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Mon 2 Oct 2006 04:00 AM

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Moving too fast

Companies are just waking up to the fact that, whether planned or not, they - or at least their employees - are mobile-enabled. The time has now come for CIOs to start taking control of this mobile world they find themselves in. Colin Edwards asks how.

|~|Wallin200.jpg|~|Wallin: Third time lucky - Microsoft should win the mobile operating system battle.|~|The Middle East region is seen as a mobile magnet where many people do not just have one mobile device - but several. The UAE, for example, has the highest pro-rata mobile telephone population in the world. Last year, mobile penetration rates there reached nearly 150% - higher than any other country.

But like much of the rest of the world it is the consumer who is driving the move to mobility. Consumers have bought 90% of the mobile telephones currently in use, according to Gartner. Companies are just leveraging and benefiting from the fact that their workforce has decided to m-enable itself.

This is changing. Sanctioned mobility usage in the enterprise is moving beyond one of two key groups - on-the-move executives or sales personnel for example - to wider, though not universal, work groups both on site and off site. As such, companies now have to develop strategies, policies and processes around mobility deployment in the enterprise.

"They need to get the strategy in place now," says Leif-Olof Wallin, research vice president at Gartner Research, speaking exclusively to ACN recently in Dubai.

"Many of our clients are in the position where they have one or two mobility projects in place - executive push email and possibly a field force servicing team using mobiles to log calls.

"So you have these two projects based on different platforms and different technologies. Now you get IT saying: 'Oh, we have multiple stuff here. It's getting expensive from a support point of view. So we need to get strategy in place so that when line of business comes with the third project, a fourth and a fifth, we can start applying the same IT disciplines as we normally do'. IT needs to get control of this, put the strategy in place, and organise for it," he says.

Wallin, who advises enterprise clients with a special focus on enterprise mobility, was in Dubai speaking at a seminar entitled Mobility - What Enterprises and Consumers Need to Know and organized by Dubai Internet City as part of its DIC community networking programme.

In the latest corporate survey of 1,800 CIOs around the world, spending on mobile workforce applications this year is ranked third behind security and business intelligence, which for the first time tops the list.

"More interestingly are those interests occupying the number four and five positions. They are collaboration technology and customer sales and service. They have a high element of mobility in them. On the applications side, what we see taking off are the connectivity ones, mobile email, personal information management.

"There's also selective process support such as workforce or sales force management. But we're struggling to see the lightweight application extensions - the development of a thin client interface of, say, a human resources application to make it available on the road so that users can do time-reporting tasks, for example."

What it all means is that CIOs need to develop an enterprise mobility strategy, which defines the right device and the right platform for the right people, he says, suggesting that one of the best ways of ensuring the success of a mobility policy is to set up a mobility centre of excellence.

This does not have to be an expensive project as most organisations already have in-house Microsoft experts who should be able to coordinate and support the move to mobility and understand issues such as standards, documentation, licensing and managing product life cycles.

"The first thing is to set the expectations. It is not about finding the best technology all the time. It is about selecting good enough technology and in most cases, 80% is good enough. You don't have to chase for the ultimate technology solution. You don't just need the technology silver bullet.

"The secret is to get a balance between good enough technology, skilled people policies and processes," says Wallin.

Good policies form the most important means of controlling cost, he adds, but they should not be prescriptive, but rather guide a user to optimal use of devices. "For example, when you're travelling, it's good to set synchronising, say, every 15 minutes instead of having always-on push email. Good standards advise end users on how to optimise usage," he says, advising any policy, even in global companies, to be based on local needs.

"One of the things that makes a lot of sense, but few companies do, is to get employees to sign a policy before taking delivery of the laptop or PDA," he says.

He warns against adopting a strategy of treating all employees equally when it comes to mobility. Precise user profiles need to be determined, taking into account factors such as whether a device needs to update back end systems in real time or data stored in the device to be synchronised later.

The business requirement of the device needs to be determined, taking into account whether it can be operated with one hand or two. Then there is the location aspect: used on a vehicle; used within a campus area; or all over the country.

The third aspect is usage pattern, determining if the usage will be predominately an alert application, message-based or service application for example, and if the user requires information from other systems.

"When you figure these things out, that's when you can start producing packages targeted at these profiles with appropriate devices, appropriate services, appropriate training and appropriate support," he says.

