5 Steps to a Successful Enterprise Wireless Strategy

Over the past 13 years, analyst Iain Gillott has seen plenty of enterprises grapple with wireless. On the one hand, each new generation of network technology and device type promises fresh opportunities to maximize employee productivity and responsiveness. But on the other, it’s often up to IT managers and developers to turn those promises into reality.

Gillott recently discussed what enterprises need to consider when it comes to Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology and smartphones — and what they can learn from a basketball hoop in his driveway.

Q: You often warn enterprises not to dismiss LTE as another marketing gimmick. Why?

Gillott: Unlike with 3G, where the industry’s lofty marketing claims were not met by the networks, LTE is likely to deliver, both in terms of bandwidth available and with reduced latency. Even in a loaded network, download speeds should be over 3 Mbps. Lower latency makes a range of new apps and services viable, including good VoIP services.

For enterprise app developers and IT managers, LTE will make many previous visions real. Yes, it will take another 12 months before there is coverage in most major metro markets. But with AT&T and Verizon Wireless offering competing services, pricing should be reasonable. As one vendor told me, LTE delivers on 3G’s promises.

Q: More and more enterprises are allowing employees to choose which model of smartphone they want to use at work. Is that a wise policy shift, or does it create fragmentation headaches?

Gillott: In the past, companies have bought smartphones — usually Windows Mobile or RIM BlackBerry — from the operators under corporate contracts. Smartphones were expensive ($400+), and the data services required drove up the monthly cost. Plus, enterprise IT departments needed specific software and solutions to manage the devices, so it mattered which operating system the devices used.

No longer. With all operators — including the no-contract Virgin, MetroPCS, Boost and Cricket — offering a range of smartphones, business users have low-cost options that were not available in the past. And with Android and Apple supporting ActiveSync, device management and integration are not a problem. Many solutions are on the market. Heck, even RIM announced a few months ago that their BlackBerry Enterprise Server would support Apple and Android going forward.

With Android smartphone prices well below $100 with a contract, now is the time to let employees select their own device and pay for it. They can expense the portion applicable to business use, and the IT department can still specify the operating systems and versions they will support.

Q: Regardless of who’s buying them, smartphones are becoming more common in the enterprise world. What should enterprises consider when it comes to the apps running on those devices?

Gillott: Several companies offer enterprises the option of setting up their own internal app stores to deliver enterprise apps to smartphones and mobile devices. Apps can be delivered only to specific employees — so only the sales guys get the sales apps, for example — and the cost is billed to the correct internal cost center. App stores are really a new way to distribute software, not just a way for teenagers to buy games for their phones.

Q: Internal app stores are also a way for enterprises to avoid malware sneaking in via apps. But even with that hole plugged, aren’t there still a lot of other security risks?

Gillott: Security has long been perceived as an issue for mobile devices. In reality, there are many security solutions available, and enterprises can make the devices and services as secure as needed.

The employee is still a weak link, and the fact that mobile devices are not tied down does not help. But in reality, with the right planning and forethought, security can be addressed and addressed well. Yet many enterprises still seem to use the security threat as a reason not to move forward on mobile solutions.

Q: Enterprises are buying smartphones and tablets because they help improve their operations in one way or another, such as by making employees more productive or more responsive to customers. What’s key for maximizing the return on investment?

Gillott: Don’t be afraid to be creative. Smartphones, tablets, netbooks: There are many device categories now open to enterprise IT managers. Could an iPad be useful to your business and your employees? Do not be afraid to experiment and find out.

Smartphones and tablets are not just “smaller PCs” or “mobile computers.” They can enable new ways of doing business. As an example, we had a basketball goal installed on our driveway for the family at Christmas. (My kids are big on basketball.) Once installed, the vendor pulled out his iPhone, powered up an app, took my credit card, entered the transaction and got approval. No signature, no paper invoice, no waiting. He got his money, and I got the convenience of using a credit card, all because of a simple app.

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by Tim Kridel