IT MATTERS: The Wonderful World of the Wireless Web

Japan’s fascination with handheld devices is beginning to impact business practice in a positive way. The extraordinary penetration of cellular phones continues along with the relentless expansion of functionality and services. Sleek, impossibly small phones not only allow you to surf the Internet and send email, but also serve as digital cameras, MP3 players, personal navigational systems and of course they serve as a PDA. All of this in addition to using the phone, like a normal phone, and making phone calls with it. The wildly successful I-mode now has competition from AU and J-Phone in all of these areas. The big question is how do these popular consumer devices impact business?

Firstly, these devices are already impacting day-to-day operations of some businesses by altering the way they handle transactions with consumers and other companies. Users download maps to help them reach business destinations and follow daily stock fluctuations. In addition to delivering automatic updates on weather, traffic and other types of information these phones are also assisting with scheduling by automatically notifying users of appointments whenever they are changed in corporate groupware. Furthermore, users are able to monitor activities of staff remotely and check the availability of rooms for meetings. In addition, for data security, the phones offer 2 versions of Secure Socket Layers.

The following are brief case examples of businesses and how they are using the technology:

Real Time Info for Mobile Salespeople

Many life insurance companies throughout Japan have adopted this technology as a daily tool for using in meetings with prospective clients. In homes, offices or wherever the agent is meeting with a client they can quickly retrieve the latest information on a wide range of insurance policies from a company database and show it to the clients on their phone handset screens. The American Family Life Insurance Company in Japan is now implementing the system in 80% of its 9,0000 agencies throughout the country due to the current customer satisfaction feedback.

Business to Business Facilitation for Service Distribution

Sagawa Express, a leading integrated distribution service company in Japan, recently implemented this technology to improve its relationship with customers. Prior to this implementation, unacceptable delays in responding to customer requests were commonplace because the company had to rely on voice-only, vehicle-based communication systems that were expensive to replace and ineffective when drivers lef the vehicles. Switching to wireless required a relatively small initial investment and gave drivers both superior mobility and the ability to transmit and store both text and images. The result is that Sagawa not only improved its business efficiency but offers some custom wireless features such as package inquiries, delivery completion email and delivery receipt certificates over these small handheld devices that most Japanese people now carry.

Sales Support for Retailers

Goldwin, a major sportswear company in Japan that operates more than 300 outlets nationwide has equipped some 600 of its sales coordinators with compact mobile phone that act as terminals sending up-to-the-minute information quickly and accurately to a central company web-site. Previously these employees had to submit sales reports and customer feedback by fax to the company’s head office, where secretaries would type the information manually into a database, all of which took longer to accomplish and was much more prone to human error.

Secure Online Banking Transactions

Japan Net Bank — Japan’s first entirely online bank — now provides a full range of web-based consumer services over these mobile phones. These mobile phone users get the assurance of a secure leased line between Japan Net Bank and NTT Docomo. So customers can open savings accounts and time deposits, and make regular wire transfers while riding on the train or just walking down the street. Users can also quickly locate ATMs using maps on the handset screen and receive emails detailing their wire transfers and other transactions.

Planning and Facilitation Tools for the Travel Industry

JTB Corporation, the largest travel agency in Japan offers a new web-based mobile phone service called JTP Mobile Crew. This service provides instantaneous travel information and enables users to make and pay for hotel reservations via the Internet. Members search a database of 3,000 popular hotels and inns throughout the country by price, location, franchise, and other specific criteria before placing their reservations and making payments. They also check seat vacancies on JTB’s foreign package tours. Whenever special discount tickets and package tours become available, JTB sends e-mail notifications to members who have requested up-to-the-minute information on such opportunities.

These phones, which started in the young adult market, have now transcended the business barrier and are no longer just for entertainment. As the Web-based Mobile Phone services continue to penetrate the Japanese marketplace, more business opportunities will undoubtedly open. If these products and services catch on in other global marketplaces, then Japanese companies will be well positioned to take advantage of business opportunities elsewhere. Currently, Japanese cell phone companies have partnerships in Europe and the US (with AT&T and AOL among others) to tap into these lucrative markets.

Perhaps someday we will be telling our grandchildren, “Back in my day, phones were for talking. And we used to play video games in ‘arcades.’ Some of these games involved a yellow circle that would chase fruit… and there was a frog that would try to cross the street. We did our banking in ‘banks’ and used to go to a place called a ‘post office’ where we waited in line for hours to pick-up or send a package. And we made airplane reservations over a device called the ‘personal computer’….”

Author of the article
Charla Griffy-Brown, PhD
Charla Griffy-Brown, PhD,

, is an associate professor of information systems at the Graziadio School of Business and Management. In 2004, Dr. Griffy-Brown received a research award from the International Association for the Management of Technology and was recognized as one of the most active and prolific researchers in the fields of technology management and innovation. A former researcher at the Foundation for Advanced Studies on International Development in Tokyo, she has also served as an associate professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Dr. Griffy-Brown graduated from Harvard University, is a former Fulbright Scholar, and holds a PhD in technology management from Griffith University in Queensland, Australia. She has worked for NASA at the Kennedy Space Center and has taught innovation/technology management courses in Australia, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Japan. She has also served as a consultant for the United Nation’s Global Environmental Facility and the European Commission.

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