"You get a package based on the user profile that enables them to do the job. The ‘one size, one solution fits all’ definition is dead. Building a device portfolio - that's when you figure out what you need." ||**|||~||~||~|Among the technology considerations to be made are not just the most appropriate device to be deployed to suit the profile - mobile phone, smartphone, dual-mode phone, PDA, tablet PC or notebook. There are also aspects such as operating systems. Wallin believes that mobile technology is essentially falling into two camps - three if you consider Blackberry push email in the short term.

Windows Mobile tends to be the preferred device among enterprises as most enterprises have a relationship with Microsoft, run MS Exchange and have development skills in house so it is something they are often very comfortable with, he says.

"So far MS has been slightly disadvantaged on the technology side, but it is catching up. Really, the only other platform that competes with this is Nokia Series 60 on top of Symbian. These two platforms are running head to head, but in the 2010 timeframe we see expect to see Microsoft out-ship Nokia," he says, adding that Mobile 5.0 is Microsoft's third attempt at creating a mobile platform designed to be robust enough for the enterprise.

"Third time around - whenever Microsoft does anything, that is the time when it gets it right. The next release we expect to be pretty much good enough."

Currently, companies cannot afford to ignore Research in Motion's Blackberry solution, though he sees MS Exchange's push mail capability being its biggest challenge in the market.

"With Microsoft Exchange 2003 and Service Pack 2 you have push email out of the box. So, why should you pay for it and get involved with all that integration when you have push email out of the box? Also, it works with ActiveSync and works with Nokia and Ericcson devices, and is also much cheaper. It's good enough to do the job and it delivers a pretty good experience."

As far as costs are concerned, Wallin calculates that to mobilise 20 people with Blackberrys over a two-year period would cost US$25,000 for all the licenses and devices. The same on MS Exchange, using devices running MS Mobile 50,would be around $12,000.

"Even so, if you look at the Blackberry solution, it is providing a very high service level agreement for an executive. It provides superior battery life and a very good user interface, so if all you need is an executive snack interface then it's the best product on the marketplace, but it comes at a premium," says Wallin, who sees RIM's Network Operations Centre continuing to deliver value for at least the next few years.

While Microsoft is challenging Nokia's market, Nokia has no intention of giving up the enterprise and on top of its enterprise devices and solutions is forging industry partnerships such as that with Alcatel to extend its presence there.

Alcatel and Nokia recently announced a collaboration which extends Alcatel's business telephony offering to the mobile workforce by way of the Nokia Eseries. Called Intellisync Call Connect for Alcatel, the solution delivers popular desk phone functionalities to the mobile user. For example, employees manage just one business number, and control where and when and on which device they receive their calls.

Additionally, the benefits of the office phone, such as call conferencing, call back, and dial by name are delivered with the ease of use of a Nokia Eseries, within the enterprise environment.

One of the barriers to greater mobility deployment within the enterprise has been a transient mobile telephone market driven by changing fashions that do not deliver the longevity and stability corporates look for in technology investments.
Nokia is addressing this through its enterprise focus and E Series devices.

"They are promising to keep the devices more stable than their consumer devices. So, when you buy them you can expect these devices to stay pretty consistent and be more stable - more like a laptop, more like a PDA - with a longer life-span. This is something people want to hear - stability, predictability and slightly more engineered for professional use - that is they don't break so often," says Wallin.

From a network perspective, download and uplink rates are increasing every six months or so, and while it is just a software upgrade for the mobile network, the device is going to need a new chipset every time. "The main takeaway is do not buy built-in 3G in laptops and devices that have a multi-year lifespan," he adds.

He also said that while the full 802.11n standard was still a couple of years off, the 802.11e with quality of service and 802.11r for fast roaming will be coming into the marketplace and have more immediate significance to the enterprise especially those looking to do voice over wireless LAN.

"This is roughly the year when we see many of our clients coming to realise that the existing wireless LAN is not voice ready. 2007 is when they will start to invest and re-architect the existing wireless LAN. But 2008 is roughly the year when we see most organisations starting to be able to do voice over wireless LAN."

In the same year, the market can expect mobile devices to come with 3G, Wi-Fi and WiMAX support, followed in 2009 by the introduction of the $120 smart phone. But he warns that all aspects of mobility will continue to move very rapidly with disruptive technologies such as WiMAX capable of upsetting the best laid plans.

There are also the new kids on the block - the Googles and Yahoos of this world - to be considered as they are prepared to turn the whole communications world upside down with their everything-for-free model.

"We see enterprises struggling to figure out how to deliver mobile applications by thinking differently to avoid the screw-up you seen on a global basis in the past - that is trying to make everything available to a mobile person that he would have on his desk. Most people need access to four or five things. So it's about understanding the context of the mobile user.”||**||

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