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Ata Marie Group. Forestry Experts. - Ata Marie

10 Aug 2009 01:08:09

Technical Paper: Managing Mobility

There is no doubt that what makes companies run is data. And increasingly, as workers become more mobile, companies must provide data to those companies on-the-go. Mobile empowerment allows back office systems to extend beyond the office networks and enables employees to take those same systems to the point of interaction with field activities, suppliers, and customers – wherever they may be.

As a result, businesses can use field data in captured in real time, employees can achieve higher productivity and greater job satisfaction, and customers receive a higher level of service. Mobility, therefore, is a key competitive differentiator and business imperative.

Users are demanding anytime, anywhere computing capability, and anytime, anywhere access to corporate applications. Worldwide over 50% of users at enterprises are outfitted with notebooks, and well over 75% of these devices are be wirelessly enabled. Furthermore, personal mobile devices such as handhelds and smart phones, most of them wireless enabled, are being deployed as data access devices.

Forward thinking enterprises are adopting mobility to drive more effective and efficient operations, particularly in field force operations (e.g., field service, delivery, logistics, and field sales). Task-specific devices and applications are extending business critical systems (e.g., ERP, CRM, SFA) to automate previously manual field operations (e.g., field operations, order entry, dispatching), through deployment of data-enabled mobile devices, including ruggedized notebooks, handhelds and smart phones.

Smart phone devices (e.g., BlackBerry, iPhone, Symbian, Windows Mobile devices) originally popularized through email access, are now widely used to access back office systems (e.g., ERP, CRM, SFA), as users demand more functionality and companies understand the benefits of extended mobility. Further, wireless broadband connections (e.g., public WiFi, faster cellular networks, WiMax) are supplementing existing broadband (DSL, cable modem) and increasingly enable end users to stay connected at almost any location (e.g., hotel, airport, home office, rural locations, customer site), thus further driving adoption of mobile technologies.

One of the key challenges of the next 5+ years for enterprises will be managing time. Managing Mobility will become a competitive edge to those companies who do it right, and a substantial Achilles Heel to those who don’t.

In many organizations, the mobile application environment has been seen as a notebook computing-centered phenomenon. Users obtain notebooks, take them on the road with them, work with them from home over increasingly common broadband connections, and utilize them at many remote sites. While this model has increased productivity in many organizations, the notebook has been treated as essentially a portable desktop (e.g., same operating system (OS), same application build, same help desk staff, same IT tools), even though it is often used in very different circumstances/environments. However, we are in the early stages of a major transition from company environments where mobility was equated with notebooks, to one where a diverse mix of devices is present (e.g., PDA’s and smart phones).

Mobility offers some very significant return on investment (ROI) to companies that do it well. Automated dispatch systems enable trucks to deliver more materials in a day via efficient routing. Mill and store workers with scanner-equipped devices eliminate the double entry keying of previously paper-oriented systems, allowing for greater accuracy and real time control over processing, stock control, and logistics. Sales people in the field can close sales faster by using a wireless device to check on inventory levels and tell customers when products will be delivered.

All of these instances of mobile-equipped users provide ROI benefits to organizations. And they are just a few examples of an ever expanding array of companies using mobility to enhance their businesses through increased sales, better asset management, improved inventory turns, etc. Companies ultimately able to scale to encompass all field workers across all lines of business will exhibit major bottom line advantages.

Many sectors are in the process of rapid uptake of mobile solutions, replacing desktops with notebooks, equipping workforces with mobile devices, and reconfiguring applications to enable mobility. We are at the beginning of a new wave of mobility innovation involving Unified Communications (UC) that provides ubiquitous communications to the workforce – based around anywhere anytime access to broadband data services accessible through any device. Compelling UC technologies will expand and enhance existing systems including:

◦ Email: is moving from one where users access email from a fixed site to accessing email from any device and at any time.
◦ Instant messaging (IM) and VoIP: initially consumer products, IM and VoIP have been taken up in many organizations as mission critical tools. These are disruptive technologies that utilize low cost IP based communications to displace more costly SMS texting and fixed line telephone calling.
◦ Location awareness: Often thought of as a “mapping and directions” function powered by Global Positioning Systems (GPS) or other positioning systems, location based systems have much wider implications. The location of an item can be used as a trigger for timely communication and enable back end systems to deliver more accurate information and appropriate information to users.
◦ Presence: The ability to “sense” whether a device is connected and its status (available, not available, working on a particular task, completion status, etc) is a valuable attribute especially for an enterprise operating in real time. Often associated with IM, presence can be a powerful stand alone tool for more efficient planning, work flow management, and inter-group collaboration.
◦ Contextual information provisioning: One of the challenges for mobile systems is filtering the vast array of data often available so that appropriate information can be rapidly deployed over mobile networks to end users. Location awareness, presence, status and type of a device can help organizations provide only information that is required to get a job done and in a form that is easily utilized by the user.

I Enabling or enhancing an organizations mobile network can have a major positive impact on an organizations effectiveness and competitiveness. We believe that priorities for mobility into a company include:

o Enabling mobile email: For mobile workers, enabling email on mobile devices is the first major step in any mobility program. The key is to enable users to seamlessly access email anytime anywhere.
o Deploying VoIP and IM to supplement email: These technologies allow organizations to function at real time. The cost savings alone can amount to up to 90% of conventional fixed line and mobile phone costs.
o Enabling backend systems to support mobile workers: To allow true real time functionality, it is often necessary to enable corporate applications on mobile devices. There are two critical steps in this process:
 Back office systems initially need to be configured to allow access via mobile devices. Traditionally stand alone mobile applications have been developed for mobile devices which have data communications modules to transfer data between company servers and the mobile device. Increasingly mobile systems are operated using thin client applications that access back-end databases directly thin client tools.
 The next step is to improve the functionality of mobile applications to incorporate Unified Communications (UC) features such as location awareness, presence and contextual information provisioning into the business solutions as required. These may require major modifications to applications.

The agri-business and forestry sectors have generally been slow to take-up mobile computing. Mobility implementations have mainly centered on factory / mill systems and sales and marketing. While a large proportion of agribusiness and forestry professional work is mobile, poor communications and difficult operating conditions have acted as significant barriers to widespread implementation of IT mobility.

Improvements in rural communications infrastructure combined with advances in communications technologies have created tremendous opportunities to implement mobile technologies for rural based industries. In some cases, mobile networks may stretch as far as operational sites and there are three options for extending the range of corporate mobile systems:
o Connecting remote locations to the internet: Satellite communications and other communications technologies such as microwave the reach of internet to virtually any location in the world. Wireless networks (WIFI) can then be used to create the access point for mobile devices.
o Extending the reach of wireless networks: Conventional WIFI systems have a reach of 100m or less although boosters can extend this range. WIMAX networks can extend the transmission range to several kilometers. One alternative to WIMAX systems are wireless mesh networks comprising a series of radio, with each transmitter connected to at least two other transmitters, that relay radio signals in a “radio mesh” .

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