You can take it with you

Plan to replace aging PCs with wireless machines for new levels of productivity.

Editor’s note: Technology Partners is a regular column written by members of the Information Technology Solution Providers Alliance.

Chuck SharpWireless computing is already a reality for a growing number of SMBs, yet many still assume they can’t afford it. But going wireless doesn’t have to break the bank, especially if you adopt wireless technologies in tandem with your company’s next PC refresh.

Companies that add wireless see their investment paid back in as little as six to 12 months, thanks to increased productivity, business efficiency and overall operational effectiveness, according to a new survey by the Meta Group, sponsored by Intel.

 Specifically, the survey of 300 IT professionals found the use of a mobile notebook increases an employee’s weekly work output by up to six hours, or 13%, compared to desktop users. Half of surveyed employees who currently use desktop computers think that having a mobile computer will improve their job satisfaction, while 70% said it would give them improved flexibility in work locations and hours. And IT pros estimate that wireless networks cost an average of 10% less to acquire, deploy, maintain and support than desktops.

The number of wireless notebooks is expected to increase by between 18% and 37% by 2006; the number of wireless desktops between 5% and 17%, according to the survey. As sales of wireless equipment continue to rise, prices will go down, making these technologies even more affordable to SMBs.

 If you haven’t already made the move to wireless, consider taking these five steps:

1. Create a plan. Make mobile computing part of your three- to five-year business planning process. That way you can tie it in to other long-term business goals and ensure that the investment makes sense for your firm.

2. Determine who in your company can benefit most. The best place to start deployment is where you can gain the fastest payback. Make a list of each worker or job description in your company, determine how each would benefit from a mobile notebook or other wireless device, then establish how difficult it would be to implement new technology for each user. Those with the greatest benefit for the least difficulty should go first.

Also consider the age of your overall computing assets. For example, a worker with a 5-year-old desktop computer likely is ready for a replacement. Why not go ahead and invest in a mobile laptop now? For some knowledge workers, an immediate move to wireless technology makes sense. But for others, simply replacing an older machine during a normal system refresh might be adequate.

3. Establish a wireless LAN. This process starts with a site survey, when you assess the square footage your WLAN must cover, the number of users who will be connecting and possible expansion in the future. Plan wireless access points throughout your office, depending on the reach of the technology you choose. Some wireless access points cover only 40 feet, while others can reach as far as 300 feet. Don’t forget to install a WLAN print server, which will allow users to print via the network.

4. Secure your WLAN and mobile computers. There are a number of security measures you need to take. First, configure all wireless computers with the highest supported security. Add either a hardware or software firewall to your LAN to lock out intruders. And require each user to set up a unique password to sign on to the LAN, making sure the default password has been changed on every machine.

5. Train wireless users. Most employees should catch on quickly, given the WLAN operates identically to a wired one. But don’t pass up on this opportunity to teach users the system’s protocols and indoctrinate them on security procedures.

 Unlike some other technology initiatives in the past, wireless is typically received with great acceptance from end users. In fact, most companies are between one and three years behind the technology their employees have in their homes. So cut the cord, and increase your company’s productivity today.

Chuck Sharp is vice president of sales at the Information Technology Solution Providers Alliance, a national, non-profit organization that helps small and midsize businesses adopt technology and grow by using solution providers.

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