It is evident from the sheer volume of print, Web and other media devoted to wireless and mobile technology that it is the hottest of hot topics. Although it's certainly not new, the heightened attention wireless technology has recently received brings it to the forefront of just about every technology discussion.

Wireless devices have become commonplace among consumers with the proliferation of mobile phones and pagers. There are predictions that 8 of 10 Internet users will access data via mobile phones within a year's time. In the consumer space, mobile commerce (m-commerce) is now the watchword. Although m-commerce is receiving the bulk of attention, wireless and mobile technology is probably better suited for serious B2B and applications such as business communications, productivity and transactions.

Cutting the Wires

The penetration of wireless technology into the enterprise computing space will rise exponentially. While the reality might not meet utopian descriptions for access to any data, any time, anywhere, the movement to a wireless world cannot be ignored. The benefits have been enumerated many times within these pages and elsewhere and don't really require reiteration. The current state of the technology and the barriers it faces before pervasive adoption occurs are also fairly well-recognized.

Figure 1: Wireless Adoption Plans

In the corporate world, laptops are the main mobile devices, but not many have been equipped with and/or use wireless technology. Additionally, laptop bulk and power requirements make them less than ideal as a portable device. Cell phones have become as ubiquitous in the business world as they have in the consumer world. However, it is only recently that phones with Web access have started to impact the business community.

PDAs are showing up in just about everyone's pockets, but most of them are not equipped with wireless capabilities. Text-based pagers have been around for some time, yet only recently are the more information-rich RIM pagers catching on. While they offer instantaneous messaging, they are limited in message length.

Wireless Warehouses/BI and Portals

There is also ample focus on wireless technology from the data warehousing (DW), business intelligence (BI) and portal vendors. From database and data warehousing vendors such as Oracle, IBM and Sybase to BI vendors such as Business Objects, Informatica and Sagent, efforts to build in wireless capabilities are increasing. Portal vendors such as Hummingbird, Knowledge Track and Viador are in the game too.

While vendors begin to add and enhance product capabilities, IT departments and business managers are struggling to determine their own strategies. Two recent studies in the DW/BI and portal areas illustrate that while many businesses have begun to explore wireless access, widespread adoption will take time.

Although DW/BI solutions have been a part of the enterprise landscape for quite a bit longer than enterprise portals, there is greater interest in providing wireless access through portals. As shown in Figure 1, few organizations have yet to implement wireless access to either their DW/BI or corporate portal applications. Within another six months, less than 10 percent of DW/BI users plan to have wireless access, while plans for corporate portal adoption ramp up at a higher rate. Overall, the majority of respondents state that their DW/BI applications will stay hard- wired only, whereas the near reverse is true for corporate portals.

Perhaps portals ­ which have been integrated with Web technology from the start ­ are a more natural fit with wireless access at this early stage. Another factor that may be manifesting itself is that many corporate portals are acting as the interface to BI applications ­ wireless access capabilities are being integrated with general portal access capabilities rather than directly into data warehouses or BI applications.

What is affecting the movement to wireless access? The lack of mobile devices is not a problem, yet wireless capability for all those devices continues to be. Ever- present security and cost issues also contribute to reluctance to adopt wireless access. The most frequent factor cited by survey respondents is the fact that they can't yet make a business case for on- the-go information access through these applications (see Figure 2). Perhaps the line-of-business users have yet to make a strong enough case for adoption, or users are too comfortable with the existing capabilities of such devices as laptops, cell phones and PDAs.

Figure 2: Reasons for Not Providing Wireless Access

Making It Work

Ideally, wireless access offers many attractive competitive advantages and operational efficiencies. However, it also involves constraints in terms of bandwidth, display size and geographic coverage. The plethora of competing devices and standards, many of which are already established among their user populations, is even more vexing to many IT managers. Add to this the steep learning curve and lack of experience or established best practices, not to mention the considerable challenges and complexity of integrating another layer onto existing enterprise applications, and it is not hard to see why wireless may seem like a big leap for many organizations.

Fortunately, vendors, integrators, carriers and ASPs are starting to tackle these issues so their customers won't have to. Meanwhile, technical capabilities continue to improve rapidly. When the convergence of technology (maturity, cost effectiveness, functionality and desirability) meets the demand from the customers (valid business cases, affordability and technical feasibility), we will see the adoption of wireless enterprise solutions explode.

Peter Teige, senior analyst and director of mobile and wireless research at contributed to this column.

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