as it enables users to connect to corporate resources irrespective of location and via devices such as PDAs, smartphones, netbooks and laptops.
Organisations looking to facilitate remote access to IT systems have a bewildering range of wireless options to choose from, including GPRS, UMTS, HSDPA, HSUPA, Wi-Fi and WiMax.
Selecting the right access mechanism depends on a number of factors, including cost, geographic availability, quality of service, security, and, not least, business need.
In practical terms, it is highly unlikely that a single wireless technology will meet the full requirements of any business, meaning a mix of systems will need to be adopted. This makes the task that companies face even more challenging, as identifying, implementing and integrating wireless solutions coherently into the business is complex, to say the least.
The starting point for any wireless implementation must be a comprehensive evaluation of the various business requirements that takes into account the expectations of all the potential stakeholders. At one end, senior management will be looking for a cost-effective solution that fits with the strategic aims of the business, while at the other end, users will want to connect simply and seamlessly, without having to worry about the underlying technology. Overlaid on all this is the issue of security – an enterprise IT infrastructure that spans many different devices, geographies and applications can be very vulnerable.
When formulating a wireless access strategy, IT leaders should take the following steps:
Evaluate what is currently in place and where, in terms of networks and devices. This in itself is sound business practice, and can be very revealing, perhaps throwing up redundant network elements or devices, and rogue access points.
Assess user needs, in terms of what they require access to, how, and in which scenarios.
Determine geographic requirement – onsite, between sites, at home, or on the road. Onsite and between sites are much easier to manage, as the locations are known quantities.
Implement cost-control measures. Mobile makes up an increasing proportion of a company’s communication costs, and one that can easily spiral out of control without proper controls and policies.
Put procedures in place for the management of billing. Handling multiple user bills from multiple suppliers can be extremely resource intensive, and businesses need to look to rationalise and consolidate wherever possible.
Ensure security needs of the company are met by putting in place access controls and policies stipulating how devices, and the data they contain, are to be kept safe.
Try to ensure that whatever solution is put in place can not only meet current requirements but can serve the business needs of tomorrow.
While IT leaders should be prepared to address all these steps, there is now wider scope for organisations to bring in outside expertise. Indeed, we are fast reaching the point where mobility is no longer about a detailed weighing up of technological options.
Achieving enterprise mobility is less about the availability and maturity of a particular service, and more about how the technologies are delivered to the business and how they fulfil business needs. In an ideal world, businesses do not want to worry about whether they have backed the right technology horse.
In this scenario, the operator takes on the mantle of strategic partner, an all-encompassing role that pulls together the various threads to provide a set of integrated services that deal with issues such as security, asset tracking and cost control, while at the same time providing a seamless interface for users, and offering smooth transition to new technologies.
Examples of providers that are adopting this approach with increasing success include traditional telcos such as BT, aggregators such as iPass and Fiberlink, and mobile operators such as Vodafone and T-Mobile.
While it is undoubtedly incumbent on the company to ensure that its remote access strategy is sound, the opportunity to share the responsibility of implementation is increasingly attractive. It is important to remember, however, that it is a shared, not a delegated, responsibility. Due diligence is essential, both in terms of what a provider can deliver now, and what and how it will deliver in the future.
Getting into bed with the wrong partner can be as disastrous for the business as not having a strategy at all.