Enterprises Look More Closely at Messaging ROI

Handheld devices now tie top executives to corporate e-mail systems and application servers. Since this capability allows mobile workers to be better informed and more responsive, companies are thinking about expanding their reach. As usage spreads, more formal metrics are being put into place to determine whether or not these changes help the bottom line. Some hidden costs may force companies to at least pause and in some cases reign in their expansion plans.

To date, wireless e-mail systems, such as Research In Motion’s BlackBerry, have garnered limited acceptance. E-mail market research firm Osterman Research found that currently only 16 percent of enterprise e-mail users use a wireless system. “Deployments have been limited to top managers who wanted a quick and easy way to check their messages,” notes Michael Osterman, president of Osterman Research.

In many cases, companies do not go through a formal cost justification process for two reasons: One, because deployments to date have been limited to a small number of executives, so the investments have been minor; and two, because companies think anything that helps their top managers be more efficient is a “no-brainer” investment which needs no further scrutinization.

Times Are Changing

The rationale used for wireless e-mail deployments is about to change. “Companies are now looking at deployments of hundreds and even thousands of wireless devices, and they have to be more rigorous in determining the criteria to justify such purchases,” states Monica Basso, research vice president at market research firm Gartner. Usage is moving down the corporate hierarchy from top executives to middle managers and white-collar workers.

Consequently, companies are starting to develop more sophisticated ROI metrics to determine who should and who should not receive wireless e-mail devices. These metrics typically focus on mobile messaging’s ability to increase productivity: Employees now have the means to access live data and complete tasks in environments where such capacities were not possible with notebook or desktop PCs.

Armed with these capacities, employees can make decisions faster because the necessary information is either stored on their devices, or the devices’ connectivity functions make the information more accessible. Company workflow can be improved because workers remain plugged in to important business processes while working away from their primary workplace.

One of the first places that enterprises extend these features is with their sales forces: Once employees have easier access to sales force data, they can be more responsive to questions about inventory, product information, and price changes. Field service is another area of emphasis. With mobile e-mail, corporations can more efficiently schedule and dispatch employees and make sure that a technician shows up at the right location, on time, and with the correct part.

Not an Either/Or Selection

One area of controversy regarding the impact of wireless e-mail is notebook computers. Some expect companies to reduce the number of notebook computers that are used among executives, a change that could help firms reduce their hardware investments. More likely, though, handheld devices will compliment existing systems. “We expect that most executives will carry both a handheld and a notebook computer,” Gartner’s Basso told TechNewsWorld.

Use of handheld devices could also help companies enhance mobile data and mobile access security. Even though some companies have not formally approved the use of handheld devices, that doesn’t mean their employees don’t have them. For business line managers who approve and purchase the devices for select employees, monitoring and supporting ad-hoc purchases can be difficult.

Once formal approval of the devices is given, IT departments will gain more control over the dispensing of the devices. In addition, corporations can supplement their traditional management tools with ones designed specifically for mobile e-mail systems, thereby lessening the potential for misuse of these products.

While there are many potential benefits with wireless e-mail, the cost justification process is not a slam dunk. The underlying software needed to connect handheld devices to corporate networks can be significant. “Since handhelds are not as common as other devices, IT departments often find them difficult to deploy and support,” notes David Via, an analyst with e-mail market research firm Ferris Research. Integrating mobile e-mail into the existing messaging infrastructure can present problems, such as synchronizing mobile content with users’ other messaging platforms.

Lost and Found Raises TCO

Also, handheld systems often have higher total cost of ownership expenses than initially anticipated. “While handheld devices have low list prices, they often can be an expensive piece of hardware,” Osterman Research’s Michael Osterman told TechNewsWorld. Sometimes, the devices require add-on components, such as synchronization software or simpler input options, that drive up the purchase price.

In addition, these devices can be easily lost and therefore require that companies buy multiple replacement units. Losing one of these devices can have a dramatic impact on a firm’s intellectual property because users often store contact information and critical business documents on these products.

Despite the potential problems, Osterman expects the number of corporate wireless e-mail users to increase to 25 percent in 2007. “The cost justification process for wireless e-mail will require some time and effort for corporations, but if most companies look hard enough, they can find enough potential benefits, so they will be able to justify the expenditure,” concluded Osterman.

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