For most companies, wireless connectivity within the office, and mobile access to data and applications outside of the office, has been a boon for productivity.
Gone are the days of duplicate paper-based transaction histories, or the need for highly skilled staff to spend hours at their desks filling out forms before knocking off. Gone are dead times - when it was impossible to contact key staff members because they were on the road - and tedious meetings where staff flicked nervously through piles of paper in search of a specific reference.
However, keeping us connected usually involves an uncanny alliance between any number of Wi-Fi standards, a smattering of Bluetooth, and a handful of contracts with telecommunications carriers. Multiplied out across your average company, and wireless connectivity starts to look like a real headache.
Senior analyst for research group Forrester, Tim Sheedy, said the level of complexity associated with wireless connectivity was a creeping issue within many companies, as multiple wireless connections led to unnecessary cost and risk.
"The main challenges for most of these companies lies around providing consistent security and billing," he said. "In fact, many companies have no idea how much wireless connectivity outside the office is actually costing them, because often people go out and connect their own devices then charge these back to the company."
In a similar vein, it is not uncommon for some of the more tech savvy employees to add their own wireless connection into the back of the company's servers without applying appropriate security protocols. This is particularly true of Bluetooth, a wireless technology largely associated with consumer rather than corporate environments.
"There is still a propensity for some employees to pop into their local Harvey Norman, grab an access point and just shove it in the network without checking with the IT manager," professional services manager and senior IT consultant at systems integrator Tele-IP, Michael Risos, said. "Not only do IT managers need to be thinking about intrusion from outside their own environment but also intrusion from devices they might not even know they have."
However, Sheedy also pointed to emerging technologies which provide access to internal and external networks as presenting a significant challenge. "Security is still the single biggest issue for corporate wireless networks, particularly as we are starting to see devices which run on multiple networks," he said. "Shoring up wireless networks means understanding the capabilities of all the different devices to make sure the networks they control are completely secure." Rather than attempting to standardise devices, or implement a blanket usage policy, many organisations, according to Sheedy, are opting to leave their wireless network fairly open, and locate the security on their applications and devices.
This being the case, and with no sign of wireless connectivity converging to a single standard, the channel needs to understand how and why the complexity currently exists, and what can be done to simplify it.
Applications overdriveAt the core of the issue is the fact that applications, rather than overall strategy, are driving the adoption of wireless technology. Although systems integrators and network consultants could play a role in simplifying wireless networking, most are brought in to manage a single application over managing the entire network.
"Systems integrators rarely deal with the mobility requirements of the whole organisation: they play a role in the connection of specific applications, but there's not much change to manage the relationships with different vendors," Sheedy said.
Managing director of network integrator Matrix CNI, Deni Saupin, agreed, and said the levels of complexity currently being experienced in the wireless connectivity space were largely driven by customer demand for diverse applications.
"At the moment wireless adoption is still all about applications," Saupin said. "I don't see anybody putting in wireless infrastructure because everyone else is doing it. They do it because there is a piece of software that will help them to become more competitive, and in that sense it's always a strategic move based on applications." Although there is often a strategic reason for adopting the core technology, these short-term goals effectively overwhelm the strategic adoption of new technology. Even companies that attempt to plan the progressive adoption of emerging technology often find themselves at the mercy of the demands of specifi c departments.
"Wireless adoption is still haphazard - companies are being pushed to provide it as a service to employees or guests or contractors, so it's implemented in a hurry without enough planning," Saupin said. "Until there's an application that requires it they don't think about it too much, and then when they do it's all done in a hurry."
Techhead Interactive CEO, Tim Fussell, said that at the same time as demand for new technologies was largely driven by applications, infrastructure upgrades were often driven by hardware standardisation. "Wireless network cards are built into the laptops, so companies are forced to upgrade their wireless network every time they upgrade their laptops," he said. "And in most cases they are still running the old laptops as well, so they end up with a wireless LAN running a range of different standards."