Wireless Security and Support: Time to Get Nervous

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With telecommunications heavyweights behind each standard, none is likely to go away anytime soon. Given this, and the reality that some devices and some carriers work better than others in different locations, Wootton says CIOs should make sure that the functions in an application using wireless technology are device- and carrier-neutral.

That’s a powerful idea, but sometimes you have to solve these issues one piece at a time. Greeley Gas, a natural energy company covering Kansas and Colorado, sought in 1997 to streamline its customer service operation as a pilot project for its parent company, Dallas-based Atmos Energy. The company gave ruggedized mobile computers (known as Hammerheads, from WalkAbout Computers in Singer Island, Fla.), to field service technicians so that they could respond to and fill out the forms for a day’s worth of requests without returning to the office. Gary Merritt, an IT manager at Greeley, says only nine of 94 trucks in the two-state area had good enough coverage to allow always-on cellular digital packet data (CDPD) connections. The rest of the trucks relied on circuit-switched cellular technology that often took up to 10 minutes to connect and download information. Merritt says it took him more than a year to find a systems developer--New York City-based Vaultus--to provide connectivity software to solve the problem.

Proceed With Care

The key to avoiding problems--security or otherwise--is understanding how the technology changes your business.

The key, most CIOs agree, is to take incremental steps, learning as much as possible during each pilot and limited rollout. Wireless technology itself doesn’t leave holes that will lead to support or security hassles, but the way you implement the technology could. "My general advice is walk before you run," says Frank Gillett, a senior analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research. "Don’t do big projects unless you have the time and the resources to figure it out."

And the news isn’t all scary, either. Remember my stroll around downtown Boston? I walked up and down a few streets, laptop poised, wireless modem activated, for about 20 minutes. You’ve read about the one strong, clear signal I picked up. But out of the host of office towers, housing banks, law firms and other corporate offices, that signal was the only one I found. Either there’s little going on out there with wireless LANs or someone is doing something right.

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Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

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