Turn On The Wireless

By Malcolm Fleschner

Whenever a new technology product emerges for the mobile professional, field reps are almost always the first to create demand. Eventually the corporate office, figuring that thousands of reps can’t be wrong, catches up and develops a coordinated strategy around the new technology for the entire company. It happened with laptops, it happened with cell phones and, true to form, now it’s happening with WiFi.

As if you didn’t already know, WiFi is a high-speed wireless Internet connection service provided for patrons at many coffee shops, hotels, airports and any number of locations where today’s on-the-go worker bee can turn an available flat surface into a mobile computing workstation. Peter Thompson, director of marketing for T-Mobile HotSpot, says the pharmaceutical industry represents a vast untapped market for corporate WiFi plans.

“When we looked at the installed base and what companies these individuals are involved with we saw that we have quite a few reps from the pharmaceutical industry who have preselected in,” he says. “So we know there’s an innate desire and need from that vertical market to be able to access their information in a true broadband experience in convenient locations when they’re on the road.”

Currently there are more than 16,000 establishments offering T-Mobile HotSpot services worldwide, including every Starbucks, Borders Books and Music, and Kinkos location in the United States. This convenience, combined with near-universal access, works ideally for pharmaceutical sales reps who rarely stop moving, says Thompson..

“I like to use the inventory revolution analogy as an analogy about why these vertical markets are interested in this technology. During the inventory revolution companies moved to just-in-time solutions,” he explains. “WiFi is very much a just-in-time knowledge and access solution when you’re on the road. Previously you had to create your PowerPoint slide deck or make sure you had all your data numbers before you left the office. Now you can update all that while making sure you have the latest information minutes before you go into a meeting.

“When you look at the pharmaceutical industry, a lot of reps on the road. To be able to expand their virtual office and have the same experience and security they would have if connected back at the office while out in the field is a true competitive advantage for any pharmaceutical company,” Thompson says.

In fact, security is an issue Thompson raises when he’s asked why companies should pay for a T-Mobile solution when there are so many places currently offering free WiFi services. Security, he says, is part of the service and reliability that comes from being attached to known retail brands. For these reasons he doesn’t consider free WiFi a competitor.

“We actually see free WiFi as complementary,” he says. “We consider our business to be to that of the bottled water business. Sometimes people want to drink from a free water fountain, but other times they want the reliability, security and dependability they get only from bottled water. Our users know that when they go into a Starbucks that the WiFi is going to work. If you have any issues there’s 24-hour customer care. Most businesses see the value in that and they’re willing to pay for it.”

T-Mobile’s task now, says Thompson, is to persuade IT managers to make the investment in a corporate strategy. Since many companies already are paying for multiple one-off WiFi purchases through travel expense reimbursements there is a good case to be made for a corporate procurement purchase, he says.

“When the IT manager does a corporate deal,” Thompson explains, “the economics are more favorable than paying for it through reimbursements. Plus the manager then gets to control who has access by provisioning it to the laptops of the people who need it.

“In the past six months we have begun to see a shift with this strategy showing up on the corporate IT manager’s radar screen. They’re becoming aware that at the highest level there is a cost for not doing anything, and that is the competitive differentiation. They realize people are starting to adopt these solutions – that it’s just the latest means of staying on top of technology adoption to remain competitive in the marketplace. On top of that there’s also the cost of employees feeling like the company isn’t giving them the tools they need to get the job done.”

For more information, visit www.T-Mobile.com/hotspot.