No strings attached
For too long, Wireless-on-the-go has been considered a fancy
toy for the high ranks of the organization. That myth is about to be broken,
because it is commonly believed that wireless increases productivity, efficiency
and flexibility! by Deepali Gupta
A definite indication that a company is experiencing growth, is that the business
users need to access their companys' critical information even when they're
on the move. These users are expected to make crucial business decisions within
a short period of time.
The use of wireless technology gives these mobile business users the flexibility
to analyze and make business decisions on the move, breaking the barrier of
their four- walled cabins.
Many organizations have provided their personnel access to company information
on-the-go through wireless and have benefited from it. Take a sneak peek at
how wireless is used in companies that are serious about bottomline benefits.
And may be one of these solutions will fit your needs.
Technology on the loose
Sales Force Automation is the most popular wireless concept doing the rounds
right now. So far companies have not approached it head on but several are toying
with the idea. Pidilite for example has their ERP system alerts on SMS.
So if the day's budget appears to be falling short, the sales personnel
are informed by SMS before the day closes, says Zoeb Adenwala, Chief IT,
Pidilite. Which means sales personnel can look into the problem before irreparable
damage is done.
The Pidilite Sales Force also, often needs to log in to the company server from
cyber cafes. Earlier they used a smart card based tokens to generate temporary
passwords. Now, the sales person messages the office, and is sent a password
by SMS. These passwords are unique and are activated for small windows of time
for security reasons.
SRL Ranbaxy is presently rolling out an SMS-based system to send reports, results,
invoice statements, price and availability status wirelessly to its mobile workforce,
according to Radhakrisnan Pillai, Manager-IT, SRL Ranbaxy. The marketing team
of SRL will be able to query the company server for information using SMS (see
also box SMS Business).
Talk to the Hand
Café Coffee Day set up a system where the waiter uses a wireless-enabled
PDA and can message the order to the kitchen. Apart from the ease, this brings
a new level of hygiene in the kitchen (see box 'The Café Experience').
In the hotel industry it's even simpler. Wireless LAN (WLAN) and Internet access
brings in more guest, because multi-nationals abroad consider availability of
a wireless access point when choosing the hotel to put up their executives in.
That is why the hotel industry of India was quick to set up 802.11b wireless
hotspots in their resorts.
Although it's in a purely conceptual stage, Shopper's Stop plans on implementing
remote billing on its shop floor. Imagine never having to stand in a billing
Some banks along with Reliance Infocomm have launched a device to change the
meaning of plastic money forever. The Mobile-Point of Sale (M-POS) is a handheld
device on which a vendor can swipe your plastic cards for billing. It costs
a mere Rs. 18,000, and before long the grocer's delivery boy might be carrying
one of these.
Arindam Bose, Head IT, LG Electronics India, says that thanks to GTRAN, decision-makers
can now give approvals for business functions like credit and overdue from almost
Provided with the Reliance CDMA network this card gives 'seamless Internet access,
at an average of 60 Kbps', claims Reliance Infocomm. The card works on the Reliance
CDMA network. It hooks on to the R-Connect facility, and can provide Internet
access at a peak speed of 144 Kbps. If the organization looks at Internet safety
skeptically, the service provider can create a VPN. That really takes care of
both the security and the speed issues with 802.11b.
About 25 senior roaming personnel presently use the GTRAN card, but LG Electronics
finds the technology so compelling it has decided to add 15 GTRAN users every
month. The mobile personnel of LG Electronics connect to the business-critical
MIS via www.lgareanet.com, and so far Bose has had no security, speed, and coverage
issues with this mode of mobile connectivity.
V.K. Ramani, President IT, UTI Bank is a GTRAN card user. Routed through the
UTI Bank mail server Ramani uses the Internet to access the UTI database.
I was even able to put together a PowerPoint presentation in the two hours
it took me to reach Belapur (near Mumbai), where I was to make the presentation,
Ramani asserts. But as someone said, With great power comes great responsibility.
That is precisely the reason not everyone at UTI can be given wireless access
to the company resources.
What wireless basically means is that the executive is not anchored to his desk.
It doesn't matter if he/she is late to work, or on tour. His/her functionality
in office is never compromised. Even if used for separating the spam from genuine
mail on the way to the office, wireless is worth it.
