Wireless devices in the public sector

The iPad looks set to cause a stir as businesses and Governments consider whether to deploy this and similar products to their fleet. Wireless explores what companies are already using, what they might consider and what they could need going forward

Wireless devices in the public sector

Wireless devices have come on leaps and bounds in the past few years, so much so that many of us would find it difficult to imagine life without our smartphone by our side.

PCs have also evolved, giving us small devices like notebooks with high-speed access to the internet. More recently, we’ve seen the arrival of the iPad, which, like the iPhone, looks set to drive change in the way we consume and view content of the future. But what exactly are we looking for in these mobile devices and what are the pressures that drive our purchases?

Firstly, it’s normally mobility of workforce that is key, which is mostly driven by data access. But when it comes to wireless strategies, in addition to considering things like cost and which platforms to use, Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst at IDC, explains that a few other issues come up first.

Supplying the device

Questions are often asked as to who is supplying the device, he says. ‘This comes up quite often as it relates to the company covering the cost of the device and being responsible for its support, or the individual bringing the device into the company,’ he adds.

He believes that the latter has become increasingly popular over the past several years, but this also raises questions as to who is responsible for its support and whether it is the company’s IT department, the individual or both? And if a company is responsible for supplying a device, how often should it be replaced?

‘2009 forced companies to rethink their spending habits,’ says Llamas, and most companies decided to keep on using the devices they already had instead of getting new ones at the end of a subscriber contract. This may not matter too much for a small company, but for a larger one where hundreds or thousands of employees would be eligible for handset replacements, the expense to purchase new devices adds up rather quickly.’

Another question that is often asked is what software is available and compatible with what the enterprise is already using? Llamas believes this becomes critical when multiple platforms are being used and software is not available for all of them.

The public sector

Some will be standardised on certain platforms and not be so open for change, rejecting calls from staff. The Communications-Electronics Security Group recently rebutted the idea of iPhones for ministers, confirming that it wasn’t approved as a work device and that BlackBerrys would be issued for all Government departments. This mirrors deployments within a range of public sector organisations, including police, fire and ambulance trusts, and city councils.

University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust has used BlackBerry to transform the way that its liver transplant team matches life-saving organs to recipients, while Bedfordshire Police’s deployment of BlackBerry smartphones has delivered lasting improvement to the force, enabling officers to gain an extra hour per day in efficiency gains.

‘Officers no longer need to radio the control room for information or intelligence every time they question someone or see something suspicious,’ says Inspector Jim Hitch, project manager for Bedfordshire Police. ‘BlackBerry gives officers the power to quickly check crucial details such as identity, vehicle ownership and previous convictions with very little effort and in a secure and robust manner.’

With security obviously being key, Llamas says being able to remotely wipe devices is of increasing importance should they be lost or stolen.

‘To date, we’ve seen public services and private enterprises showing the most interest in BlackBerry devices, Windows Mobile devices, and most recently, iPhones,’ he adds. ‘This is not to say that other platforms, such as Symbian, Palm/webOS, Android, or Linux, aren’t being used. They are, but in smaller volumes. What BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, and the iPhone, to a lesser extent, have provided is a complete solution to users.’

Dell, which has just launched its own five-inch tablet, codenamed ‘Streak’, says it has enjoyed watching the device experimentation with customers.

‘Many schools have embraced this trend by creating student panels to involve them in the decision process of selecting companion devices that best enhance the learning experience on campus,’ says James Quarles, director marketing EMEA at Dell.

Quarles says clinicians are also looking for additional ways to stay connected and that the launch of the Streak has generated healthy interest from public organisations as well as the company’s consumer group.

‘Customers agree that these devices nicely complement tablet and traditional notebook PCs and we’re very eager to collect the same end-user feedback to explore how they could be best adapted for the integration into schools, hospitals and local councils,’ he adds.

‘Windows Phone and Android mobile phones are strong players in the enterprise sector,’ adds Jon French, executive director UK, Ireland and South Africa at HTC.

Operating systems

He believes Android is starting to evolve beyond the consumer market, with several of the key innovations HTC has brought to market around device management and security having increased Android’s appeal to business customers, especially those working for small and medium sized organisations.

‘Windows Phone, on the other hand, has a traditionally strong following in the enterprise sector,’ he adds. ‘Those businesses already operating with a Microsoft strategy will find Windows Phone 7 devices will create an experience that is very personal, relevant and connected, and bring a broader offering around messaging and collaboration. HTC will continue to invest and lead on Windows Phone 7.’

With the iPad quickly having shifted more than two million units since its launch in the US, some are already beginning to find the platform quite compelling.

Pharmaceutical SaaS supplier Interactive Medica has been using the iPad and believes its combination of speed and ease of use will revolutionise who is already planning trials with existing customers.

Richard Jenkinson, MD for the company, who has been using the iPad with Medica’s dashboard and CRM solutions says it does have the potential to be a game changer both for the pharma and healthcare sectors.

‘The iPad can bring to life product information for sales staff while also collecting data that can be used in profiling and segmentation strategy,’ he explains. ‘As it can connect to the internet via 3G or wirelessly, sales representatives will be able to work more effectively in the field, and managers can liaise in real-time with the sales representative.’

Quarles thinks that although the adoption of mobile technologies in the public sector has historically lagged behind the corporate space, he has seen a significant recent acceleration as organisations, particularly within healthcare and education, realise the benefit of integrating computing into instruction and patient care.

‘Dell has witnessed increasing adoption of devices that we purpose-built for these environments through direct input and feedback from students, teachers, clinicians and nurses,’ he says.

Dell’s Latitude 2110 netbook was developed with an anti-microbial keyboard to reduce the spread of infections, a rubberised case to withstand the bumps and drops of a book bag and a network activity light to visibly indicate when a student is off their lesson plan.

‘We have even seen schools, such as Writhlington in Sommerset, roll out the netbook to every pupil, something which would have been unimaginable just a few years ago,’ he adds.

Quarles says doing more with less is clearly the operating agenda for our public customers at the moment bu

Written by Wireless magazine
Wireless magazine

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