Holding Back The Mobile Enterprise
By Carlo Longino, Tue Apr 19 19:15:00 GMT 2005

While mobile technology remains a hot area in IT spending, a variety of factors are conspiring against companies looking to go mobile.

Mobile e-mail continues to make waves, and mobile enterprise instant-messaging is popping up, too. But for companies looking for more substantial mobile applications and access to existing systems, it's still slow going.

A Gartner analyst cites one problem is that mobile technology is still overwhelmingly driven by consumer wants and needs, rather those of the enterprise. While there's no shortage of business-focused mobile devices, IT managers are still left with the headache of trying to connect a wide range of devices to the corporate network so as to accommodate somebody that prefers a Treo over a Windows Mobile device, or a Samsung clamshell over a Nokia Communicator.

But mobile operators also pose a problem for companies, Gartner researcher Nick Fellows says, by not enabling them to take advantage of mobility in ways they'd really like to. This manifests itself in a few ways, from something as simple to the lack of flat-rate data pricing in Europe, or trying to steer users to operators' chosen applications on a pay-per-use basis, rather than accommodating the use of existing wired applications.

Gone are the days where users will accept their mobile and wired applications remaining separate. That's what fueled much of RIM's early BlackBerry success -- it integrated with existing corporate e-mail servers and user's individual desktop accounts. Companies that have implemented database or CRM or sales-force applications on the Internet can't be expected to adopt a completely separate application for mobile. Interoperability is paramount.

Funnily enough, just as in the consumer space, carriers want to stick themselves in the middle of everything with enterprises as well. But they do it by partnering with RIM and saying, "Well, there's mobile e-mail. What else could they want?" They shy away from flat-rate data in fear that it will shrink ARPU, never thinking they could more than make up for it either by increasing the number of data users, or by actually offering a service to help companies go mobile. It requires a change in viewpoint, from the idea of selling just data to selling actual services and solutions.

Until this changes, the mobile enterprise -- outside e-mail and messaging -- will remain a niche product. Gartner's Fellows hammers this point home: "Everyone is experimenting with mobile network access and e-mail, but these applications do not change the way you work." Until operators either loosen up, or embrace their needed role as systems integrators and enablers, mobile won't make radical changes in business.