Visions of the Mobile Enterprise

Over the last few months, I had the opportunity to work with a major wireless-device company. In the course of our discussions, we explored a number of opportunities to leverage the company’s platform and technology in areas outside the consumer environment.

What I’ve concluded may surprise some. Mobile commerce, or m-commerce, is not about buying books via your personal digital assistant (PDA) or trading stocks with your wireless application protocol (WAP) enabled phone. It’s all about improving the efficiency of the enterprise. Thus, wireless has become one of the most relevant technologies for B2B e-commerce.

Think about it. There are a number of real-life examples where wireless technology has had a measurable impact on productivity. Shipping companies could not function without it; distribution centers would come to a standstill without wireless data collection; and most sales organizations would waste an inordinate amount of time without wireless communication.

Unfortunately, there is very little standardization across the various platforms that are part of the corporate landscape. That is where Internet-based technologies — Java, in particular — could radically transform the nature of wireless enterprise computing. If there were a Java-compliant programming language compatible with a wireless protocol, like 2.5G, an enormous window of opportunity would be opened for Java developers to build enterprise applications for wireless devices. In addition, if PDA companies standardized their operating systems to be compatible with J2EE-like standards, cross-compatibility of applications could be realized.

Although we are a little way off from realizing this vision, there are a number of examples where companies are beginning to leverage wireless Internet technology to improve business processes.

Last year, Credit Suisse First Boston enabled 3,000 of its investment bankers with wireless email. All were given a Research in Motion (RIM) BlackBerry 957 handheld equipped with remote access to the corporate email server.

Now, a funny (and unintended) thing happened. Inputs to the corporate customer relationship management (CRM) system declined rapidly after the RIM devices were deployed. Why? Because the CRM system, used to input client names and leads, resided on employees’ notebook computers. First Boston IT managers concluded that CRM-system usage declined because once employees could access their email, there was very little perceived value in firing up their laptops.

Since CRM inputs represent the lifeblood of First Boston, First Boston contracted a service firm to build a version of the application that runs on RIM devices. Today, First Boston bankers have a very convenient icon on their BlackBerry pagers that launches a modified version of their mission-critical business application. Customer contacts are stored on the device, and sales templates can be filled out and uploaded to the centralized corporate system with the simple push of the Send button.

So, the next time you think about m-commerce, envision its utility for the mobile worker and its impact on business processes. A single wireless device that could transparently access the company network and give users the ability to execute programs locally would result in incredible productivity gains.

If you have any other examples of where wireless Internet technology could improve enterprise business processes, email me at

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