Why is it then that despite the initial storm created by wireless, companies
are reluctant to adopt it? Part of the problem is availability of comprehensive
solutions and permissions. 802.11g, the fastest wireless protocol is not de-licensed
yet. Plus 802.11b is not feasible because although there are a number of hotspot
providers, they have not entered a collaborative agreement to provide interoperability.
So, just because you can access the Net from a fast food restaurant does not
mean you will be able to do the same at a five star hotel lobby with the same
C.N. Ram, Head-IT, HDFC Bank, blames security and reliability for the slow adoption
of wireless. For the moment the Wireless Equivalent Privacy (WEP) is used to
prevent eavesdropping and unauthorized access to the network, but it is not
fool proof. Security issues will probably be dealt with once the 802.11i comes
Anand Mehta, Manager New-business, D-Link, suggests that the low laptop penetration
is because of the relative cost of a laptop and a fixed machine. It did take
about Rs 3 lakh for one UTI Bank Bangalore branch to go wireless.
However, setting up ERP on SMS cost Pidilite a mere Rs 20,000 according to Adenwala.
Pillai of SRL Ranbaxy, claims that his ROI on his RF wireless has been met in
less than a year. Many companies like Geometrics Software, continue to depend
on LAN and phone cables to use with their laptops. And as always, in India if
there is a will there really is a way.
The Real Problem
All too often people in the industry have a mental block that wireless is a
luxury meant for the top executives. With the widespread wireless technology
burgeoning however, it is time more senior IT executives considered wireless
for their mobile personnel seriously.
Some companies are genuinely satisfied with the solutions they are deploying,
and want to stick to them for the moment. It is not our present priority.
We don't need a wireless LAN our leased lines our working well, says Khushru
Bacha, Manager Systems, Marico Industries Ltd.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that as technology progresses the question will
not be of need, but rather of preference. Newer technology will not change the
way a business works. Its innovative use will only give the business an edge
over its competitors.
Deepali Gupta can be reached at
|Café Coffee Day invested approximately Rs five
lakh in a wireless solution they expect will result in a 10 to 15 percent
business growth rate. The waiters at the outlets now carry a smart card-enabled
PDA instead of an order booklet. They punch in the order on this PDA, and
that automatically goes to the kitchen.
The waiter can also set a priority level on every item ordered. For example
the coffee should be served after the food, so food gets higher priority.
Once the order is ready, the waiter gets an alert on the PDA. He can collect
the tray, and serve it. Thereafter, the waiter can generate bills on the
spot using his PDA.
Another advantage of this system is that every order, from all the outlets
in India, is tracked at the Bangalore office. So Coffee Day can reallocate
manpower locally, and reduce it globally.
"With such spontaneous MIS, we can develop customer specific solutions
and therefore serve our clientele better," says Shivaprasad N. B, Head
MS, Café Coffee Day.
|AFL and Elbee Services use SMS for shipment and package
tracking. Elbee Services has devised a home grown method to use SMS. It
has two models on which the SMS system works-the pull and the push model.
The pull involves a customer querying the status of a package by SMSing
the airway bill number to the Elbee server. The server locates the package
and SMS's the delivery status of the package back.
The push requires the recipient of a package to log onto the Elbee website
and enter his/her cell phone number and the number of the package he/she
wants to track. The system then automatically sends an SMS at the designated
cell phone once the package reaches its destination.
"This makes tracking specific package in bulk mail orders so much simpler
for our customers," says Shirish Gariba, VP - IT, Elbee.
|Virtusa India were starting a new office in Chennai.
Normally, they would need to hire office space, and set up an infrastructure
with a server, client terminals, and broadband links.
Vikram Dhanda, IT Head India and Srilanka, Virtusa, chose instead to put
up a virtual office. So six mobile personnel, at different locations in
Chennai connected their laptops to a CDMA phone via a data cord. They accessed
the company server via a VPN available to all Virtusa employees, and they
were a fully functioning independent unit. These six people then developed
the eight storey setup Virtusa now has in Chennai.
Virtusa also conducts global onsite meetings with participants logged in
from around the world. "Wireless helps it break the time zone barrier
between the Indian subsidiary and the parent company in the USA," Shantanu
Paul, GM Operations Virtusa India.