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9/30/2005
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How To Make Mobile Computing Pay

Before you implement mobility projects, it is essential to understand how making enterprise applications available to mobile workers will pay off. Here are some tips.

Mobile devices, such as smart phones and handheld computers that use cellular or Wi-Fi technology, give enterprise users ready access to phone, email, websites, and company applications while in the office, at home and when on the road. But the question facing many enterprises is whether it’s worthwhile to equip some or all of its employees with mobile technology. Let’s take a look at how mobile computing can contribute to a solid ROI.

Improving Productivity in the Workplace

One of the primary benefits of mobile computing is a gain in efficiency. You can reduce the amount of time or number of people needed to perform specific tasks, which lowers costs and increases revenue, and of course results in higher profits.

I can definitely attest to the merits of a smart phone. For example, while on my vacation this summer, I received an email from someone who needed an immediate quote for defining their mobile solution requirements. With my smart phone, I was able to read the email and respond to it in just a few minutes while waiting in a car for my wife. If it weren’t for the smart phone, I would have likely missed the business opportunity.

Over the course of a week, I find dozens of idle times to stay abreast of email and take care of important business via my smart phone. While walking to my associate’s office, for example, I can read and respond to a couple email messages. I can do the same while riding in a taxi or waiting to board a flight. Recently, I had a chance to check email just after getting my mouth numbed to have a tooth filled. Life is getting crazy!

This use of mobile technology during “downtime” adds up to big savings fast. In fact, I no longer have to spend an hour or so each day sitting in front of a computer responding to emails. I’m free to do more work, which makes my company more money!

Another mobile computing application area for enterprises is voice-over-wireless LANs (VoWLANs). Many people in an office environment spend part of the day working away from their desks (and their telephones). VoWLAN enables employees to carry mobile telephones that interface to the company phone system over the wireless LAN infrastructure. This has tremendous cost savings compared to implementing cellular-based solutions inside large facilities.

For example, a hospital can equip doctors with mobile VoWLAN handsets that operate very similarly to standard cell phones. This enables nurses and administrators to contact doctors directly rather than having to page them, which substantially reduces telephone tag. Without the VoWLAN system, the doctor would receive a page and have to find an available phone. This is simply not acceptable in a hospital environment because delaying the response of doctors can cost the lives of patients.

Mobile Technology Increases Worker Accuracy

In addition to saving time, mobile computing can increase the accuracy of processes, which can allow precise identification of items and improve asset visibility and safety.

For example, I worked with a hospital to deploy a narcotics tracking system to replace a manual paper-based method of order fulfillment and inventory management. In order to meet hospital policies, a technician fulfilling an order for drugs must perform an inventory after picking each order. Previously, pharmacists would count the number of items taken and write down the new total on a paper record. Periodically, someone would enter these numbers into a central inventory management system.

The problem was that the counting process required at least 10 minutes for each order, and the pharmacy processed approximately 20 orders each day. This equates to more than 3 hours to perform the inventories. The paper and pencil method was also resulting in delays in updating the inventory system and numerous mathematical errors.

With a mobile computing solution, the pharmacy technician now uses a wireless data collector to scan the bar code on each drug as it is being taken from the bin and placed in the tote that holds the order being processed. There’s no need for the technician to calculate new inventory totals or record anything on paper. The system automatically updates the central inventory management system, which saves approximately 10 minutes per order and completely eliminates human error. Patients now receive their drugs faster, and the inventory records are accurate.

Concluding Tips

Be certain to quantify benefits by performing time studies to determine the amount of tangible savings that mobile computing will provide. For the pharmacy tracking solution, for instance, we “shadowed” the technicians for a couple of days and timed how long it took them to perform each part of the order fulfillment operation. We then set up a mock tracking system and re-ran the time studies. This allowed us to fully understand the time savings we could achieve before developing the solution.

Also, be sure to perform pilot testing. This enables you to better understand and verify benefits. The pilot testing helps quantify the benefits and uncover benefits that you hadn’t thought about. In addition, pilot testing allows you to obtain input from potential end users. Their involvement in the implementation process helps bolster buy-in, which makes the transition to the new mobile solution successful!

Jim Geier is the principal consultant of Wireless-Nets, Ltd. (www.wireless-nets.com), a consulting firm assisting companies with the implementation of wireless mobile solutions.

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