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Wireless goes corporate
(IDG) -- The push to bring wireless applications to enterprises reached a fever pitch last week. A flurry of partnerships aims to fill out the wireless picture for companies seeking to untether their employees and offer wireless Internet access.
Deals at both the Wireless 2000 conference in New Orleans and the CeBit trade fair in Hannover, Germany, last week focused on marrying a wireless connectivity infrastructure with a range of access devices. But Palm Computing's Palm platform appeared to extend its lead as the corporate platform of choice by enlisting a number of heavy-hitting partners.
The myriad devices and vendor alliances can be dizzying, but businesses seem hungry to bring information to end-users whenever and wherever they want it.
"The heartbeat of the organization gets kicked up a notch if people can take action as information is available or work their personal networks to get information as soon as there is an understood need," said T. R. Webb, technology advisor to the CIO, office of the president, at Shell Oil in Houston.
The first step toward information ubiquity is access. Palm inked a deal with the Sun-Netscape Alliance last week to add support for the Palm Web-clipping architecture and Palm OS devices to the iPlanet Wireless Server, giving users the ability to access enterprise data -- such as finding up-to-date pricing information while on a sales call -- via Palm's Palm.Net wireless service.
In a separate announcement, Palm teamed up with Siebel in a deal that will result in users extending their Siebel CRM (customer relationship management) applications into the realm of mobile computing. For example, Palm OS-based devices could record inventory management information that would be integrated with desktop and back-end Siebel applications as well as back-end ERP (enterprise resource planning) suites, said Keith Ramee, director of business development and worldwide alliances at Palm. The goal is to provide synchronization between front-end Palm OS devices and Siebel applications, Ramee said.
Capping off a week in which several key vendors put their support behind the Palm platform, America Online, Nokia, and Motorola all agreed to buy large stakes in Palm's IPO last Thursday. If Wall Street is any indication, Palm certainly has the wind in its sails. Its IPO price last Thursday ballooned from a starting price of $38; it climbed to $165 before settling Friday at $80.25, eclipsing its parent company's valuation.
Palm wasn't the only company on the move last week. IBM joined forces with Nextel to deliver comprehensive wireless solutions to businesses, and it teamed with American Mobile Satellite to wirelessly enable IBM's installed base of 24 million Lotus Notes users.
Intel and Phone.com teamed to improve security and performance of Internet-enabled phones. And Microsoft expanded its relationship with Qualcomm to design WinCE-based smart phones.
"[Vendors] are trying to turn their attention to the enterprise and bring the wireless technology to devices to make business solutions," said Diana Hwang, an analyst at International Data Corp., in Framingham, Mass.
Although it's a daunting implementation, businesses are starting to feel the bottom-line benefits of wireless solutions.
David Lebowitz, the solutions development manager for Nine West Group, in New York, equipped his field merchandisers with Nokia 9000 phones loaded with an e-mail client and a thin database that generates an inventory report that can be sent back to headquarters 30 seconds after the merchandiser leaves a store.
Inventory reports, which used to be sent to buyers via weekly fax, are now sent out immediately, thus enabling salespeople to close deals faster and increase sales by an order of magnitude.
Analysts noted that fuller coverage and faster throughput will open up many more possibilities for wireless applications, which right now can be limited by coverage and bandwidth constraints.
"At the moment, WAP [Wireless Application Protocol] doesn't have the robustness corporate users may want, especially in the area of wireless broadband access," said Veronica Williams, managing director at DiscoverIT, an organization that promotes the understanding of wireless technology.
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