Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Virginia Tech and Wireless Access

A recent news article from indicates the there were wireless access problems at Virginia Tech on Monday. As you might expect, there were massive increases in the number of wireless voice calls and text messaging during the crisis, especially between 9:00 am and 2:00 pm. Verizon acknowledged some calls were blocked, but most text messages went through. Cingular claims no calls were blocked. Sprint Nextel also claimed no service interruptions despite the increased volume.

I hope most corporations never experience a crisis like that of Virginia Tech on Monday. But it is a virtual truism to suggest that wireless access is quickly becoming indispensable to modern business processes. From WiFi phones to hand-held computers and scanners, from Pocket PCs to notebook computers carried to various meetings, the advantages of information at your fingertips and communications technology available anytime hardly need justification anymore.

The Virginia Tech crisis only highlights a growing realization among IT professionals. Most IT managers are beginning to reflect on how inexpensive devices might be used in corporations to improve everything from disaster responsiveness to on-the-spot job training to line-of-business information retrieval. Given the eagerness of telecommunications companies to sell smart phones in quantities to companies, you can readily imagine a situation where everyone in a company from the President to janitorial staff would be issued a joint cellular/WiFi phone. The WiFi costs would be covered by the company, while most cellular usage would be the responsibility of the user (if used at all).

When an employee comes to work, they use the device to send and receive instant messages or text messages, to read and write corporate email, to gain instant access to operating procedures and policies, training manuals and even for information access to ERP applications as required. Devices would be subject to policies preventing misuse, of course, but some kind of automated monitoring service which aggregates usage statistics would help managers determine who is doing what when and then take appropriate disciplinary measures if necessary.

I don't think this is too far fetched. After all, many families are already there with every member having his/her own cellular phone and/or computer. High tech companies are already using either blackberries or smart phones with almost 100% distribution among employees. Soon enough, the manufacturing and other industrial sectors will see the same advantages. After all, not everyone in a manufacturing company can have access to a computer. But if we could reduce costs to, say, $200 per user per annum, wouldn't the advantages be obvious?

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