Few people can dispute the power behind wireless or mobile devices to offer a compact and inexpensive solution to workflow processing.Needham, Mass.-based TowerGroup reports that in 2000 the number of business users of mobile devices in the financial service industry in North America totaled about 4.8 million. By 2005, the number is expected to rise to 35 million North American business users.

But successful implementation won't occur without significant planning and preparation with system's integration, observers say. The key to launching a wireless initiative is to first have a preconceived strategy of how it will be deployed, realize its role to support PC applications and understand its limitations.

"Wireless technology must support PC applications, and the technology must have access to the corporate database," says Steven Miyao, CEO of kasina LLC, a New York City-based e-business financial services consulting firm. "If agents or other business affiliates can't interact with your system, it makes little sense to implement a wireless solution."

One obstacle indigenous to cell phones or Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) devices is that it's difficult to make intelligible sense of a message on a small screen. As a transmitter of data, an agent using a cell phone may find it labor-intensive-given the limited size of the key pad-to write a claim report from the scene of an accident.

Despite these obstacles, the low acquisition costs and overall unit portability are driving carriers to roll out cell phone and Palm OS programs for their field force, says James Luscombe, an analyst with New York-based PricewaterhouseCoopers, who specializes in insurance agency automation.

"A computer desktop unit costs about $800 to $1,000," says Luscombe. "A PDA, such as a Palm VII, costs about $250 per unit. The third way of delivering data is a mobile phone, which costs about $50 per unit. Do the math and you'll understand why carriers and financial service providers are equipping their people with hand-held devices."

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