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Defining a Successful Wireless Solution

Consultant Ian Hayes shares a number of techniques to help you greatly simplify the conversion of business requirements into a well-defined wireless solution. Several example solutions are included for your reference.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Turning a set of business requirements into a successful wireless solution is an exhilarating and challenging assignment. The technology is new and exciting, the results are very visible, and if the project is based on a strong business case, the impact on your company will be high. The most obvious parts of the exercise, such as selecting the type of wireless devices that will be deployed, have a "toy factor" appeal, making them appear fun and relatively straightforward. As you delve into the nuances of the selection, however, arriving at the right decision no longer seems so simple. The myriad options, issues, and considerations appear to grow exponentially. Worse yet, you will find that many of your desired choices are incompatible or require painful tradeoffs of functionality or features. From networks to devices to applications and implementation tools, there are simply too many complicated choices. Your seemingly straightforward solution has somehow turned into a jigsaw puzzle, composed of disparate pieces that must somehow fit into a complete picture. And, like a jigsaw puzzle, these pieces fit together only in a certain way. Put in one wrong piece and you won't be able to fit in the next right piece later. If approached in the wrong way, pulling together a complete wireless solution can be a daunting proposition even to experts.

Selecting the right components for a wireless solution requires navigating a complex and confusing maze of options and solution providers. The magnitude of capabilities, choices, and limitations of wireless components preclude the creation of a "one size fits all" wireless solution applicable to any business requirement. An architecture that works perfectly for one solution will be hopelessly inadequate for another. For example, the wireless solution used by American Airlines to track freight carts and dollies at the airports is vastly different from the one used by Fidelity Investments to allow investors to monitor stock prices and make trades.

Fortunately, a number of techniques can greatly simplify the conversion of business requirements into a well-defined wireless solution. Perhaps the most important trick is to reduce your range of options before becoming mired in the details of solution definition. Assembling a workable solution in a reasonable period of time is almost impossible if you must consider every potential device, network, application, and implementation option. The nature and constraints of your business requirements can be used to your advantage, however, to eliminate many of these options before you start, greatly reducing your research and evaluation efforts. For example, let's assume that we operate a food delivery service throughout the New England area and wish to provide our drivers with directions to drop-off locations and capabilities to accept on-site credit card payments for deliveries. As shown in Figure 5.1, these constraints significantly reduce our pool of options. We need only consider network options that support moderate data volumes from providers offering full coverage across New England. Short- and medium-range network options such as infrared, Bluetooth, and 802.11b don't apply, and the data volume requirements eliminate satellite networks. Since coverage varies by carrier, we'll have to pick a network service provider who covers New England. Similarly, our choice of devices is limited to those that can handle outdoor conditions, support credit card scanning, and work with our selected network. The implications of these decisions set parameters and refine options for other aspects of our solution. We have to choose (or develop) software that operates on the selected device; we need strong security to protect credit card information; and our training and support processes must be designed to fit this solution.

Figure 5.1Figure 5.1 Shrinking the Solution Spectrum

This chapter describes the process for turning business requirements into solution requirements. It uses the answers to the Why, Who, What, When, and Where questions from Chapter 4 to provide a framework for winnowing your wireless decisions into a manageable number. As shown in the example above, each business requirement imposes needs and constraints that create specific technical and operational requirements for the major components of our wireless solution. This chapter will explain how to develop specific requirements for devices, applications, data, and wireless networks. Comparing these requirements against the tables and other component-specific information in the second half of this book will enable you to quickly identify the wireless options that best apply to your needs.

5.1 Wireless Building Blocks

Before jumping into the mechanics of solution development, it is worth reviewing the basic building blocks that compose a complete wireless solution. While wireless solutions vary widely in characteristics, they all draw items from four categories of architectural components: client devices, wireless applications, information infrastructure, and wireless networks. These components are shown in Figure 5.2.

Figure 5.2Figure 5.2 The Components of a Complete Wireless Solution

Client devices are the most visible component of a wireless solution. They are the physical platform for wireless applications and provide services such as voice communications, data capture and display, information processing, and location detection. These devices may be carried by users, mounted within shipping containers, or installed inside a car. Client devices include smart phones, pagers, PDAs, e-mail appliances, and special-purpose units for scanning, bar coding, and credit card reading.

Wireless applications supply the business functionality behind the wireless solution. They can cover any need from personal productivity to safety and asset monitoring. Depending on the functionality required, these applications may be "off-the-shelf" packages, custom developed, or "re-purposed" from existing web applications.

The information infrastructure is the repository of knowledge incorporated within the wireless solution. Although these data components are invisible to most users, access to information is the "raison d'_re" for most wireless solutions. This information may be environmental data captured on an oil rig for display at a monitoring station or it may be an amalgam of customer information drawn from a variety of corporate information systems and databases. The information infrastructure consists of the back-end applications, databases, voice systems, e-mail systems, middleware, and other components needed to support the information requirements of the chosen wireless application.

Wireless networks serve as the conduit, or transport mechanism, between devices or between devices and traditional wired networks (corporate networks, the Internet, etc.). These networks vary widely in cost, coverage, and transmission rates; they include options such as infrared, Bluetooth, WLAN, digital cellular, and satellite.

Together, these four components constitute the wireless solution's architecture. In the simplest case, this architecture consists of a single device type, using a single application and connected to a single network. However, many business solutions will be more complex, supporting multiple client devices, offering a variety of applications, and stitching together multiple networks to gain the desired level of coverage.

The solution's Implementation and Support Infrastructure provides the processes, tools, and resources used to create, operate, and support the wireless solution. This infrastructure ensures that users are trained, data is backed up, secured and synchronized, system and application software is kept up-to-date, devices remain functional, and networks operate efficiently. Although not part of the wireless architecture, the quality of this infrastructure is crucial for the success of the overall solution. As such, it merits as much consideration as the other wireless components when designing the solution.

Business Processes form the final component of a complete wireless solution. These are the processes that inspired the solution in the first place. Depending on the goals of the project, the wireless solution should enable your company to perform these processes faster, cheaper, and more efficiently than before. Gaining these benefits, however, requires redesigning and implementing new versions of processes that take advantage of the wireless solution. To capture the benefits of immediate, on-site invoicing offered by the field service example in Chapter 2, a company needs to change processes and job responsibilities in the customer service, field service, and billing organizations. Without these changes, work orders will still be entered manually in the company's systems by customer service, invoices will still be produced by the billing department, and the wireless device will simply end up as a new toy in the hands of the field service worker. While they are an integral part of a successful solution, business processes are usually outside the scope of responsibility of the technical team implementing and supporting the wireless solution. Implementing new business processes is its own project and requires knowledgeable resources backed by management commitment to the change.

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