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CTIA: CIOs want simplicity from wireless apps

According to a panel of CIOs who gathered yesterday at the CTIA conference, wireless applications can increase worker productivity and save money, but only if they fulfill a clear business need and are simple to use.


NEW ORLEANS -- Wireless applications have proved their merit in handling everything from backed-up sewage to portfolio management, said a panel of chief information officers at the CTIA Wireless 2003 conference Monday.

CIOs from a diverse group of companies gathered to share their experiences with wireless deployments. Most have found that wireless implementations pay off when they fulfill a clear business need and the applications are simple to use.

Straightforward applications were particularly important for Stephen Poppe, CIO with Roto-Rooter Services Inc., a subsidiary of Cincinnati-based Chemed Corp. His company deployed a wireless field force application for its drivers, who service 90% of the U.S. and half of Canada.

He said that while they know their way around a clogged pipe, most of these users are not very computer-literate, and they needed something that would be easy to grasp. The application that Roto-Rooter went with automatically inputs standardized information at the top of the online forms. Rather than having technicians enter lengthy product numbers for parts they use on the job, the company incorporated a scanner attachment, so the bar codes on the parts could be scanned and logged, reducing error. Related menus incorporated simple yes-no questions.

Simplicity was also a key element for FMR Corp.'s Fidelity Investments group, said Joseph Ferra, chief wireless officer with the Boston-based investment firm. It deployed a wireless service to a diverse customer base, so it was very important that the service be simple and beneficial, he said.

The key, from an implementation standpoint, he said, was understanding that a wireless Internet application is not the same as accessing the Internet on a cell phone. He made sure that the wireless offering included a subset of the information available on the company's Web site and catered to the needs of people on the go.

Both companies found tangible improvements in productivity and accuracy, thanks to their applications. Roto-Rooter saved administrative time, since report transcription was no longer necessary and drivers could process credit cards on site.

Fidelity found that wireless access to critical data cut its average number of customer service calls by more than 50%.

Moving from handwritten forms to those filled out on a handheld device has potential for great savings in the health care market, said Chuck Nettles, chief technology officer with San Francisco-based McKesson Corp.

He quoted a Harvard University study, which found that there is a 40% error rate when doctors prescribe medicine through traditional means. Errors occurred in every step of the process, from the doctor picking appropriate medication to transcribing the order to the distribution at the pharmacy. With the help of wireless applications, Nettles said that error rate could be brought down to about 1%, creating a huge savings.

Attendee Do Spear, CEO of BlueVolt LLC, a Portland, Ore.-based developer of field force applications, was impressed by how well these companies used their existing wireless networks. The key, he said, was not to dream of elaborate applications that can run on the broadband wireless services of tomorrow. He said the panelists' examples showed simple, concrete applications that can be effective over today's slow and unpredictable wireless networks.

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