At the Realities of Wireless in Customer Relationship Management event, hosted by the e-Business Roundtable of the University of Chicago GSB, experts expressed their viewpoints and experiences concerning the application of wireless computing business problems.

Representing a broad array of experiences in the field of mobile computing and Customer Relationship Management, Benjamin Hill of Sapient provided a business consultant’s perspective, Swan Allen of 27Co discussed technology adoption and barriers to implementation, Josh Rubin of Motorola highlighted issues of the wireless device’s user interface, and Alexander Sherman of the Field Museum introduced us to his organization’s experiment with a wireless application.

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Mr. Hill of Sapient initiated the discussion with an overview of the business issues in wireless computing: timing of industry adoption, value requirements, and issues to be addressed in deployment.

In regards to timing, Mr. Hill mentioned a Gartner report which indicates 35% of all employees are currently mobile. This fact warrants the expectation of increased employee productivity by providing mobile access to corporate information. On the consumer front, people have become accustomed to customer service anytime and increasingly anywhere. In tandem with these demand factors, supply factors creating the possibility of positive returns-on-investment are related to technological advances in standardization and better performance leading to lower cost structures with greater benefits. In short, wireless data management is a maturing technology undergoing increased demand.

Mr. Hill stated that the business case for wireless is becoming clearer. For enterprise solutions, mobile sales force automation and other mobile employee productivity tools are clear examples of projects exhibiting positive ROI for the enterprises adopting them. It is more difficult to demonstrate the value and benefits of consumer oriented solutions. To some degree, the differences in the clarity of the business case are correlated to difficulties in end-user adoption. Within an enterprise, employee adoption can be limitedly mandated. External to the enterprise, people adopt technology only after learning the clear and compelling benefits. As such, Mr. Hill was able to give four reasons that might compel an enterprise to adopt a wireless data solution: Requirements for Real Time Information, Requirements for Anytime/Anywhere Information, the Need for the Remote Capture of Digital Information (voice, image, or text), or the Need for Transmission of Data in the Digital State.

In exploring the business issues of deploying a wireless solution, Mr. Hill shared a paradigm that included user and technological challenges. For the user challenge dimension, Sapient has created a map for identifying the impact of a wireless data solution. It is based in analyzing tasks according to Activity, Actor, Tools, Location, and then predicting the Mobile Impact. For the technological challenge dimension, Mr. Hill mentioned device level issues of the user interface, portability, and data capacity; network level issues of reliability and security; and the enterprise level issues of access, maintenance, and security.

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Mr. Allen of 27Co followed with a discussion of barriers to widespread adoption of wireless data solutions. According to Mr. Allen, many of the barriers to deployment of useful consumer wireless solutions are related to the current industry and regulatory structure of the wireless network carriers. The network carrier mandates the end-user data-interface to the handset makers, restricts content access to their approved wireless web sites, and controls the flow of data between the end user and the enterprise seeking to transmit data to that user. This has caused conflicts of interest between the wireless network carrier and enterprises seeking to contact potential customers. As an example, Mr. Allen mentioned the desire of enterprises to offer with rental cars to travelers upon their arrival at a non-home town airport. While the wireless network carrier can identify when its users that are “roaming”, they do not have to share this information with other enterprises. This makes it difficult for third parties to solicit business from these individuals. In light of this and similar experiences, Mr. Swan sees no impending action from the wireless network carriers to increase the demand for wireless data solutions. Instead, he predicts that it will be non-telecom enterprises and entrepreneurs that will give customers the compelling event to adopt 3G and the Wireless Web.

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Turning to the handset providers, Mr. Rubin discussed the problem solving approach Motorola is taking toward the design of the handset and the wireless web browser interface. Without stating specifics, he noted that the design demands of enterprise users and consumer users for wireless data access and management were distinctly different. Overall, the design of the user interface must encompass dimensions of usefulness – does the interface create efficiency, usability – can the users use it, and desirability – do the users enjoy it. On these points, market research has yielded Motorola insight into the design requirements of the handset. Given the option of a user interface that requires fewer keystrokes but more complicated data entry versus multiple keystrokes but easy to understand data entry, users preferred interfaces requiring multiple keystrokes that are easy to use.

Mr. Rubin also offered an industry perspective of wireless data management. He noted that although the PC is currently the hub for data management, Motorola anticipates a change in the market structure wherein the cell phone and wireless devices will become the future hub for data management. This is a bold statement given the applications, disk space, screen size, and number of other features that currently drive the deepening relationship between people and their PCs.

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Finally, Mr. Sherman of The Field Museum entertained us with Stanley, the wireless web solution tested at The Field Museum. While The Field Museum considered an enterprise solution, they realized that their enterprise data infrastructure was unprepared for such a task. Instead, they chose to test a wireless web solution directed at museum visitors. A sample of museum visitors was given Handspring wireless devices that were directed to Stanley, the Field Museum’s web site. The content on the Stanley mostly concerned logistical information such as where the exhibits were, how to find the washroom facilities, or what special events were occurring. Also on Stanley was information from scientist at archeological sites and other facts about the exhibits. The Field Museum tested Stanley as a possible offering to future patrons.

In watching the users of Stanley, The Field Museum noticed that visitors paid greater attention to the logistical information on the site than to emails from the scientist or exhibit facts. Moreover, this access to logistical information increased the time spent in the exhibits by the patrons, increased the number of participants at the special events, and improved the ability of people to find the washrooms. For instance, out of an average longevity of 3 hours at the Field Museum, typical visitors will spend nearly 30 minutes in the main hall planning their day and selecting exhibits. The access to the exhibit logistical information reduced planning time greatly, getting the visitors out of the main hall and into the exhibits quickly, thus providing museum visitors with greater value.

All of the logistical information in Stanley was available to non-sample visitors of the museum in different formats as well. The exhibit information is provided to every visitor in the form of a brochure. The special events are advertised on kiosks appearing throughout the museum. And the washroom facilities are well marked and highlighted on the map given to all visitors. There was zero new content in Stanley.

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Yours truly noted incongruence between the business value found in the Field case and that predicted by Sapient. The desirability and usefulness of Stanley is odd because it indicates that none of the expected reasons to adopt a wireless solution in enterprises was found in this consumer trial. The data did not need to be real time, nor was it unavailable to remote users, much less did consumers need to capture or transmit digital data to the Museum. After the presentation, I approached. Mr. Hill of Sapient regarding this issue and he concurred with my observation. Perhaps the business drivers to consumer adoption of wireless solutions are one area where business theory can be improved.

The May Report, TECH BUSINESS BRIEFS, July 16, 2002