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Fri 22 Sep 2006 08:00 PM

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The office gets mobile

The benefits of having a workforce equipped with data and voice capabilities on the go has led to organisations in the region investing heavily in the mobile device market

The mobile handheld device market is finally taking off in the Middle East. Although the emerging market is small — analyst firm Gartner estimates the region only accounts for around 4% of all personal digital assistant (PDA) shipments in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region — its growth is strong and, more importantly, usage trends are beginning to mirror those seen in more mature markets such as Europe and the US.

Perhaps the most significant trend beginning to take hold in the Middle East, and one that many vendors and analyst feel will be a driving force for growth in the market, is what Craig Mathias, principal analyst at US advisory firm The Fairpoint Group, has described as the “horizontalisation” of mobile devices in the corporate world.

Horizontalisation is the shift away from traditional vertical data applications, or fleet applications, such those used in sales and services, towards wireless accessed information being an integral tool for every business professional.

While handheld devices have been used for some time by individuals within companies and in vertical markets such as retail, the rise of the mobile handheld solution — where firms mobilise their workforce with handheld devices and implement systems and policies to support those devices — is changing the structure of the market as well as the way that professionals operate.

This trend began in the US and Europe and analysts claim it is beginning to take hold here.

“These devices are becoming an essential tool for business professionals,” says Naser Shashaa, research manager for handheld devices at market research firm IDC.

This is borne out in the staggering rate of growth in the Middle East market for handhelds.

IDC claims that in 2004 the total mobile device market (including both data-centric handheld devices and converged devices that offer both voice and data capabilities) grew by a massive 454%, with the handheld segment increasing 102% and the converg- ed devices segment by 532.5%.

While that rate of growth has slowed from that meteoric hike, even so the analyst firm expects to see growth of 84% this year.

“We are seeing healthy growth in the devices, whether it is data-centric handheld or converged mobile devices,” comments Shashaa.

Traditionally, a PDA was a device for accessing data and a mobile phone was a device for accessing voice.

But as technology and business operating practices have developed, this line has become increasingly blurred as vendors have released converged devices, or smart phones, that offer both voice and data capabilities.

“We are seeing healthy growth in the devices whether it is data-centric, handled or converged mobile devices."

Thinking smart

Within the handheld market, the highest growth is happening in the converged device market.

Both Gartner and IDC figures show that converged devices are expanding in the region much faster than data-centric handhelds. “We believe smart phones will become a corporate standard,” states Roberta Cozza, Gartner principal research analyst.

She says that for businesses looking to equip their employees with handheld devices mainly on mobility and information access grounds, the smart phone or other similar converged device made more sense.

“I think that for users that are not data centric, that do not need to run complex business applications but mainly use e-mail and voice, then smart phones willaccount for the majority of them,” she adds.

Many vendors in the region offer both data-centric and converged devices, including Dubai-based company i-mate.

The firm, which is the clear market leader according to Gartner, offers devices with both capabilities but in different form factors that either makes the device more voice-centric or more data-centric.

“Often we see that businesses do go for a mix of both and they like to offer both form factors to their employees,” explains Jon Moss, i-mate technology director.

“If a person is a voice-centric user and wants to use it as primarily a voice device, but with the ability to access e-mails, then a smart phone form factor is suitable. For people at the other end of the spectrum who want to use it as a cut-down laptop, the PDA is the way to go,” Moss suggests.

However, it seems clear that offering some form of voice capability is going to become increasingly important, as users want to cut down on the number of devices they have to carry around with them.

Cozza predicts that smart phones will continue to grow strongly until 2010, while the growth of data-only handhelds will slow considerably in the same period. IDC projections show growth of data-only devices of just 16.2% for this year, while the converged device market will still grow at 86.8%.

Push e-mail

A major technology development driving this increase in employee mobility and the implementation of handheld solutions is push e-mail, accordingto analysts. Push e-mail is an e-mail connection that is always ‘on’ and, through a variety of techniques depending on the solution provider, takes e-mail on a company’s server and sends it automatically to users’ handsets in real-time.

