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Issue of July 2004 
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Wireless-on-the-go

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 queue again!

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.

Internet-on-the-go

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 anywhere.”

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.

Wireless worries

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 configuration.

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 into being.

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

deepali@networkmagazineindia.com

 

The Café Experience
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.


SMS business
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.


The Wireless Way
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.

 
     
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