Solution provider takeaway: A poorly integrated mobile device can cause many user problems, including a lack of connectivity and access to important systems, such as email. Solution providers can offer mobile device integration services to help their customers avoid such consequences by choosing the right mobile operating system (OS) for a customer's needs. This tip provides advice on recommending an operating system for mobile devices, including a mobile OS comparison, as well as factors to consider from customer to customer.
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With the launch of new mobile devices such as Netbooks, Android smartphones and forthcoming handheld devices running the Windows Mobile 7 OS, many organizations are contemplating how to incorporate and integrate those devices into their enterprise data systems. A poorly integrated device can mean a lack of connectivity, inability to access systems such as enterprise email, and the inability to track and manage the devices. For most organizations, mobile device integration will be new territory, and most will turn to their solution providers for help with choosing a mobile device OS.
Solution providers will find that the latest devices will create a paradigm shift when it comes to mobile device integration. In the past, most mobile devices were integrated based on the manufacturer's proprietary software. For example, the ever popular BlackBerry device relied on RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) to integrate BlackBerry devices into corporate email and scheduling applications. That integration also relied on carrier involvement and required extensive support and the associated costs, which was good news for solution providers that were RIM partners.
That situation has changed. Where the BlackBerry was once a unique product, it is now just another device in a growing field of competing products. However, there is another paradigm shift, one that proves to be an enabling factor for solution providers, which comes in the form of mobile device management based on the device operating system. While BlackBerrys, iPhones and other products used closed, proprietary operating systems (OS), many new devices on the market are using a third-party OS, which changes the integration equation from device centric to platform centric.
For solution providers, this is good news -- they no longer have to partner with a hardware vendor to offer integration capabilities, and they can choose to mix and match devices based on the platform, no longer tied to a single physical product. That means solution providers can recommend products that fit a customer's needs and then offer the integration and management services that leverage the full capabilities of a mobile device platform.
Choosing a mobile device OS
There are several mobile device OS available, and each has its own intricacies. Picking the one that works best for your customers could prove to be a complex endeavor. Here is a mobile OS comparison:
- Android: Google's very own smartphone operating system. It integrates well with Google's services and is open source. More than 10,000 add-on applications are available at the Android Market, and solution providers can build their own applications.
- BlackBerry: A very well-established smartphone OS, known for its easy-to-use messaging and management functions, as well as integration to corporate productivity suites. More than 3,000 additional applications are available at BlackBerry App World.
- iPhone OS: Offers innovative features and extensive multimedia capabilities. Apple's App Store offers more than 100,000 applications for purchase and download.
- Palm: One of the older OS, now being replaced by WebOS, which offers the ability to run multiple concurrent applications. WebOS works well for calendaring and contact handling, as well as email and Web surfing. The Palm App Catalog offers more than 200 applications.
- Symbian: Offered primarily on Nokia smartphones, Symbian works well with touch-screens and offers basic capabilities, such as the ability to edit MS Office documents. The Nokia Ovi store offers more than 5,500 content elements, ranging from applications to videos to ring tones.
- Windows Mobile: Offers excellent compatibility with Microsoft applications, such as MS Office and MS exchange. It supports advanced document management control via integration with Microsoft's SharePoint and synchronizes with Microsoft Outlook. Microsoft offers more than 550 applications on the Microsoft Market Place for Mobile.
Factors to consider when offering mobile device integration and management services
Of course, solution providers will not want to blindly dive into a market as complex as mobile devices without understanding some basic best practices. Those best practices are based on some obvious conclusions and some not so obvious considerations. Perhaps the best starting point comes down to selecting a mobile device OS on which to standardize. Solution providers should consider the following factors:
- What functions does the device need to support?
- Will customized software be needed?
- How will the device integrate with corporate data services?
- How secure does the device need to be?
- Will the device be shared among multiple users?
- What platforms are used by corporate IT?
- Will additional software and integration services be needed for deployment?
- What are the cost factors (device, support, service)?
Those factors can help to narrow down the choices while speeding adoption and deployments. Another critical consideration is device management. Solution providers looking to offer services that include management of mobile devices will want to verify which mobile device OS will work with a particular management solution. That compatibility matrix will also have to be weighed against the services available under a management platform. Management platforms may include capabilities such as "remote device wipe," automated provisioning, security policy enforcement, VPN connectivity and many other capabilities. That translates into a selection methodology that identifies management needs and matches the OS to those needs via the management tools available, which in turn determines the best devices to sell.
With a little bit of planning and some due diligence, solution providers should be able to pick mobile devices that meet customer needs while providing agreeable margins and creating long-term service opportunities.