Previously, users would have to manually check for mail on their GPRS-handset, which in turn connected to the office mail server, or check mail from their GPRS-handset on their company’s web mail site.

“I believe the main driver in the market is push e-mail. Previously people used to send faxes and wait for replies and so on for documentation purposes, now it is mainly e-mail that is your reference,” Shashaa says.

“When you are mainly dependent on e-mails, you have got to see the documents in front of you, so you have to keep in contact. With push e-mail, you are able to constantly download your e-mails, read them and reply instantly,” he explains.

Gartner’s Cozza agrees: “Wireless e-mail is definitely the application that is driving the market at the moment and is bringingthe most benefit in terms of being on top of everything wherever you are.”

With the growing focus on push e-mail that we are seeing in the region, it is hardly surprising to see Research In Motion (RIM) targeting the Middle East market to promote its Blackberry devices.

RIM is one of the biggest suppliers of handheld devices in the world. It’s Blackberry has become so ubiquitous and popular with users that it has earned the ironic moniker of “Crackberry”: users are said to be so addicted to its functionality they find it hard to turn it off.

According to Gartner, RIM shipped almost twice as many devices worldwide in the second quarter of this year than its closest rival Palm. It controls around 22% of the total market.

In May, RIM launched its Blackberry solution for corporate customers in the UAE though operator Etisalat and is set to launch in Saudi Arabia through mobile operator Mobily (see IT Weekly 16-22 September 2006).

RIM channel partner, mobile systems integrator Emitac Mobile Solutions (EMS), says it already has pilot implementations up and running at eight of the largest corporations in the Kingdom.

Even some rival vendors are willing to admit what an important impact RIM has had on changing companies’ and users’ perceptions of handheld solutions.

“Over here people have been a bit reluctant to do their office work on PDAs, but that has changed thanks in part to people like Blackberry,” acknowledges Shams Jafery, business development director for ITE Distribution, Palm’s partner in the region. The majority of companies implementing these handheld solutions in the Middle East are big corporate firms wanting to mobilise their senior management.

Firms such as Emirates Bank, the Jumeirah Group, Emaar, Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB) and Union Properties are among those in the Middle East to have implemented handheld solutions in the past few months.

The solutions, however, are mainly being used by a small part of these companies’ workforce and small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have yet to embrace the technology, according to analysts.

“It is mainly the big multinational companies that decide to procure handheld devices for some of their executives or high-end professional users that use these kind of devicesin emerging markets,” states Gartner’s Cozza.

“This is really an emerging market and apart from some large businesses, adoption is very limited everywhere else,” she continues.

“Medium-sized companies are not looking at handheld devices, probably because it is not their priority, because these are companies that would prefer to focus on the shift between desktop and notebooks and are not there yet in terms of understanding the benefits of PDAs.”

However, Abdul Karim Sawan, EMS director of engineering and architecture for Blackberry (pictured right), thinks this trend is changing, especially in the UAE.

He says since the Blackberry has been launched in the UAE he had acquired a number of SMB customers and that EMS has now released an edition of the Blackberry enterprise server for that sector.

“If there is a SMB that is looking for only three or four devices maybe, they don’t have to bear the cost of a full Blackberry server that allows access to 20 users. They now have the option to purchase the small medium edition of the Blackberry solution,” he points out.

“If there is a SMB that is looking for only three or four devices maybe, they don't have to bear the cost of a full Blackberry server that allows access to 20 users. They now have the option to purchase the smal medium edition of the Blackberry solution."

Security issues

Whether you are a large enterprise or an SMB, the benefits of a handheld solution with push e-mail technology are fairly clear.

It mobilises a company’s workforce, reduces communication time and speeds up users’ ability to access information — which in turn has a positive impact on employee productivity and efficiency.

It can also reduce costs by rolling out handsets to a firm’s work-force rather than more costly notebooks and even improve employees’ morale by equipping them with the latest technology.

“[With a handheld device] you can access whatever information you need; whether it is accessing your corporate network wirelessly, whether it is browsing the internet or answering youre-mails, any sort of activity like this,” comments Vishnu Taimni, HP Middle East portables and handhelds category manager.

