The Whys -- and Why Nots -- of the Mobile Enterprise
By Steve Wallage, Tue Sep 21 08:15:00 GMT 2004

Enterprises are still finding a lot of reasons to hold back on mobile deployments, but these are starting to fall away as the benefits become clearer and the obstacles are overcome.

What is a "mobile enterprise?" It's too simple to talk about mobile and non-mobile staff. It is estimated that up to 60% of the workforce is mobile at some time or other, so this is not just about field technicians and salespeople. The current situation is full IT support in the office and highly limited capabilities outside it.

It's also about bringing mobile into the IT department and under the CIO. Many mobile pilots have been conducted by individual departments, whether sales, marketing or engineering, and they've been standalone and limited in outlook and vision. Too many enterprises still struggle with the distinction between personal and business usage and ownership of mobile devices, something that's never an issue with laptops.

But we are reaching a tipping point. There have been lots of trials and initial thinking. There have been lots of small deployments that have stayed small. Now, fuelled by early success stories and obstacles finally disappearing, we are set for a major boost in enterprise mobile usage.

The Early Adopters

Enterprises want to know about the return on investment they can expect, and they want to know that mobile productivity tools are actually working in practice. A CIO at a global food company recently told me that he would never introduce mobile technology unless he could see it working at another company that was also involved in the food industry.

But these case studies, still often marketed poorly, are there. Take a US telecommunications service provider. It found that sales and administrative staff were driving between offices, physically picking up paperwork and starting and ending the day by going into the office. In their case, access to the mobile office led to a reduction of 10-15% in head count as less administration was needed. In total, the company believes it will lead to a 20-25% reduction in overall costs.

Or look at a UK restaurant chain. They use handhelds to take orders and process bills, this saves around two hours per server per week that can translate to an additional 3-4,000 a week of orders generated by each server. A US auto insurer is using a wireless productivity tool to increase the number of assessments per person per day from 3.5 to 4.5. It has also reduced costs by more efficiently scheduling mechanic visits and follow-up work.

Although soft or intangible benefits are more difficult to sell to the CIO, they are often major upsides with mobile deployments. For the US auto insurer, it reduced the need for overtime from employees and increased data accuracy.

A good example of this is in public services. A number of UK police forces are trialling mobile deployments. One force has provided 300 police with mobile access to the corporate network and PIM data. This has resulted in less time in police stations and greater visibility on the streets, improving public confidence.

Security Remains Key

Still the number-one concern for CIOs is security. This can take many forms, from stolen devices to access to the corporate network to the spread of viruses. Part of it is the worry that users have no thought about security on mobile devices. A US PDA Survey carried out by Pepperdine University and sponsored by mobile security specialist Pointsec is a case in point. While only half of those surveyed had any sort of security, 81% said they had "valuable" or "somewhat valuable" data on the PDA, and 24% admitted the loss or theft of a PDA.

But mobile security is also a good example of the potential for a virtuous circle as enterprise demand drives focus and innovation, further driving enterprise demand. This has been seen in four areas. One, R&D being plowed into new areas such as mobile firewall, enhanced and varied authentication, and encryption of data. Two, M&A driving the market and providing more firepower to startups -- examples include JP Mobile buying PDA Defense, and iAnywhere buying XcelleNet. Three, partnerships developing -- two of the Nokia's enterprise solutions partners are Symantec and Pointsec. Four, growing interest from security heavyweights such as RSA and Symantec.

We are also reaching a tipping point on the penetration of smartphones. Intelligent handheld devices perform better and provide more sophisticated capabilities than previous versions, enabling users to securely access, transmit and manipulate essential information on the move.

While much of the mobile specialists' early focus was on disconnected support (particularly in the US), wireless networks continue to mature, providing users with greater bandwidth and more reliable connectivity.

The Final Challenges

A key challenge is integrating mobile deployments into existing IT infrastructure. Two trends provide promising signs: the development of open APIs, and increased mobile interest from large software vendors. The message still needs to be hammered home to some; mobile deployments are not different, but an extension of existing systems.

Lifetime costs are also a major concern. Support and help desk costs can completely distort any mobile ROI story. More automated processes and better and ongoing vendor support are needed. A concern around costs has been the desire from some vendors to customize mobile deployments and make their revenues from IT services. This will be strongly resisted by users.

The final piece is getting the actual end-users on board. From a small sample of mobile deployments, the typical figure seems to be that about 85% of users love it, and 15% have problems. Successful deployments need local evangelists and a lot of thought as to how best to work within mobile limitations.