Vodafone is betting that it knows enough about its SME customers to sell them a set of curated apps.
The UK-based operator announced last month that it plans to launch a marketplace for business apps in a number of markets alongside US-based platform-as-a-service provider AppDirect.
Vodafone Italy was the first to launch the service in October, with Germany, South Africa and the UK set to follow over the next few months.
Speaking to European Communications, Vodafone Group Enterprise Product Management Director Jeni Mundy reveals Italian SMEs have a choice of just 8-10 apps.
“Vodafone Italy has been very proactive at building propositions for SME customers that wrap together connectivity solutions and apps and services,” she says.
“It’s a complex market, there’s a lot of software players and resellers and for SMEs it can be a bit overwhelming.
“What we’re trying to do is make it simpler and easier by building solutions for them where they can get all of their needs in an industry specific bundle.”
The apps on offer are a mix of “global” apps, such as Office365 and SugarCRM, that Vodafone has struck deals with to launch across all of its markets, and “local” apps.
In Italy, Vodafone is targeting the hotel industry but Mundy says other verticals that the operator expects to target include retail, professional services, restaurants, construction and manufacturing.
Each market will determine which industries they target depending on local conditions.
SME customers choose their apps on a web portal and pay on a per seat, per licence basis; the costs are rolled into their existing Vodafone bill.
Although AppDirect is managing the underlying platform, Mundy reveals Vodafone is not going to offer AppDirect’s catalogue of apps from other vendors.
“We wanted to make sure we are not just sitting there with a marketplace full of hundreds of apps,” she says.
“We think that would be overwhelming, that’s not our strategy.
“What we want to be able to do is say there are certain targeted verticals that we want to help succeed and we will build a very focused set of capabilities for them along with some horizontal applications that we know a lot of businesses will use.”
The risk would appear to be that Vodafone will end up dictating the apps that SMEs can access.
Mundy says Vodafone has worked with customers “over the last two to three years” to understand their needs and is now ready to “systemise” what it has learned.
“Over time we can expand but I think start small, learn as you go and then grow,” she says.
“We’re trying to cut through the noise.”
Including sales to SMEs, Vodafone saw like-for-like revenues in Italy rise 1.3 percent to €1.5 billion in the three months to July, its most recent financial results.
The market, which is dominated by Telecom Italia, is set to be shaken up by the merger of Three and Wind next year.
The transaction was completed yesterday (Monday) and promised to shake up the retail and enterprise markets.
Mundy declined to discuss specific targets for Vodafone Digital Marketplace.
“I will be happy if our customers can run their business wherever the work is, not where their office happens to be.”