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Press Release: Tom Salonek, Intertech Software's CEO, featured in Minnesota Business Magazine: Mobilizing Business



Tom Salonek, Intertech CEO, featured in Minnesota Business Magazine:

Mobilizing Business Understanding the promise and potential of wireless

If your company has mastered the intricacies of Internet-based business transactions, you may be wondering if it’s time for wireless applications to be part of your firm’s IT strategy. Wireless is now enjoying the hyper media coverage—and hype—formerly reserved for concepts like sales force automation or business process reengineering. Unlike those technologies, however, which cost plenty and in many cases failed to meet expectations, wireless has the potential to deliver real business benefits cost effectively. In fact, wireless is delivering cost-effective results today by helping companies improve operating efficiencies. Another emerging wireless application is mCommerce. The “m” means mobile, which refers to using wireless technology to directly interface with customers (more about that in a future article).

Wireless Primer

Wireless is not your TV’s infrared remote or your 900 MHz cordless phone. The “wireless” associated with the hype refers to a device—a cell phone or a Person Digital Assistant (PDA), like a Palm or PocketPC, with a wireless modem—connecting to a wireless network. These wireless networks can be local or remote.

A wireless local area network (WLAN) is typically used to connect mobile workers, such as warehouse staff doing inventory counts to the network. A wireless wide area network (WWAN) is used for off-site applications, such as checking a stock quote on your cell phone.

In a WLAN, the PDA or PC uses wireless network hardware and radio frequency (RF) to connect to a receiver, which connects the device to the network. WLAN is commn where mobility is required. Consider a warehouse where workers have small wearable computers for use when picking inventory. The computer indicates the next item to pick, prompts for quantity information, and, after receiving quantity input, updates inventory in the main computer system.

This type of mobile or wireless application has been available for years. WLAN also works when running cables is inconvenient, cost prohibitive, or just not possible. If you occupy multiple stories of a building in the Warehouse District, and love your exposed brick and vaulted open ceilings, you may want to use a WLAN or connect your Pcs.

A wireless wide area network (WWAN) provides wireless access outside the confines of your building. In a WWAN, a connection similar to your cell phone connection provides access to the Internet.

With a WWAN, a wireless user’s signal is picked up by a gateway—a receiving device. The gateway puts your wireless information on the Internet. The Internet routes your request to an Internet server (in some cases the same server you access with your regular wired PC Internet connection). The server gets your request, processes it, and sends the request back through the Internet. The Internet passes it back to the gateway, which sends the signal back through the airwaves to you device.

Conceptually, it’s like a voice call on a cell phone—you’re driving home; you make a call on your cell phone to your home, and “voila!” the phone in your house rings. Behind the scenes, without you knowing or caring, the phone call was routed over a mixture of airwaves and landlines.

Hype Versus Help

In general, for a technology like wireless applications across a WWAN to extend beyond the hype—i.e. to be profitable, low risk, and mainstream—it needs widespread acceptance (remember Crossing the Chasm by Moore and McKenna?). Today, there are already more web-ready phones than wired Internet connections in place around the globe. While “Web ready” doesn’t equal “Web used,” this is significant.

It’s a given that core business reasons also need to drive our company’s transition to wireless. Number one on the list; the needs of mobile employees. Today, 45 million mobile workers exist in our economy and those employees need to access corporate information.

Furthermore, return on a wireless investment is possible thanks to open standards. Unlike the old mainframe computer days, wireless gives you plenty of choices, which means competition and reduced risk of locking yourself into a proprietary solution.

For example, if you want your employees to access the Internet via a wireless connection, there are multiple providers—Verizon, Omnisky, and ATT—to name just a few. You also have multiple options for devices—a phone, a Palm, a PocketPC—and options for operating systems that power the phones and PDAs.

These same open standards have moved into the WLAN world. In the past, wireless data collection in a warehouse, e.g. to direct forklifts to their next pallet, required the use of proprietary hardware with a special operating system and program. Today, those RF units cost a magnitude less.

Open standards have lowered the cost for WWAN applications as well. UPS has been using it for years. Today, the cost is 1000 percent less than a decade ago. The functionality delivered by a unit that cost UPS $6,000 in 1990 is now available through a wireless Palm or PocketPC for $600. This dramatic drop in price means ROI is a reality for companies who previously didn’t have the scale to justify cost.

Real World Applications

The first workers to immediately benefit from wireless solutions are mobile users such as salespeople and field service reps, who need access to a particular piece of information, so-called “strike” data. For example, “Do we have any items with part number 123456 in inventory?” or “Is Frank available for a meeting at 2:30 on Friday?”

So how else can wireless work in the “real world”?

  • Route delivery management—a field specialist goes to a series of locations and performs inventories on her company’s product at various customer locations. With wireless access, there is no need for a download at the beginning of the day to tell her what stops to make or at the end of the day to upload the data—it is all live.
  • Remote workforce management—a field worker, who doesn’t report into the office, is performing manual labor—i.e., isn’t doing a job where they have a desktop Internet connection—but still need to enter their hours, get work direction, and send and receive e-mail with their office.
  • Management and sales team functions—such as monitoring a company’s performance through financial and operational ratios. Making the application available to a team via wireless means everyone is in the loop whether they are in the office—or out.
  • Warehouse data collection—a warehouse worker does inventory counts or picks inventory using a mobile, wireless computer that talks directly to the back-end enterprise resource planning system.


Open workspace environments—the University of Oregon has the whole campus equipped with wireless receivers. Any student with a laptop and a wireless network card can access the university network—from the lunchroom, dorm room, or under a tree on campus.

Clearly wireless applications work great for “striking” data, but they don’t work so well for browsing. The reality is that cell phones have tiny screens. While technologies like voice recognition for data entry and data response may hold future promise, they aren’t mature today.

And then there’s the matter of applications.

Clearly, focused applications that accomplish industry-specific functions will help drive the mainstream adoption of wireless technology. Although in the early stages, these types of applications are beginning to be developed. For example, wireless applications for mobile workers in the pest control and delivery industries show great promise. These custom blends of hardware and software will ensure that the resulting applications are highly tuned to meet an individual industry’s requirements.

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