Enterprise mobility should focus on message delivery not device type insists Peter Semmelhack
The benefits of mobile business solutions are hard to ignore for most enterprises today. Used for everything from tracking home visits by medical staff and maintaining airport x-ray machines to keeping beer flowing in pubs and hotels, mobile applications are giving customer-facing employees in the field the power to run their business wherever they happen to be. As Rob Bamforth, mobile applications analyst at Quocirca so neatly puts it, "the key application of all mobile devices is communication, and the 'killer' feature is relevance to the user."
" height="<% height %>" align="right" alt="ENTERPRISE MOBILITY - Don't get hung up on the phone" class="articleimage" />
The debate has moved on to how best to manage mobile devices and treat them as the business enablers that they truly are. IDC predicts that $52 billion will be spent on all mobile services by 2010, with $1.5 billion of this being spent on mobile device management and security.
Let the user be the chooser
Traditionally, field service has been the poster child for enterprise mobility since, by its nature, it involves the delivery of timely customer information to a geographically dispersed workforce who are mobile for the majority of their working day. Because of this, field service engineers have often borne the brunt of early attempts at force fitting enterprise applications onto mobile devices that were never designed to handle that level of complexity. The result was many failed or less than stellar deployments due to lacklustre user adoption.
The BlackBerry revolution awoke executives to the freedom, flexibility and efficiency that could be gained through mobile access to applications. Now mobility is being demanded not only by field service operations but also in a variety of customer-facing roles. As IT managers juggle the mobility requirements, user preferences, and budget requirements of different business units across the enterprise, they soon realise that when it comes to mobility solutions one size clearly does not fit all.
A survey undertaken at Service Management Europe found that that 23 per cent of respondents cited user acceptance as one of the major hurdles to successful mobilisation of data applications. This is precisely why Pitney Bowes UK set up working groups to consult its field service engineers on their device preferences and mobile application interface requirements, long before it standardised on a hosted enterprise mobility solution to deliver SAP and Siebel updates directly to field service engineers' devices throughout Europe.
It is therefore vital to consult field staff on the best device for their needs and the best interface to aid them in their collection of updates and daily reporting of services delivered or sales made. It is also important to retain flexibility by choosing a solution that can support future migration to new devices. The bottom line is choosing the right mobility solution from the start will lead to fewer headaches when deciding on devices and networks and when managing the evolution of the system over time.
One of the major issues concerning IT directors is total cost of ownership (TCO). This cost is generally driven down by simplification. So any increase in complexity, such as a change in device type across the enterprise, or even in only one part of it will inevitably increase TCO. And one thing is certain, change will come.
The device market is changing so fast that any decision made at the time of deployment could be almost obsolete within six months with newer, as yet unknown, devices coming onto the market offering immediate and significant incremental business value and/or cost reduction opportunities. In addition, the recent litigation between NTP and RIM sent shockwaves through the enterprise community in the US, where the BlackBerry has become essential to the average executive. With some employees becoming more dependent on their mobile device than their desktop PC, the enterprise mobility strategy must include the flexibility to minimise disruption if the company needs to switch devices to accommodate mergers or acquisitions, change of operator, customer demands or new technologies.
Gartner predicts that the overall TCO for mobile solutions will rise by 30 per cent for most enterprises. Gartner attributes this cost to "the increased support costs for a more-disparate set of mobile data users, lack of management of recurring monthly charges for mobile data services and the need to support point solutions across multiple types of wireless data offerings." Inevitably, if an enterprise opts for a mobility solution that already supports the majority of devices on the market, then this will reduce the costs, while also reducing the time to roll out mobile applications to a new set of devices. Therefore, enterprises must plan to have a multiple device environment to enable the business to take advantage of the value of new devices as they come onto the market. The cost of supporting multiple device specific applications versus a single application for multiple devices must be considered.
When rolling out mobile applications to thousands of users across multiple territories it is vital to consider choosing software that supports the majority of devices without needing any modification. So whether staff choose to work on PDAs, Pocket PCs, BlackBerrys, notebooks or laptops, or even a touch tone phone using IVR, they should still receive the same updates from the back-end applications running over SMS, GSM, GPRS, 1x RTT, 2 way paging or Mobitex. This means you must deploy a flexible and extensible software solution that accommodates multiple language support, and both wireless device and network variances without any costly re-engineering of the application.
Field sales and service pose particular problems for larger enterprises because they involve the management of data delivery across multiple territories, over numerous networks. For example a field engineer may need to run the same field service application interchangeably on either his BlackBerry or his laptop depending on the service task he is undertaking. He may prefer to use his laptop for diagnostics in an area with poor wireless coverage. However at the next job he may prefer to use his BlackBerry. Using real time data communications, backed up by 24 x7 monitoring from a reliable Network Operations Centre, ensures consistency and currency of the data, no matter which device is being used for the job in hand.
Host with the most
We have stated earlier that simplification reduces cost. One significant way to simplify application delivery is to use a hosted 'on-demand' model, enabling employees to access mobile applications on whatever device they happen to be working on at that time. Analysts at Unstrung advise that "if the use of BlackBerries, Treos, or other mobile messaging devices extends beyond a few top executives, it's time to consider outsourcing the management thereof." Using a hosted model allows central management of devices, with different user privileges for different groups. Depending on the service provider, this model can also enable 24 x 7 monitoring of multiple networks around the world, to guarantee message delivery.
According to industry analyst AMR, the software-as-a-service-model grew by 60 per cent in 2005 and this is driving the CRM market. The next logical step is to extend this hosted software to the field sales and service staff that have most contact with your customers and this means getting critical data held within enterprise CRM and ERP systems such as Siebel, NetSuite, and SAP onto their mobile devices, so that they have the most up to date customer information at their fingertips while they are on site with customers.
We have discussed the need to choose an enterprise mobility solution that supports the widest range of handheld devices. But sometimes the most effective way to get critical information to an engineer is to route the message to a landline near the site where the engineer is working. This is particularly important for employees working on hidden assets such as underground piping, or in hospital environments where there is no wireless coverage. So enterprise mobility isn't always about accessing data from a PDA or phone, sometimes traditional communications technologies are the most effective route to get messages to your mobile employees. So don't get hung up on the phone, or on one particular device. Enterprise mobility is all about ensuring that relevant up to date information reaches the right person at the right time - using the most effective delivery method possible.
Peter Semmelhack is CTO of Antenna Software