It is predicted that wireless data technology, touted as the biggest information technology (IT) revolution since the Internet, will start turning up everywhere. The basis for this prediction is the widespread adoption of wireless phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs), both of which already offer first-generation wireless data capabilities. Do today's wireless devices and networks offer sufficient value to enterprise users for core enterprise applications such as data warehousing (DW) and business intelligence (BI)? Survey.com has tracked the progress of the DW/BI space for several years now. Our most recent update, fielded Q4 2000/Q1 2001, includes several questions about wireless technologies asked of IT managers and line of business (LOB) executives involved in developing and operating DW/BI solutions in their enterprises.

Our findings appear to contradict the wireless hype, at least within the scope of DW/BI solutions. Most respondents (67 percent) indicate indifference to the notion of wireless access. They don't offer it, have no plans to offer it and do not view it as important for their DW/BI solutions.

However, a significant minority of the organizations surveyed, nearly one-third, either now provides or plans to provide wireless access to their DW/BI solutions. In this special analysis for DM Review, we compare these organizations with those not pursuing wireless to learn how they differ. Are they typical early adopters who have identified the first glimmer of a trend that may later go mainstream, or does their use of wireless reflect special needs that make wireless more attractive? Are enterprises with little or no current interest in wireless just so preoccupied, or even overwhelmed, with deploying their core DW/BI solutions that wireless access is dismissed without careful deliberation?

Because the study encompassed overall activity surrounding DW/BI solutions, our wireless questions were limited to the basics.

Q:

How important is it to provide users with wireless access to your DW/BI solution?

A:

On a scale of 1 (not at all important) to 5 (very important) the overall average is 2.44, or between somewhat unimportant and neither important nor unimportant.

Q:

When do you intend to provide wireless access to your DW/BI solution?

A:

  • Four percent currently provide wireless access.
  • Four percent plan to implement wireless access within six months.
  • Seven percent intend to implement wireless within one year.
  • Eighteen percent intend to implement wireless within two years.
  • Sixty-seven percent have no plans to implement wireless access.

Those who indicated that they don't intend to provide wireless access were also asked why they do not intend to do so. Respondents whose organizations do provide or intend to provide wireless access were asked which wireless/mobile devices are or will be used to access the enterprise DW/BI solution.

For analysis, these basic questions allow us to identify what we'll refer to as a "wireless group" and a "non-wireless group" and allow us to compare their responses to other questions about their DW/BI implementations and organizations. They also reveal the kinds of organizations where wireless access is more likely to be implemented and why. If this issue hasn't yet surfaced in your organization's DW/BI development effort, you can expect that it will, especially considering the high level of publicity surrounding wireless technology today. We hope this analysis helps you deal with the wireless question by putting this issue into perspective within the context of your own DW/BI strategy. If nothing else, you can use it as ammunition to support your decisions regarding wireless access ­ whichever way you decide to go.

The Current State of DW/BI

Where wireless access to DW/BI solutions is ­ or isn't ­ going, depends directly on factors defining the state of DW/BI in general. These are reflected by some key highlights from the survey:

  • Businesses and organizations of all sizes, from those with fewer than 100 employees (24 percent) to those with 10,000 or more employees (25 percent) are implementing DW/BI solutions.
  • As a result of reduced cost and effort, market growth is stronger than before among smaller organizations.
  • These solutions are used in every industry sector.
  • Even with expanding adoption, a sizable number of organizations don't perceive a need for, or lack the skills and expertise, to implement these solutions.
  • Forty percent of DW/BI users characterize their organizations as "early majority" in adopting new technology.
  • Implementations can take up to several years to complete, and most organizations are only planning or are still in the process of implementing their solutions.
  • Centralized warehouses or multiple data marts characterize typical architecture.
  • The average implementation supports 957GB of useful data. This number is expected to increase by 65 percent in the next three years.
  • Organizations average 380 DW/BI users. This number is expected to double by 2003.
  • Sixty percent of these organizations will connect customers, and more than 50 percent will connect partners within the next three years.
  • The proportion of organizations using DW/BI solutions for CRM and other customer-oriented functions is increasing.
  • Organizations spend an average of more than $1 million to implement an initial DW/BI solution; overall they spend more than $480,000 annually.
  • About 25 percent of these organizations use application service providers (ASPs) ­ more for back-end database or data warehouse hosting (66 percent) than for front-end analytic applications (47 percent).

