of the components necessary to complete the strategic architecture required in the next two to three years," he continued. "Rather, 'suites' will be available as extensions from existing platform vendors and third parties, and the emergence of standards for content, data delivery and integration will allow best of breed solutions to be integrated to the base platforms."

Making the Business Case

Almost equal to the technological complexities, evaluating the real return on investment of any mobile wireless enterprise strategy is a complex equation. "The challenge that many enterprises have is that one size doesn't fit all," said Gartner Group analyst Phillip Redman. "There are many different levels to this -- different devices, different applications, different industries -- and they all will have different costs and different benefits. So there are many different case studies out there looking at these things. But each organization really is going to reach their own conclusions depending upon how mobile wireless is integrated and what they are trying to do.

"Because every case is different, we simply try to provide some guidance about how to evaluate what the different benefits are, looking both at the hard and the soft benefits," Redman continued. "Hard benefits are more quantitative -- basically increasing revenue or decreasing cost. There are many different wireless applications out there, so this is going to be variable by user, by industry, by application. There is no one hard and fast rule.

"And you also have to evaluate what some of the soft benefits are. Those are things like increased efficiency, increased productivity, user satisfaction, customer satisfaction and so on -- things that are generally very difficult to quantify in exact numbers. But they nevertheless are also very important when looking at the total business case," he said.

Any benefits obviously need to be balanced against costs. Redman points out that these not only include hardware, software and service costs, but also what the costs are to maintain different devices in different uses within the enterprise.

To understand what the additional costs of wireless oriented technologies really are, the Gartner Group has done a number of studies on PDAs, mobile messaging devices, cellular phones, smart phones and wireless integrated devices.

"Obviously, the more complex the device, the higher the costs are going to be," Redman said. "A typical cellular phone that has some limited messaging capabilities, and minimal Internet capabilities, it is typically less than $2,000 a year, which is mostly capital and service costs. But when we are looking at notebooks, for instance, we are looking at almost $12,000 a year for management of that device."

Advice Redman offers specifically to state and local government is that they should constantly re-evaluate their needs. "In some cases, wireless, which is real time or a near-real-time connection, may be important," said Redman. "And other times, it might just be about mobility -- using a computer to digitalize data, to be able to access that data readily, or to increase the accuracy of imputing and storing information. In that case it may not necessarily have to be wireless to be transmitted.

"And then you want to evaluate the solution as a whole -- how to integrate with a legacy system, what the solution is that you need specifically, and what are the costs involved in putting the different pieces together for that," he continued. "And then third, you want to test out the different systems for workability and also coverage. No matter how cheap the service is, if you don't get the coverage, you can't get the connection, and it is not going to benefit you."

In Gold's white paper, he states that the forward path in enterprise mobile wireless should involve both short-term and long-term strategies. In the short term, enterprises should focus on applications designed to solve specific problems with well-defined return on investment or business benefits. But longer term, companies should address the development of a strategic pervasive architecture that would leverage centralized applications and services, allowing mobile devices to simply "plug in" to a wireless architecture.

Blake Harris  |  Contributing Editor