WLAN deployments offer many benefits, but recent research by the Aberdeen Group has found that many companies are too intimidated by the wireless LAN's complexity and maintenance to capture the most value.
The report also highlights the importance of the new technological approaches and investments that are necessary in order to increase the WLAN's simplicity, despite the drive for greater performance and multi-application support.
The report, "Measuring the Real Value of Wireless LAN Deployments," quantifies the business value of wireless technologies and shows how a WLAN's value is enhanced by adding in non-traditional applications such as voice and video. The research found, however, that in order to achieve the most value from a WLAN, companies must be prepared for a major expenditure in terms of human capital, tools and processes.
"The research makes it clear that wireless technologies can deliver great operating benefits to organizations," said Aberdeen's research director for wireless and mobility, Philippe Winthrop. "However, it also shows that to become best-in-class adopters of traditional WLAN systems and seize its promised productivity and collaborative benefits, a significant investment in time and resources has been required."
The research found that 95% of the 315 enterprises surveyed have deployed a wireless network. Those respondents were lumped into three groups: laggard, industry standard and best-in-class, with best-in-class reaping the biggest business benefit from their WLAN deployments. The laggards were the bottom 30%, based on WLAN performance scores; the industry average were the middle 50%; and best-in-class raked in the top 20%.
The study indicated that best-in-class organizations are getting more out of their WLANs than those with average deployments are. Best-in-class companies are leveraging wireless networks to improve the productivity of end users while simplifying the implementation and decreasing management costs.
According to the survey, best-in-class organizations saw a 27% increase in the flexibility of the workforce, which was directly attributable to deploying a WLAN; a 26% increase in the collaboration of the workforce, attributed to a WLAN; and a 29% increase in the quality of meetings, attributed to team members' using a WLAN. Those metrics, in some cases, are three times higher than average WLAN-using companies.
Survey results also found that best-in-class organizations are 67% more likely than all others to have policies in place for centralized WLAN management; twice as likely to have dedicated headcounts managing the wireless network; and 25% more likely than the industry average to have guest-access policies in place.
Conversely, companies at the industry average level saw a 20% increase in workforce flexibility, an 11% increase in collaboration, and a 16% increase in meeting quality. Lastly, the laggards achieved a mere 14% increase in flexibility and a 6% increase in collaboration, and they actually saw a 9% decrease in meeting quality.
David Confalonieri, vice president of marketing for WLAN vendor Extricom (which partially underwrote the Aberdeen study), said many companies struggle to quantify the benefits of their WLAN deployments and to discover how to get the most out of their WLANs, despite its inherent benefits.
One area where companies fall short is looking to the WLAN to reduce costs instead of treating it like true infrastructure. Confalonieri said companies need to balance their focus on the cost-savings aspect of the WLAN with the revenue-side benefits in order to maximize ROI.
"The best-in-class companies are showing that, yes, the WLAN has benefits," he said. "But the benefits require investment. The benefits are great, but proportionately, what comes with [them are] added costs, and those who manage to get out of it what they hope for have to spend."
The survey results find that only 22% of best-in-class organizations deployed the WLAN to reduce network deployment and management costs, while 58% focused mostly on increased flexibility. In addition, 94% of best-in-class respondents said one of the key considerations for their WLAN is coverage and bandwidth, while 36% said they considered cost savings when deploying a WLAN.
To achieve the most benefit from a WLAN deployment, companies need the resources to overcome the complexities, Confalonieri said.
"The trick is to make wireless look like wired," he said. "Make it a simple-to-deploy, predictable method to use applications over the air."