July 2003 | How-To | Ten Tips

Investing in Wireless Systems

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Investing in a wireless solution for your warehouse calls for careful consideration. Richard Bauly, vice president, strategy and business development, Psion Teklogix, offers these tips for selecting your new system.

1. Understand the needs of your staff. The wireless and mobile systems that deliver the most value solve a defined problem. Examine current operations and consider the types of tasks that could be performed more effectively with mobile technology. Without a clear understanding of the desired outcome, it is impossible to implement a system that will achieve its true value.

2. Understand the work environment. Carefully consider the environment in which the wireless system will be used. A field service worker, for example, will not use a wireless device the same way as someone on the warehouse floor. Today's market offers a range of mobile computing devices built for varying environments.

3. Understand the total cost of ownership. Purchasing a system with a low capital cost does not necessarily translate to long-term savings. For example, a device that requires an initial investment of $500 may end up costing much more if it requires significant service and support, compared to a $2,000 device, which, while more expensive initially, may not require as many repairs.

4. Use existing applications and extend with middleware. Many companies have already invested heavily in an enterprise software platform and do not want to reinvent the wheel when it comes to extending business applications to the mobile device. A middleware solution can effectively manage the flow and exchange of information between the mobile computer and the enterprise system. In some cases, however—dispatching and field work order management, for example—a mobile solution creates the need for new business processes that are not currently automated, requiring an investment in new applications.

5. Consider the mobile operating system. For consistency and ease of support, it is a good idea to standardize the operating system used on the wireless devices. While consistency with the enterprise OS platform may be a consideration, it is not a necessity. Open-standard connectivity enables a Palm or Symbian solution, for example, to work with a Linux or Microsoft platform. The mobile operating system should not be the deciding factor in the purchase of a mobile device. Other considerations, such as the class of user, are more important.

6. Consider using a solutions provider. The right partner may make the difference in the success of the mobile solution. Companies have two choices: they can handle the development and implementation in house, or outsource it to a third-party systems integrator or value-added reseller. The decision depends on the resources and expertise required, as well as the budget.

7. Think about the wireless data network. The choice of wireless data network will affect coverage, speed of data, network capacity, operating cost, and reliability. There are a range of network standards to choose from. Bear in mind that, with many mobile applications, the greatest ongoing cost is often providing wireless data coverage. These costs can be minimized, however, depending on the degree of connectivity you require.

8. Plan for support at the outset. The first 60 to 90 days following the implementation of a mobile system require a strong level of support to ensure the system is working properly and is being used to deliver maximum benefit. It is important to determine who will handle this support. Companies may choose to outsource this element, but it depends on the level of support required.

9. Have a security plan. Security should be considered, at key touch points, in development, The level of security required depends on the nature of business operations and the sensitivity of the data transmitted. There are numerous security technologies available—some solutions can encrypt and lock data on the mobile device and others can ensure that the data is not accessible when it is wirelessly transmitted.

10. Pilot first for large installations. A small, controlled pilot is the best way to ensure that the mobile or wireless solution will be successful when deployed on a larger scale. A subset of users should test drive the various mobile devices, while the IT staff can identify problem areas and troubleshoot them accordingly.

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