Learning from the Experiences of OthersMonday, November 10, 2008
Mobile Enterprise Magazine sponsors a Mobile Enterprise Executive Summit every year in the fall and this year it was held in Orlando, Florida, November 5-7. This is the fourth year I have spoken at this summit and my fourth year of serving on the editorial advisory board. I particularly like this summit because the attendees are CIOs or IT professionals from companies and organizations that have deployed wireless or are in the planning stages.
This summit is a great place to talk to the people who are customers of the wireless industry as opposed to people who are trying to sell their products to consumers and business customers. Prior to the summit, each of us on the advisory board also get to judge the entries for the Mobilizer awards. These awards are presented annually in several categories for the best wireless solution deployments for companies or organizations. This year there were more entries than ever and every one of these companies has implemented a great solution.
There was a session on Mobile Fraud and Security, which is a topic of discussion at almost every conference I attend, and a unique session called Mobile Technology and the Multi-Generational Workforce, which was a panel of CIOs who have deployed wireless technology in companies and organizations with diverse workforces where the ages of those using the solutions ran the gamut from their early 20s to their late 60s. When I first sat down to listen, I assumed that the younger workers would take to the technology better than the older workers, but that was not always the case. Yes, there were companies where the older workers, especially those accustomed to doing their job a certain way, were resistant to change. However, the younger members of the workforce were much more critical of the applications and user experiences because of their own experiences with wireless prior to joining the company.
All of the panels and sessions were informative, as was the networking time during the two evenings of the summit. I had an opportunity to talk with many of the CIOs in attendance about the status of their systems, what was next on their agendas, and if they were able to deliver on the return-on-investment they promised their executives (a resounding yes). Those I spoke with were equally divided about the next phase of their implementations. Some thought that because of the downturn in the economy, their budgets would be slashed, and others felt their budgets would be increased because using wireless presented a cost savings to their companies, or at least a way of increasing productivity without spending a more money.
I spoke with two gentlemen who were responsible for wireless on their university campuses and learned that in one case, they had done exactly what you would have expected-rolled out a Wi-Fi network in conjunction with their wired network and provided their students with access to wireless broadband everywhere on campus. The other university had done the same thing but with two differences. First, they had a number of issues with their Wi-Fi deployment because the contractor did not do an adequate site survey and, once installed, it took a long time to get the system up and working properly. But once it was in, they learned that simply having an on-campus network was not enough. At this particular university, only 20% of the student population resides on the campus and the rest live in the communities surrounding the university. They are now working on some wider-area wireless solutions using commercial networks.
One of the best presentations was by a captain with the San Diego Fire Department. The department was the recipient of one of the Mobilizer awards for its work deploying PDAs for paramedics to use in the field in place of the paper forms they previously had to fill out. What made this presentation so interesting was that like many first wireless projects, this was a rogue project and it was this captain who had the vision, learned enough about programming on a Palm Pilot to put together the application, and then fought for its deployment within the department. His project was almost cancelled several times, but fortunately he found a senior officer within the department who believed as he did that it would make life easier for the paramedics and provide emergency rooms with better patient data. After years of working on the program and getting it into the field, he then had to do battle with the older officers and paramedics who did not want changes to their established routine. He kept after it and now this program is being used not only in the City of San Diego, but also in the county and it will probably end up being the program of choice for paramedics and fire rescue services all over the United States.
One important theme that ran through most of these presentations was that once deployed in pilots and then rolled out, applications designed to solve a particular problem or provide a better way of working in the field end up being refined and going through a number of changes, updates, and enhancements. It was clear to me that the ones that worked best were applications where those responsible for its deployment listened to everyone and anyone when it came to both positive and negative feedback. I have long advised corporations to involve their workforce in the project early, and to continue listening to them as they develop the application and take it out into the field.
In the 1990s, those pushing for wireless within their corporations were frustrated by a lack of wireless coverage, security for their applications, devices that would withstand the abuse they suffer in the field, and support from their C-level executives. Today, 10-15 years later, they are still frustrated by the lack of support from their executives but don't complain about the other issues. They have security at least as good as what they have for their wired networks, broadband speeds, and a wide variety of devices for many different types of field workers. They also have an understanding of the advantages of wireless, but their efforts are still being frustrated by many of those within the company who approve projects or make funding decisions.
At this conference where almost all of the CIOs and IT professionals have deployed at least one wireless project, it was interesting to listen to them share experiences and discover ways to solve problems that have been nagging them or overcome obstacles with their management, and, most of all, hear how others have deployed wireless in ways that might help them moving forward. This type of conference is of great benefit to all who attend. The corporate CIOs and IT professionals learn from their peers and the vendors are able to talk to these people one-on-one or in small groups. Not only are the vendors able to offer up their products, they have an opportunity to hear firsthand about problems facing their potential customers and can help their own companies better understand what they need to do to enhance or improve their products.
Magazine editors and writers get to talk directly to a number of their readers and get feedback about what other types of reporting or articles would be valuable to them and what they like and don't like about the publication. I get to listen to all of them and come away with some new ideas and a better understanding of the customers and the vendors. A summit such as this is truly one of the best ways to bring clients and vendors together in one place to talk about issues, the reality of the challenges, and even, perhaps, the future.
It was three days well spent, and I plan to continue to be involved in this summit and similar events. Many of the shows and conferences I attend are basically industry talking to industry and the press, and they are of valuable. However, they are not as valuable to me as sitting down with a CIO who has had to fight his executives to be able to deploy wireless, to hear how successful the project has been, and how much difference it has made to his or her company.
Andrew M. Seybold