Working Without Wires

Wireless technology has been working in our lives for some time. Consider the TV remote, the garage-door opener, the radio-microphone, and the ubiquitous mobile phone. Now it’s the business world’s turn to experience the freedom and flexibility of wireless applications, which have the capacity to take business well beyond traditional boundaries.
The rush to deliver wireless applications and products is well under way. Managers finally have real opportunity to win back time and work smarter, both within the office confines and out in the field.

Why go wireless?
What are the most obvious advantages of working wirelessly? It’s all about faster connectivity and communication.
Perhaps one of the best examples of wireless implementation involving notebook PCs is Auckland’s Saint Kentigern College which recently rolled-out wireless LAN (Local Area Network) solution to accompany 1100 notebooks used at the school by students and teachers. Special wireless LAN cards in the notebooks, coupled with 31 network access points (or hubs) throughout the campus, mean that now both intranet and internet resources can be accessed virtually anywhere in the school grounds. There is hardly cable or wire in sight.
Transfer this scenario to the business world, where another example of wireless convenience is the Auckland Regional Council, which has purchased several notebooks with wireless LAN connectivity to enable staff training to take place almost anywhere in the building. Again no cables, no shifting hardware, and no hassles.
Toshiba’s New Zealand country manager, Stephen Ford, is enthusiastic about wireless connectivity. “Being connected wirelessly with your notebook lets you walk in and out of meetings, round to colleague’s desk, even down to the local coffee shop, and still be connected to your company’s network. This means you can have instant real-time access to all enterprise data systems and the internet.”
Ford says the technology (a low power, short-range, radio-link technology known as Wifi) is big time-saver because there’s no need to reboot and reconnect to the network every time you want to take your notebook to an internal meeting. “And for those travelling to inter-company or remote offices, the benefits are huge. You don’t have any connectivity issues, such as finding compatible ‘dongle’ and network cable if yours is broken or left behind.”
Business users also benefit from easy connectivity in airport lounges, hotels and other wireless hotspots. There’s no worry about changing dialling codes. wireless hub at home also provides the flexibility to work online from any room, and saves the expense of wiring your house.
Online connectivity is not the only benefit of wireless technology, which, as costs come down, is tipped to eventually be available on all notebooks. Another wireless technology Bluetooth (ultra low power) provides wireless communication between number of digital devices found in the office, including printers and copiers, fax machines, personal organisers, and desktop computers, even when they’re not within line-of-sight.
For Luigi Cappel, director of wireless computing for Rocom Wireless, email is the “killer” application for wireless technology. He quotes recent study by Rogen International and Goldhaber Research Associates, which reported that New Zealand executives spend an average of 112 minutes per day processing email, 16 minutes less than the average time spent in face-to-face meetings. “Email is great enabler, but it can literally tie you to your desk,” warns Cappel.
In May, Rocom launched mobile email solution for handheld PCs which addresses this problem, enabling users to send and receive emails, or surf the Net, via their handheld, using either mobile phone, dial-up connection, or Telecom’s Airdata network.
Cappel’s vision is to save 2.5 million man-hours per week, which equates to 62,500 extra people in the workforce. “This would be the outcome if one million business people saved 30 minutes every day, by processing email in the field,” he says. “For example, that one or two minute ‘micro-pause’ at the traffic lights would be enough to clear couple of emails, and five minute window prior to meeting could be better spent processing half dozen emails.” He believes time and motion study of business people away from their office would reveal half an hour that’s currently wasted every day and could be better spent performing online tasks.
Urgent emails, orders or complaints for example, can also be dealt with more efficiently. “Everyone has the perception that people are waiting at their desktop PCs to read their emails,” says Cappel, “and can’t understand why an immediate reply isn’t forthcoming.” Often the consequences of not viewing email immediately can be enormously damaging for business.
The imminent arrival of next generation mobile networks (Telecom’s CDMA and Vodafone’s GPRS) means that cellphone users can program their handhelds or notebooks to automatically check for email on the half- or quarter-hour, via their CDMA- or GPRS-capable phone. You could even set up the software to only accept urgent emails, or emails from particular people.
As Cappel reminds us, time is our most expensive commodity. Any technology that enables you to work more responsively will not only provide greater job satisfaction, it will also give your organisation competitive edge.

Wireless issues for managers
For managers struggling to come to grips with the latest generation of wireless applications, the message from industry spokespeople is almost deafening, it’s time to “get with it”.
Unfortunately for many, who haven’t grown up with computers, just coping with seemingly simple program such as email can be struggle (have you heard about the manager who never knew he still had 800 messages in his in-box that should have been filed or deleted?). Cappel suggests that managers attend software education courses to learn what they need to know about wireless-related programs. “The dollar is down, costs are up, margins are reduced. Organisations that take the trouble to re-engineer and adapt will be huge winners.”
It’s all very well for staff to understand how wireless applications work, managers must equip themselves with enough knowledge to know where the applications fit into the overall scheme of things. “Re-evaluate work practices and ensure you’re up with the times,” is advice offered by Stephen Ford. “Managers need to reward their staff based on productivity not on presence, as advocated by [management guru] Peter Drucker,” he says. “They must work with staff to determine the most effective way of working, for both individuals and departments. The ultimate aim is for the company to run at optimum performance.”

Tomorrow’s wireless business world
Working without wires will ultimately lead to more pervasive business world, with employees having the means to work almost anywhere. The wireless internet means that the coverage you enjoy with your mobile phone today, will apply tomorrow to notebook computers, PDAs and other access appliances. Teleworking will become popular option.
“Each of the different types of wireless technologies will complement each other, creating ubiquitous wireless environment,” says Ford. “Companies moving offices will find that wireless networks save time, money and hassles. This applies whether they have notebooks or desktops. If it is wireless enabled, company is in much better position to add new users as opportunities arise.” He says knowledge workers who rely on live, accurate data are the ones most likely to benefit from wireless technology. However, there are countless others who can benefit, particularly companies with people who are consistently travelling away from the office.
The wireless phenomenon will continue to invade our business world until in-the-not-too-distant future it will hardly be noticeable. Hot desking will become easier as workers power up their not

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