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Wireless > Book Reviews > Going Wireless: Transform Your Business With Mobile Technology >

Going Wireless: Transform Your Business With Mobile Technology

by Jaclyn Easton

2002 Harper Business, New York

259 pages

Review by Madanmohan Rao (madan@techsparks.com)

While "Web-enabling" may have been the clarion call of the Internet Age, "handsizing" seems to be the slogan of the Wireless Age - and "Going Wireless" is easily one of the most comprehensive books documenting the impact of mobile business applications on customer relationships, enterprise processes, and emerging markets.

Jaclyn Easton is a technology futurist, reporter for the Los Angeles Times and CBS News, and author of "StrikingItRich.com." The 30 chapters in the book are packed with case studies and tips on how businesses have been leveraging wireless technologies for operational and strategic advantage over the decades; there is also a companion site at www.easton.com.

"Wireless is a huge whale floating just beneath the surface. All people are seeing is the tail fluke. But one day it's going to breach, and everyone is going to be surprised at the size of it," remarked computer maven David Hughes - back in the 1970s! Clearly, unlike the mainstream Internet revolution of the 1990s, wireless has been around for almost a century.

"We are being distracted by the hype of wireless and mass consumers. The less obvious but more valuable nugget is the metamorphosis of business processes from which companies are saving astronomical sums and finding themselves ridiculously competitive," Easton begins.

The "thousands of points of connectivity" such as wireless phones improve data flows and help bring everyone into the corporate loop, including those left out in the Internet Age because they did not have laptops. "Wireless is the growth hormone for e-commerce," according to Gartner Group analyst Bob Egan.

Amazon and eBay already have wireless auctions. The restaurant chain Johnny Rockets lets customers use their cellphones to place and tally meal orders for pickup. Domino's Pizza has a similar wireless ordering service called PizzaCast. Sports stadiums like Madison Square Garden bring the game to the customer via sportsfeeds, just like wireless units bring the store to the customer.

Office Depot and JiffyLube offer location based services and even email/wireless reminders for targeting a local presence, as does BrandFinder. San Frnacisco's NextBus service provides wireless information on exactly when buses will arrive at their stops. TellMe is a leading player in v-commerce, based on voice portals.

According to research by The Kelsey Group, 25 per cent of all directory assistance requests made by a cellphone resulted in a sale.

Steamatic uses wireless solutions to schedule appointments for its cleaning services, which can also be leveraged for cross-selling and up-selling other services. Lufthansa, Alaska Airlines and Sabre Holdings allow check-in services via wireless, sometimes based on biometric voiceprints. Hotels like Bass Hotels (owner of Holiday Inn, InterContinental and Crowne Plaza) and Choice Hotels allow for wireless booking and can leverage 100 per cent of their inventory.

15,000 Sears Home Central field technicians carry wireless-enabled handheld PCs to schedule their service calls - covering 20 per cent of all appliances in America. OnSite Maintenance Centre, handling repair for quick printing machinery, balances workloads and maximizes each technician's time via a wireless scheduling system called eDispatch.

Wireless sales force automation at content aggregator Lexis-Nexis helps create personalized proposals and contracts with higher accuracy. Salespersons of the newspaper Atlanta Journal-Constitution use Palm devices to access data about potential subscribers during house calls. MSN's CarPoint has integrated wireless sales lead management into its DealerPoint network.

Oil giant Mobil lets customers use SpeedPass plastic cards with RFID to "zap" payments in seconds on pre-registered credit cards. The Transportation Corridor of Orange County uses FasTrak dashboard or window transponders for toll collection - which can also be extended to payment and cross-branded promotion at fast food chains like McDonald's; a competing product is 2Scoot.

Cellphone companies are new entrants into the payments systems value chain - and also have the ultimate leverage to guarantee swift payments: the threat of turning off a customer's cellphone!

Taxi company Taxco in Venezuela uses wireless technology for fleet management as well as credit card authorization - and improved its turnover volume by 35 per cent in just three months.

Medical supplies company McKessonHBOC uses Symbol handhelds and the Palm operating system to enable customers and drivers to view orders wirelessly, and thus reduce errors. Chicago's United Centre used wireless inventory management based on bar code scanners to collect point-of-sale information during busy souvenir sales.

