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Mobile vendors shifting focus from platforms to apps

Mobile device vendors have stopped selling platforms and started selling applications that target specific business processes. According to a Yankee Group analyst, the emergence of more useful, prepackaged mobile applications to access networked information means lower costs for some companies.

As IT budgets have become tighter and companies have begun looking for solid returns on their technology investments, mobile device vendors have changed their strategies. Rather than offering technology platforms to mobilize data, they are now beginning to offer applications that target specific business processes.

That will help companies find more immediate ROI for their mobile deployments, said Eugene Signorini, a senior analyst with the Boston research firm Yankee Group and the author of a recent report on the subject. Signorini also told why companies need to keep their eyes on the big picture. What trends are changing in the mobile enterprise market?
Eugene Signorini: Initially, we saw the emergence of the wireless platform vendors, companies that offered middleware to connect mobile users to back-end applications. But enterprises were not ready to invest in such broad platforms. They required integration and development work and application design. The trend now is to address workflow and business process with prepackaged applications. So vendors are now targeting business process and working from the outside in. What is driving that?
Signorini: Companies are not looking to purchase infrastructure; they are looking to solve business problems. Smart vendors have developed expertise in business processes, which they can then tie back into technology. They can look at where return on investment can be gained and can create efficiencies and increase productivity, especially for field service personnel and the sales force. What kinds of applications are these companies offering?
Signorini: In general, they are involved in creating applications for field technicians and salespeople and mobile executives, places where improvements can be clearly measured. For example, pharmaceutical sales representatives have a short period of time to make their sale, and they need quick access to information on their products. There is also a tremendous interest in some horizontal applications, such as mobile e-mail access. Will businesses see more targeted and useful applications?
Signorini: Yes. The most natural thing to do is to take what is on the laptop and extend that to mobile devices. But users have different requirements when they are sitting in front of a PC and when they are mobile. They may need some information from CRM applications, but they may not need full access. Vendors are better at understanding what is required in mobile applications and how that is different. Does that change the model? Are there more hosted services?
Signorini: It varies. Most enterprises have run mobile applications behind their firewalls. E-mail, however, has been an interesting mix. Companies are sensitive to privacy and security with e-mail, but some vendors have made headway. Wireless carrier Sprint offers a hosted wireless e-mail service. With a secure sockets layer (SSL) virtual private network (VPN), users can have a secure connection back to the enterprise e-mail server. The carrier, instead of the enterprise, hosts the mobile application. But for the most part, hosted wireless services have not been popular because companies want to keep that critical information in-house. Does this make mobile applications more affordable for small companies?
Signorini: Yes. In the past, a lot of applications were highly customized. With prepackaged applications, you don't have to go through the business process consulting; there is less integration and development. Once you have the platform in place, the application will interact well. But mobile applications still require quite a bit of investment. In general, the horizontal applications appeal more to the small and medium businesses than the vertical applications. Will companies still need to make significant infrastructure investments to support mobile applications?
Signorini: You have to start with the workflow you want to target and then put in the infrastructure that allows you to expand to different groups of workers in the future. For example, Pepsi Bottling Group implemented an application for sales people at their retail channels to help process orders. The next step is to expand that system to the delivery personnel. They need the infrastructure to easily extend the application to different sets of workers. That is why companies still need a mobile platform. How should companies balance mobile point solutions with a broader strategy for mobility?
Signorini: I don't know that companies have given this a tremendous amount of thought yet. If they have a driving need for a mobile application for field service workers, they are not yet thinking about integrating with their overall application infrastructure. But they need to think about that, [and] about which applications may be mobile a few years from now. Where do you see this market heading over the next 12 to 18 months?
Signorini: Vendors will continue to focus on business processes to help companies justify deploying mobile applications. Enterprises will also begin to think more about how mobility integrates with the existing enterprise infrastructure. The winners are likely to be the traditional IT vendors, such as IBM and Oracle, or the system integrators, like Accenture or HP. Working with enterprises in the fixed environment will help them push those applications into the mobile environment.


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