A Wireless Profile Emerges

Comparing some of these factors for wireless versus non-wireless organizations yields a profile of their key differences.

Not surprisingly, attributes exhibiting the greatest spread between the wireless and non-wireless groups are related to scale: bigger budgets, higher organization revenue, more concurrent users, more local employees overall and larger systems as reflected by higher storage capacity. Need for wireless goes along with greater numbers of users who are likely to be more widely distributed geographically or have more specialized functions that require increased physical mobility.

Scale also influences resources. Awareness of and activity to address the need for mobile access is likely to be greater where resources are available to do so. Wireless access may have a relatively low per-user cost, but it is a secondary access mode relative to conventional desktop access. The infrastructure, implementation and support wireless requires represent a whole new level of investment and resource commitment, not just incremental additional cost. Thus, it isn't likely to be a priority where budgets and development resources are constrained. Larger organizations are more likely to have not only larger budgets, but also the specialized expertise required to evaluate and manage these technologies.

Beyond scale, respondents in organizations pursuing a wireless access strategy are also more likely to characterize their organizations as being more advanced and innovative in adopting new technologies than those not pursuing wireless. At the same time, though, the fact that an organization is not advanced in the actual progress of its DW/BI implementation is not an indicator of whether it will provide wireless access or not. Of course, the projects in larger organizations tend to be more complex and take longer to execute.

Wireless by Industry

Providing wireless access to DW/BI solutions also appears to be related to the industry of the organization. Examination of the proportion of respondents in each industry who responded that they regard providing wireless access to their DW/BI as somewhat or very important reveals considerable variation among industry groups as indicated in Figure 1. Some of the variation may be related to organization scale, as average organization size and industry can be related.


Figure 1: Variation by Industry in the Proportion Who Respond That Providing Wireless Access is Somewhat or Very Important.

Variation in business processes from industry to industry is also likely to influence perception of wireless. Organizations that perceive value in wireless access include those which are inherently more information or communication intensive such as manufacturing and distribution (whole-sale and retail) where the logistics of complex supply chains, difficult operations and process coordination are critical.

In other cases, levels of user mobility may be a determining factor. Healthcare, for instance, pioneered mobile-wireless technologies used in patient-care operations. However, business managers in this sector, using BI information as opposed to medical information, are probably less likely to need a mobile solution than their counterparts in other industries where more business activity occurs outside the organization's physical location or among geographically dispersed locations. Another factor associated with industry classification is the perceived technical orientation of the organization. Obviously, respondents in the IT industry are more likely to perceive their organizations as innovators in their use of technology.

Unwiring Business Problems

Turning to a more focused set of responses that reveal usage objectives, another characteristic distinguishing organizations pursuing wireless technology emerges. Figure 2 is formatted to demonstrate the contrast in responses between the wireless and non- wireless groups. Respondents identified specific business problems their organizations are now addressing with their DW/BI solutions. Particular business problems showing the greatest differences are varied, but they have a consistent theme. Those pursuing wireless are more likely to be addressing business problems that involve providing access to groups out-side the organization such as customers and suppliers. Addressing these problems stresses use of the DW/BI infrastructure for communication rather than for the analytical functions more typically supported by traditional DW/BI solutions. There is little difference between wireless and non-wireless groups for those traditional analytic functions.


Figure 2: Business Problems Addressed by DW/BI Solutions Favored by Wireless- Oriented Organizations

External Motivation

When looking at reasons for providing external access, another pattern emerges. As shown in Figure 3, nearly one quarter of non-wireless organizations do not even plan to provide external access to their DW/BI solutions. Even those that do are less likely than wireless organizations to cite any of a variety of specific reasons for wanting to provide external access. On the other hand, more than 90 percent of wireless organizations plan to provide external access. From this, we conclude that organizations placing higher importance on external access are more likely to see external access as having a tangible return on investment (ROI). Wireless is a key element supporting their overall external access strategy.