I-mate’s Moss states: “In terms of efficiency then there would be significant enhancements as well as improved productivity from the employees. Employees will also feel valued as well from being equipped with the latest in mobile technology.”

So from end users’ perspective, there appears to be no downside to being equipped with a handheld device — other than the fact that their work can contact them anywhere they go.

For an IT manager, however, the implementation of a mobile solution can be a very risky business, especially when it relates to the management and security of the devices, the network and the data that travels across it.

In fact many in the industry see mobility as one of the largest IT security challenges facing enterprises today.

Security is one of the top concerns on the minds of customers and handheld vendors take this concern very seriously as the success of their mobile enterprise offerings will sink or swim depending on how the security of their solutions holds up.

“Large corporations and their employees are always holding confidential information and they have to make sure they control, manage and deliver the secure information to the people that need it,” comments Sawan.

Susan Macke, Nokia mobile devices enterprise solutions portfolio management and product marketing vice president, adds: “With all a company’s secure data, even a contact list,

IT organisations of even small enterprises are looking for how to secure that data. This is a concern I am always hearing.”

Farpoint’s Mathias highlights encryption, two-factor authentication and a virtual private network (VPN) as key building blocks for a secure mobile handheld solution.

Jack Gold, principal rese- archer and founder of analyst firm J Gold Associates, also includes virus and firewall protection and the administrative control of a lost device as other key areas of security companies looking to implement a mobile handheld solution must take into consideration.

I-mate’s Moss says that the latest, fifth, version of the Windows Mobile operating system (OS) — which is also used by vendors such as HP and Palm — comes with a number of inbuilt security features.

“It has the ability to enforce a PIN code on the device so if somebody leaves their device on a train the PIN code comes on and no one can get into the device,” Moss points out.

“On top of that we have the i-mate suite solution that gives you full remote administration of the device and that can allow you to lock it, to debug it, or to wipe all the data that is on there,” he adds.

HP has a biometric fingerprint reader on one of its high-end devices aimed at corporate executives. “One of our devices has a fingerprint reader, which is popular for these type of business solutions because it adds a second level of security,” HP’s Taimni comments.

Sawan points out that the Blackberry enterprise offering, as with many other offerings on the market, has full end-to-end encryption through a VPN so that data is kept secure from beginning to end. “Blackberry is a full end-to-end encryption that manages the messages, so that as soon as it arrives on the e-mail server the Blackberry server will take a copy of that message and then compress and encrypt the message,” he explains.

“As soon as the message is encrypted it is sent over the internet to the network operation centre of Blackberry and then delivered to the device,” he continues.

“Only when it arrives on the device does it get de-encrypted.”

Administrative control of a lost device is a major concern for most customers and this particular aspect of mobile security also touches on the manageability of a device, which is also a major consideration for IT managers when looking at mobile handheld solutions.

“[If a device is lost] an IT administrator can lock a device wirelessly if the user has chosen not to put a password on it. They can actually send a wireless kill command to the device that will delete everything on it over the air so that it will protect the confidential information of the corporate,” explains Sawan.

The importance of this function is highlighted by a recent survey by Swedish mobile security firm Pointsec, which found that over 60,000 mobile phones, nearly 6,000 pocket PCs and just under 5,000 laptops were left behind in London taxicabs last year. Management of hand-held devices extends far beyond the security of a device.

Device lifecycle

It also includes how the lifecycle of the devices are managed, how application updates are sent to the devices, as well as what an enterprise allows end users to utilise the devices for.

A standard enterprise remote deployment may include several hundreds or thousands of mobile devices, wireless switches and access points. Such large-scale deployments can make managing these environments cumbersome.

The complexities involved can make routine tasks, such as device and network component rollouts, updates and maintenance, and support and problem resolution unduly difficult.

Without a centralised remote device management solution, these routine tasks become a barrier to growth and leave the promise of mobility unrealised.

Mobile handset vendors such as i-mate, RIM, HP and Nokia each have management solutions as part of their handheld solution package, but networking vendors also have solutions in this space such as CA’s NetworkIT, Novell’s ManageWise, 3 Com’s Transcend, Cisco’s CiscoWorks line, Enterasys’ NetSight, and Nortel Networks’ Optivity.