Famous Footwear used WLANs, RFIDS and handhelds to cut down on price mismatches. Kmart signed a US$70 million contract with Symbol to install wireless networks in all 2,100 of its stores for inventory, pricechecking and employee communications. The thousand-store Movie Gallery rental chain uses RFID to automate check-in of returned tapes. Gap uses Intellitags based on RFID to tag each item of clothing for improving the supply chain and distribution process.

The Majestic golf course uses SMS alerts to warn players about inclement weather. Grenley-Stewart uses wireless to better manage its diesel fuel distribution service. Schwab's PocketBroker mobile solution gives it a competitive edge via real-time trading solutions. Progressive Insurance uses the Web and wireless to help users locate the nearest office. Hertz's Gold Club members can avail of wireless services for curb-side car pickup. Corporate jet provider FlexJet uses wireless to better coordinate meal preferences for its high-value customers.

Doctors are using solutions like ePocrates to check for conditions like drug allergy history on handheld PCs. PocketScript is used for speech-driven prescription writing.

Wireless companies like SkyGo have reinvented marketing, via strategies like interactive branding (eg. Subway's games and digital coupons), sales alerts (eg. ESPN's alerts on basketball goods), coupons (eg. KFC's mobile coupons for subsequent redemption), incentive ads (eg. CompUSA's deal for a handheld plus free case), and audio ads (eg. links to recorded information). SkyGo's "call to action" options include click-to-buy, click-to-email, click-to-visit-site, and click-to-call.

"Customers are open to mobile advertising as long as the ads are opt-in, are precisely targeted, and include incentives or coupons," Easton advises. The key is to leverage location and context, eg. via integration of ads with applications for scheduling, email reminding, and coupon clipping.

On the PDA content front, Credit Lyonnais' emerging markets arm offers investment reports wirelessly. Klever Kart even beams wireless ads to special screens on supermarket cart handles, thus pioneering a new promotional called micro-marketing. Nestle Rowntree in the UK leverages Kit Kat interactive games via mobile phones.

The Dave Matthews Band uses "hotdesking" via WLANs to manage its office during its frequent concerts, where a new network is set up each day only to be torn down to move to a new location. Boeing employees exchange documents and look up manuals in hangars via WLANs. Ventura's Public Safety Department upgraded its network of 11 of the city's most remote geographical sites via a WMAN solution.

World Economic Forum attendees and US Senators use wireless devices and WLANs to manage mountains of documents and get realtime newsfeeds.

Dr. Pepper uses wireless paging services to track depleted vending machines. US Army food managers at Fort Hood use bar-code enabled Palmtops to scan soldiers' ID cards and handle entitlement claims rapidly. ServiceMaster's cleaning crews for Greyhound use Palm devices for monitoring service reports. WebCor builders leverage Palm devices to smoothen workflow and gain renown for finishing their construction jobs early.

WLANs help improve inventory accuracy and warehouse management for Ingram Micro, Kraft Canada and Ocean Spray, helping ship more cases with fewer man hours.

"Wireless will make the supply unchained," according to business technology consultant Narry Singh.

On the security front, wireless asset tracking via location-sensitive chips can help reduce the annual $1 billion worth of heavy equipment theft in the U.S. In Europe, brewer Scottish Courage helps track unauthorized reselling of its kegs via RFID.

Other huge markets are opening up in telematics and telemetry. "As with wireless asset tracking, telematics is about cost savings via reduced labour and location awareness, and the priceless value of peace of mind, knowing that those who need to be in the know will be alerted proactively when necessary," says Easton.

GM's OnStar telematics service, launched in 1996, offers hands-free voice-activated services for cars, such as emergency notification, tracking stolen vehicles, remote diagnostics, and information services. Ford's competing service is called Wingcast.

Wente Vineyards uses wireless sensors to track mini-climate variations across its vineyards. Packaged Ice uses wireless pagers with Isochron's VendCast software to track ice capacity ("PolarCast") in its freezers on retailer premises.

According to Questra Software, such "automated-to-business" or A2B features will help create "transparent commerce." Ultimately, the vision is to make the Web work for the customer like a utility.

And such wireless transformations are taking place not just in the corporate sector but also in the government sector. Colorado State Patrol has improved productivity on accident reports via wireless networks and portable computers. North Carolina police offers can tap into the FBI's National Crime Information Database wirelessly, within 12 seconds. Burlingame, California, wirelessly regulates its parking meters to stop meter theft and monitor coin deposits.

