Mobilizing the Enterprise
By Steve Wallage, Thu Feb 26 16:30:00 GMT 2004

Business users are yet to fully embrace mobility. The mobile industry has a lot of work to do to change that.

Mobile and wireless technologies fall far short of a proper business tool for many corporate users. Business usage often remains stubbornly similar to consumer usage - voice and texting.

Why haven't businesses embraced the opportunity to extend IT applications to mobile workers and offer new ways of working using mobile? There are a slew of reasons, apart from shrinking IT budgets: the over-hyping and under-delivering of mobile solutions, weak mobile support from IT vendors, security concerns, confusion at the myriad mobile platforms and proprietary offerings, integration issues -- and the list goes on.

As IT budgets finally begin to grow again, there's a great opportunity to bring mobility to the forefront of IT and business strategy -- but the mobile industry needs to take a number of steps to make that happen.

Allay Corporate Concerns

There can be a horrible smugness in the mobile community, perhaps brought on by those years of stellar growth, that thinks of mobile as something very special, and different. CIOs also see mobile services as different from their wired cousins, mainly because it's something in which they have far less understanding, and something that presents a new set of difficulties for them.

Mobile services fight against other IT initiatives for a slice of the budget, and as a new and unproven investment, it must fight even harder to satisfy CIO demands and assuage worries. And the most appreciated way to gently introduce mobile services is through pilot stages.

Commitments are needed on costs and performances - preferably backed up by Service Level Agreements (SLAs). Cost is an issue in the widest sense, not simply in terms of equipment and software. At least one major multinational has been deterred from rolling out a mobile pilot project because of the support needed for users, as the cost of employee calls to the helpdesk far outweighed those of the hardware and network.

Security must be demonstrated as a manageable problem. As mobile workers gain greater access to IT applications, the risk that they become the weakest link in enterprise security is increased, and many expect mobile viruses to explode in the next 12 months. Concerns about mobile security can be a perception issue, but are one vendors need to take very seriously.

Management and integration issues must be made as simple and cost-effective as possible, and mobile applications must work with existing IT solutions. Many services companies are drooling at the thought of all the expensive integration work that will be needed to get mobile applications up and working, but this could be a real market stopper. Mobile vendors need to work hard to reduce integration costs and work hard on open standards and supporting existing protocols such as Web services to keep integration simple and costs low.

Showing Off

The mobile industry has long talked about the low hanging fruit - companies with lots of employees on the move, such as sales forces or field engineers, or large transportation and delivery companies. These early adopters need to be showcased as using mobile office applications, and gaining a strong return on their investment.

One manufacturer, for example, estimates mobilizing sales force applications saves its employees two hours a day - a strong example of the payback available from even these simple applications. The company's salespeople previously used paper and pen to tally inventories at retailers, then would type up the data and fax through orders. In the middle of last year, they were equipped with mobile devices that include a barcode scanner. Sales force automation software included an automatic comparison to a store's optimal stock position, which could then be shown to the retailer for confirmation and immediate, automatic order.

Even in the short time since the system was implemented, the manufacturer says one hour of daily savings comes from inventory checks, and the other hour from administration tasks, in addition to other additional benefits, such as improved order accuracy and demand forecasts. It's also improved the job satisfaction of salespeople, who no longer have to work at home keying in orders.

Other early adopters have reported 10-20% gains in efficiency, and these successes need to be trumpeted to convince companies of the value of mobile deployments as productivity tools.

In addition to showing off case studies, mobile providers should increase the efficacy of trial programs, which often throw up unexpected results. One major corporation had a problem with its initial rollout when half its users couldn't interact with applications because they couldn't read the screens. The applications, the user realized, had been designed by 20-year-olds, but were being used by much older employees whose eyesight wasn't as good.

The challenge is to use the trials to iron out these kinds of problems, and encourage internal product champions to fight for deployment. The trials should develop internal evidence of mobile applications' value, just as early adopters' experiences can provide initial external evidence.

Operators Are Key

The mobile operators have the opportunity to accelerate or slowdown the pace of mobile enterprise deployment, but for each individual mobile operator, the stakes are much higher. If they cannot become a key part of the value chain, they risk becoming nothing more strategic than bandwidth providers -- the worst nightmare of the fixed operators.

CIOs want to deal with mobile operators who understand their issues and speak their language. In many ways, they would rather deal with IT vendors and services companies, but accept that their mobile expertise is often not as strong - just yet. Mobile operators thus have a diminishing window to prove their worth.

Carriers must offer the network speed and reliability that is needed for data applications. Whether this is GPRS or 3G is often irrelevant, although their seamless interworking is key. They must also develop rational, logical, reasonable pricing plans to support the services companies employ.