For several years now, mobile business applications have been very effective at giving customer-facing employees in the field the power to keep business moving wherever they happen to be -- accomplishing everything from maintaining high-tech airport x-ray machines and medical equipment to keeping beer flowing in pubs and hotels. These types of tactical mobile applications continue to prove their value, and their success is spawning another sea change in mobile application deployments. Field sales people are seeing field service engineers tap into a wealth of customer information from their Smartphones and they ask management, "Why can't we have what they've got?" And so mobility begins to permeate the enterprise.
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According to Yankee Group, an average of 44% to 54% of large U.S. businesses stated that sales force automation (SFA), field force and Web browsing of corporate applications are the next critical application focus for mobility projects. In fact, it is not hard to believe that at some point very soon we won't even have to say "mobile applications" because we will assume that all or most applications are mobile by nature.
This all bodes well for the users who will have more information at their fingertips and the ability to do more with it than ever before. But what about the IT organization? When mobility becomes strategic, how do IT organizations cope with giving users flexibility, while maintaining control and managing costs?
One of the key areas that CIOs and IT managers are focusing on now is how best to manage mobile devices and treat them as the business enablers that they truly are. People are starting to see the value of using devices for more than email. Naturally, once IT departments begin to see multiple business units requesting mobile solutions, they start to move away from tactical point solutions and start to think strategically about a mobility platform that can support multiple devices, networks and back-end systems. (Gartner Group calls this approach Multichannel Access Gateways and they predict that at least half of all companies will take this approach within the next two years. ) As IT managers juggle the mobility requirements, user preferences and budget requirements of different business units across the enterprise, they soon realize that when it comes to mobility solutions, one size clearly does not fit all.
A mobile [r]evolution
Traditionally, field service has been the poster child for enterprise mobility since by nature it involves the delivery of timely customer information to a geographically dispersed workforce that is mobile for the majority of their working day. Then came the BlackBerry revolution, awakening executives to the freedom, flexibility and efficiency that could be gained through mobile access to email and business applications.
Now mobility is being demanded not only by field service operations but in a variety of customer-facing roles, all of whom have different needs and device preferences. Many people are taking their personal device into the office, further complicating IT's ability to manage mobility. It is not difficult to see why there is a need for an organizational mobility policy that covers security, a portfolio of supported devices, usage guidelines, application support and so forth.
User acceptance has often been cited as one of the major hurdles to successful mobilization of data applications. This is precisely why one of our customers with a global field service organization set up working groups to consult its field service engineers on their device preferences and mobile application interface requirements, well before it standardized on a hosted enterprise mobility solution.
In fact, most of our customers find their end users' input invaluable and critical to the success of a mobility project. 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. As Rob Bamforth, principle 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."
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.
The cost of change
One of the major issues concerning IT 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.
Along with the increased performance and reliability of wireless networks, the continued improvements of wireless devices have been a catalyst for growth of the mobile business application market. Devices have become increasingly powerful, durable, usable -- and most importantly -- less expensive. IT departments can get bogged down considering the realm of hardware available with newer, as yet unknown, devices coming onto the market offering immediate and significant incremental business value and/or cost-reduction opportunities. With some employees becoming more dependent on their mobile devices than their desktop PCs, the enterprise mobility strategy must include the flexibility to minimize disruption if the company needs to switch devices to accommodate mergers or acquisitions, change of operator, customer demands or new technologies.
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.
Spanning the globe
When rolling out mobile applications to thousands of users across multiple territories it is vital to choose software that supports the majority of devices without needing any modification. So whether staff work on PDAs, Pocket PCs, BlackBerry smartphones, notebooks or laptops, or even a touch-tone phone using IVR, they should still receive the same updates from the back-end applications, no matter if they are communicating via GPRS, CDMA or even a two-way paging network. This means you must deploy a flexible and extensible software solution that supports multiple languages and both wireless device and network variances without any costly reengineering of the application.
Field sales and service can 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 use his laptop for diagnostics, but will reach for his BlackBerry to log the call, order parts and close out a job. A field sales representative at a very important meeting in a restaurant is unlikely to fire up a laptop at the table. But would have no problem using her Windows Mobile powered smartphone to place an order or email a quotation to the customer on the spot.
No matter what device is being used for the job in hand, the IT department must consider a strategic mobility platform that allows it to deploy a single mobile application to multiple device operating systems. With this approach, data is rendered appropriately for different device types automatically so developers or business analysts can focus on the optimization of business processes instead.
Host with the most
I stated earlier that simplification reduces cost. One significant way to simplify application delivery is to use a hosted on-demand model, which offloads the end-to-end management of a mobility solution to a mobility specialist with a Network Operations Center. With the on-demand approach, customers allow us to fully manage their mobile business solution -- from the application management to network monitoring and back-end integration. This visibility into all aspects of the mobile implementation provides customers with a service solution that specifically addresses their organizational objectives and the needs of their mobile workforces.
Analysts at Unstrung advise that "if the use of BlackBerrys, Treos or other mobile messaging devices extends beyond a few top executives, it is time to consider outsourcing the management thereof." Using a hosted model allows central management of applications and devices, with different user privileges for different groups. Depending on the service provider, this model can also enable 24x7 monitoring of multiple networks around the world, to guarantee message delivery.
The on-demand or "Software-as-a-Service" model continues to enjoy significant growth and this is driving the CRM market overall. The next logical step is to extend this hosted software to the field sales and service staff that have most contact with your customers. This means getting critical data held within enterprise CRM and ERP systems 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 a field service worker is to route the message to a land line 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 is not always about accessing data from a PDA or smartphone -- 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.
About the author: Gregg Plekan, an industry veteran with more than 23 years experience in the technology, communications and utilities markets, oversees Antenna Software's product management and strategy initiatives. Antenna delivers real business mobility, providing enterprises with a unified platform that extends critical software applications to wireless devices, helping mobile employees to amplify their effectiveness. Built on open standards, the Antenna Mobility Platform™ (AMP) is flexible, scalable and enables IT departments to mobilize one or many applications across a full spectrum of mobile and wireless device platforms. Having a decade of success with more than 120 customers like AT&T, Pitney Bowes, DIRECTV, Heineken Ireland and EMC, Antenna is recognized by industry experts and leaders for its outstanding commitment to quality and service. For more information, visit antennasoftware.com.