Defining a Wireless Solution
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.
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.
The Components of a Complete Wireless Solution
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'être" 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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