"These days the information that goes along with each package we ship has become as important as the package itself," according to a UPS executive.

Wireless solutions help employees be available, responsive and proactive, says Easton. Services like PacketVideo can help increase the media richness of these services as well.

On a humorous note, the adult and gambling industries too are the cutting edge of m-commerce, as evinced by SinPalm.com (a site for risqué stories), PocketPersonals.com (with the slogan "Love is in the air - everywhere"), Eurobet, and eGamingWire.com.

The vast array of applications providers and device players active in m-commerce include go2 (with services like location finder for Coke machines), US Wireless Data (with Synapse technology for POS systems integration), BarPoint (for mobile bar code scanners), Vicinity Corporation, OmniSky (providing wireless connectivity to PDAs), NearSpace (for "sub-geographical navigation" in smaller spaces like restaurants), NetByTel (pay-per-performance v-commerce portals), Nuance (voice recognitions software for clients like Home Shopping Network, Sears and UPS), Xtime (voice-enabled appointment scheduling software), BeVocal (voice-enabled search engine), Mobile Data Solutions, Air2Web, Mobilise (wireless sales force automation), MyDocs Online Enterprise (wireless extranet), Arch Wireless (two-way messaging), Syware (with VisualCE software for sales force data entry), Marconi Systems (m-payment at vending machines), Verifone (with the Omni mobile authorizer for credit cards), Ponvia (wireless inventory management), Intermec (RFID), AvantGo (with 400 channels of content), Vindigo (location-based finder for restaurants and shops), PixelPoint (wireless ordering applications for restaurants), TravRoute (with CoPilot wireless route planning), SkyGo (wireless marketing), Cisco (Aironet WLANs), Wireless Guys (WLANs), Wireless Knowledge, ThinAirApps, GoldMine, TimeSolv (mobile solutions to log billable time), TuWay Wireless (wireless PBXs for supermarkets like Biggs Hypermarket), Motorola (wireless PBX phones), Ascendent Telecommunications (cellphone/PBX integration), Qxprint (FedEx services for documents sent by wireless), TVEyes (24-hour email and wireless alerts of business news and company tracking), Vocus (wireless and Internet-based PR solutions), Isochron Data Corp (pagers for vending machines), Phone Online (Web-enabled cellphones for freighters like LandStar), Numoda (for mobile data capture), Tangent Systems (integration of test probe instruments with Palm devices), IBM (Mobile Connect SCM solutions for clients like J&J subsidiary Ethicon), Core Harbor (B2B wireless ASP), PurchasePro (wireless solutions for its 291 e-marketplaces), BuildScape (wireless procurement solutions for clients like building material distributor Wickes), Proxim (WLAN inventory solutions for clients like the Red Cross), Wireless Link (asset tracking systems), NeoTech (fleet tracking software), Aether (PacketCluster products for wireless delivery of maps), Aeris.net (alarm systems services including "heartbeat" messages which indicate that a unit is healthy), and World Electronics (telemetric patents).

Entertainment may be wireless's most fun killer app, according to Easton. Swedish gaming company It's Alive has developed a location-sensitive game called Botfighters. Atom Films makes short films available for downloading. Warner Bros. is teaming with PacketVideo to offer 30-second Looney Tunes clips; PacketVideo has over 45 content developers. Lovegety offers wireless matchmaking and dating services. "Entertainment has a history of pushing the perceived limits of technology," says Easton.

Other opportunities are opening up in "personal tracking" of individual assets (Wherify Wireless has wireless solutions to track kids in their day-to-day lives; PacketVideo has a technology called NannyCam), and biosensors (eg. Digital Angel's embedded sensors). While teens and youth may be the leading users of many mobile services, there will be a "trickle up" effect and it will catch the attention of parents as well.

Developments to watch for in future include the infrared Financial Messaging Protocol proposed by the Infrared Data Association. Challenges also arise in business etiquette (eg. avoiding cellphone usage in theatres), eavesdropping, privacy, security and viruses. Employees must ensure that corporate information on their PDAs is suitably encrypted.

"Wireless always converges with existing technology, liberating whatever it is matched with," Easton concludes. In sum, wireless technologies have come a long, long way since wireless telegraphy was invented in the mid-1890s by Guglielmo Marconi.


Madanmohan Rao is the author of "The Asia-Pacific Internet Handbook" and can be reached at madan@techsparks.com

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