Click here to see figure
Figure 3: Reasons to Provide External Access

Why Not Wireless?

Those in the non-wireless group were asked specifically why they are not pursuing or planning to pursue wireless access as part of their DW/BI strategy, as shown in Figure 4. The reason cited far more frequently than any other is really the inverse of what motivates use of wireless: lack of a valid business case. Clearly, those offering this response either do not see the opportunity that wireless represents or they have calculated that it doesn't pay off in their particular situations. This suggests that wireless may fall into the category of non-essential bells and whistles (luxury items?), especially for an organization implementing its initial DW/BI solution under stringent budget constraints.


Figure 4: Reasons for Not Adopting Wireless

The second most frequently cited reason that wireless technology is too immature is one that could even deter an organization that could justify the business case for implementing wireless. The many technical limitations of wireless devices and infrastructure will continue to hinder adoption of the technology in those organizations that have needs exceeding current technical capabilities.

Many Paths, Many Choices

For those organizations bold enough to be among the first to implement wireless access, another set of issues emerges. There is no standard wireless delivery platform; and even the leading devices, platforms, networks and user interfaces do not preclude other wireless options. Thus, supporting multiple wireless modes is practically inevitable. However, when asked to consider the range of currently available technologies, respondents were clear in indicating their priorities. Figure 5 illustrates that the venerable notebook/laptop computer is the target wireless access device for most respondents. This is probably as much a legacy-driven choice as anything else, as notebook computers are a pervasive feature of the business computing landscape. They represent a significant investment for organizations that have embraced them as mobile extensions of the enterprise. Unfortunately, their capabilities are not well matched with delivery capability of today's public wireless networks, and their size and weight impede convenient mobility.


Figure 5: Wireless Device Use

Not far behind, however, is the newer generation of mobile devices, increasingly popular personal digital assistants (PDAs), the most popular of which are the ubiquitous Palm Pilot and its OS compatible clones, such as the Handspring Visor. Mobile phones enabled with the wireless application protocol (WAP) are the next most frequently mentioned devices. Some complain about WAP's anemic capability as an Internet browser for general-purpose mobile surfing. Nonetheless, this response suggests that in its present form, WAP may actually be perceived as better suited to more narrowly defined, dedicated use in business solutions. The fact that WAP-enabled phones rank with Windows CE handhelds, which can provide a scaled-down version of the standard desktop experience, probably also reflects the desirability of a dual- function wireless device. After all, mobile phones are already in the hands of most mobile business users for voice calls. Adding data capability to a phone increases mobility by eliminating the need for a separate data device, yet adds little to the cost of the phone.

The close relationship of wireless and the desire to extend external access means that the user device will be beyond the control of the solution-providing organization. This suggests that data- capable phones may be regarded as the lowest common denominator platform required to support broad external wireless access. Relatively fewer respondents indicated use of two-way messaging devices such as the RIM Blackberry. However, two-way messaging devices are likely to remain as an element of the wireless arsenal. They are the devices of choice for certain vertical applications because they provide a persistent wireless connection, making them ideal for pushing critical information to widespread users instantaneously.

Whither DW/BI Wireless?

Will wireless DW/BI access ever become commonplace? First, let us acknowledge that we're clearly still in the horse-and-buggy phase of wireless computing. In fact, it would have been rather surprising if we had found that wireless is already becoming a mainstream feature of core enterprise IT solutions such as DW/BI. Wireless technology is only beginning to emerge, even in the areas where it is expected to explode.

Nonetheless, given general advances in all aspects of IT and telecom, and those in DW/BI specifically, there is every reason to expect wireless to play an increasingly critical role here as it will elsewhere. This is especially true as the functions of DW/BI continue to blur, encompassing more external access and communications. Why wouldn't it be as desirable to provide access to those functions to users wherever they happen to be? In fact, once the value of wireless access is clearly demonstrated, you can expect DW/BI solutions, as well as other core business applications, to be among the strongest drivers of wireless adoption. With inevitable price/performance improvement, increased experience and clear business advantages, wireless access will be increasingly regarded not only as practical, but also as an essential feature of a complete solution. If you're not going wireless, you're just not going wireless yet.

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