"Wireless scares people," says Adam Braunstein, senior research analyst with the Robert Frances Group. The concept that "you can get anything anywhere" is easy to understand and sounds great, and what company wouldn't want to give those capabilities to its staff and customers where appropriate? "The problem is that the application is extremely difficult. There are several warring technologies out there," Braunstein explains, "and the wireless carriers are having huge difficulties."
Financial institutions and the healthcare industry are the early adopters of wireless technology. It's also an ideal solution for a mobile sales force, traveling executives, field technicians, logistics and other processes. The media has touted the enormous benefits for companies to adopt this technology as an extension of access to the Internet while, at the same time, making a lot of noise about the immaturity of the technology and its failures in addressing business applications and user needs. So CEOs and CIOs in corner offices everywhere are weighing the pros and cons of the new wireless world. As forward-thinkers, they know they must adopt this technology in their overall strategy and, to be competitive, it's important to be an early adopter. But it's extremely risky and costly.
Outsourcing is the ideal solution for reducing investment and risk in a technology that will be refined after it's adopted, for it shifts those problems onto the supplier's shoulder. Peter Bendor-Samuel, CEO of Everest Group, calls outsourcing at this stage of the game a "high-quality, impermanent solution." In the whirlwind rush to adopt evolving wireless technology, outsourcing is the best strategy.
Bridge to Going Wireless
iDini, a wireless applications infrastructure solutions outsourcer, believes it has solved one of the major hurdles in the wireless applications world. Wireless services thus far have been limited in delivery of business applications because of platform and integration issues. "Traditionally they have tried to port applications to the handset. That is a lengthy process. Also, you have to haggle with the proprietary OS of the device, worry about computing power, and worry about the synchronization between that and your desktop. That is very, very complicated," explains Chris Lin, founder and CEO of iDini. Software developers have also tried to rewrite the code and custom build applications for wireless, thus creating point solutions for a particular developer's products.
Lin describes what his company does as "applications bridging," as opposed to the applications porting that other companies have tried to develop. Bridging, he says, is much more cost effective and reduces time to market. In iDini's view, wireless is an extension of one's world, not a separate world.
The startup innovative group has built a virtual computer that talks to all browsers and all kinds of handsets. Lin points out that his company is "the first one to show that you actually can use your browser as a computing terminal to run software applications. So far, no one else has shown or even demonstrated such capability, let alone shipped product of that nature."
Instead of point solutions, iDini makes your handset become your computing terminal, using nothing but your browser. "All the keystrokes and the input and output are sent across the air to our virtual computer in the sky, and that computer will run all the software for you. There is no limit, basically, to what kind of software you run - just like how you use your P.C." When users sign on to the wireless Internet through iDini, they have access to whatever software they need to use in order to get their work done. They just pick up their phones or their PDAs to sign on and check email, get contracts, get PowerPoint, get an Excel spreadsheet (to calculate pricing, for example), can access all of their applications without having to quit one to run another and can print documents to a nearby fax machine.
Fit the Model to Your Needs
Lin explains that iDini's three business models enable buyers to access the services from several angles. Model one is to purchase iDini's server software, with maintenance services, and put it behind your company's firewall for security. The wireless operator (a telco like AT&T or Sprint) provides the "gateway" connection. The remainder of the solution, as well as responsibility for security comes from iDini.
Instead of buying the software, the second model is to outsource to an application service provider (ASP). The ASP can be iDini, or it can be one of its partners, specializing in various applications (such as email). He believes that this is the model that will become the typical scenario.
A system integrator or "reverse hosting" is the third model. The buyer has the Internet connection, but all the integration and management is done by the hosting service provider. The supplier goes to the buyer's location to check the equipment regularly and make sure it is in proper working order, as opposed to having the equipment at the supplier's location.
Lin says all three models make sense for particular segments of users (and their customers), as well as meeting the needs of a shortage in IT staff. He believes we will see a mix of all three models for some time.
Lessons from the Outsourcing Primer:
- Wireless technology is an ideal solution for a mobile sales force, traveling executives, field technicians, logistics and other processes.
- Outsourcing is a high-quality impermanent solution that shifts the risks of investing in evolving technology onto the supplier.
- Despite media "noise" about difficulties, innovative solutions to the problems in accessing applications from wireless devices are available now.