Vishy Gopalakrishnan, Nokia global practice manager, highlights areas such as lifecycle management of the devices, tracking the assets on the devices, the upgradeability of the devices and solution, as well as many of the aspects of security already mentioned, as part of a total mobile management strategy.

He says a successful management strategy helps an enterprise control the total cost of ownership (TCO).
“The ROI [return on investment] in mobile management comes from the fact that you can still manage the device without a disproportionate increase in the IT personnel and the associated IT infrastructure needed to support this within any kind of reasonable SLA [service level agreement] which an organisation is used to,” Gopalakrishnan commented in a recent podcast.

“We see a significant improvement or significant control on the operational expenditure associated with ongoing support,” he added.

The most obvious advantage of mobile device management, and one that can cut down the cost of IT support dramatically, is the ability of an enterprise to update devices remotely without having to have end users physically bring their handsets in to be updated.

“So as soon as you get the device an IT organisation, with very little touch to their customers, they can enable that device. Now the IT organisation can also manage how people use their e-mails,” claims Nokia’s Macke.

“What is the usage pattern? When do they want to send their updates to it? If there are changes in a file, either a software update or a new application, we can have it sent over the air,” she adds.

Sawan of EMS points out that the Blackberry solution has around 150 IT policy commands that IT managers can use from the Blackberry server that allow them to control and manage the Blackberry devices.

“From the Blackberry enterprise server I can actually control what the user is capable of doing. I can disable some of the features that I don’t want my users to be using,” he states.

“I can control anything from sending SMS messages, tobeing able to use the phone and being able to send personal e-mails for example,” he claims.

IT managers should look at the management of their fleet of handhelds in the same way they do desktops, servers and notebooks. That way, the same efficiency and cost savings can be achieved in the mobile device space as can be achieved in the PC and server space.

“Mobile management is how do you put in place the appropriate processes and tools required for your IT organisation so that they can extend the model that most IT organisations are used to in termsof managing their desktops and servers and laptops and extending that to the small form factor, whether it is smart phones, handhelds, or PDAs,” Gopalakrishnan says.

“One of our devices has a fingerprint reader, which is popular for these type of business solutions because it adds a second level of security."

Case Study: Union PropertiesDubai estate agent Union Properties is one of the first corporations in the UAE to implement the Research In Motion (RIM) Blackberry solution.

The firm has equipped 20 of its executives with the Blackberry 8700g handsets and installed the Blackberry Enterprise Server in its data centre.

The server connects to UP’s IT infrastructure, including its e-mail system, and ‘pushes’ the e-mails on to the mobile devices.

Sandeep Chakiat, IT manager at UP, says the firm went with the Blackberry solution because of the experience its executives had using the device from Europe on roaming.

“Our management was familiar with this solution even before Etisalat launched it. They had been using it from Italy and the UK on the roaming and they were pretty impressed,” comments Chakiat.

“They were impressed with the usage, the mobility, and the information being available all the time,” he says.

Chakiat adds that from a technical point of view the IT department was also impressed with the Blackberry’s security, manageability and reliability.

“We wanted to ensure that whatever was communicating from the Blackberry to our corporate systems or vice versa were encrypted and secure. The other issue was if someone loses it, it has valuable data, what happens to it?” he explains.

“The devices also have to be reliable. When you are giving it to top management and they travel you don’t want the devices to get stuck and restart,” he states.

UP has so far rolled out the standard set of tools such as e-mail, but in the future was looking to take up applications as well, including ability toaccess the company’s customer relationship management (CRM) system.

Chakiat comments that the solution will also save UP money in the long run.

“Many staff use their laptops, but around 80% only use it for accessing their e-mails, so with the Blackberry solution you can save money on the laptops, constant connectivity and you also don’t have fluctuating bills, there is a flat charge.”

He said for a 20-user licence the cost was around US$8,000 a year, plus management fees which were around US$2,700 a year and then each device cost about US$800.

He said in addition to these costs, there were maintenance costs and roaming charges.

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