Are The Carriers Killing Business Mobility?

Welcome to Take 5, a regular feature on <a href=""><em>Over The Air</em></a> where we sit down with a wireless industry insider to talk shop about mobility and business IT. This week's guest, Daniel Taylor, was the head of the <a href="">Mobile Enterprise Alliance</a>. Unfortunately, the MEA has decided to dissolve (more on that <a href="">here</a>) and Taylor is moving on to a new role

Stephen Wellman, Contributor

July 27, 2007

9 Min Read

Welcome to Take 5, a regular feature on Over The Air where we sit down with a wireless industry insider to talk shop about mobility and business IT. This week's guest, Daniel Taylor, was the head of the Mobile Enterprise Alliance. Unfortunately, the MEA has decided to dissolve (more on that here) and Taylor is moving on to a new role. Earlier this week I sat down with Taylor to discuss the MEA's decision to close and how this move could impact the future of business mobility.Over The Air: Hello, Daniel. Thank you for agreeing to speak with us about the closing of the Mobile Enterprise Alliance. Can you tell us a little bit about what the MEA tried to accomplish? Daniel Taylor: In 2003, we founded an organization with the mission of promoting workforce mobility by publishing case studies, doing research, and getting key stakeholders involved in everything from industry events to webinars and an eNewsletter. One of our early goals was to define the terms "mobile enterprise" and "enterprise mobility" as general descriptors of workforce mobility, and in this regard, we were extremely successful. We collected over one hundred case studies and grew our membership to over 2,500 IT managers in more than 40 countries around the globe. Also, we were able -- early on -- to become the lead organization representing the industry, the technology and the IT managers tasked with making mobility work. We partnered with key industry events, assisted in program development and even placed qualified speakers into those events. Other programs, like the Mobile Impact Awards, were more successful than we ever imagined, driving case studies, content for media partners, research with analyst partners, and speakers for industry event partners. When we started, we couldn't get Gartner to give us the time of day, but once the Awards gained traction, Gartner started gleaning our case studies, coming to us for assistance with speaker placement at their conferences. I'm extremely proud of the things we've been able to accomplish as a small nonprofit.

OTA: That's a pretty impressive list of accomplishments. Let's like to shift to a related topic. Almost all of the CIOs and IT managers I meet with these days seem eager to expand their mobility offerings. But they are stuck due in large part to the lack of best practices and common standards. Is this because there are no open standards? DT: It would be convenient to say that the lack of standards is the issue, but the true challenge is the lack of meaningful standards. In order to have market impact, standards have to mean something to end users and IT managers alike. I have a great deal of respect for Wi-Fi Alliance, because they have been extremely successful in using branding and certification programs to lend meaning to the IEEE 802.11 family of standards. In the case of Wi-Fi, it's not that there weren't standards, rather it took an organization (with a tremendous amount of vendor support) to create a brand that -- by its very nature -- defines interoperability with other Wi-Fi products. 802.11 is a standard, but Wi-Fi is a brand.

The way this plays out in the enterprise is that mobility managers often come from different backgrounds, and it's rare to see an IT manager equally schooled in computing, software architectures, networking, messaging, security, carrier services and vendor management disciplines. When the time comes to spec out an RFP, that document usually reflects the backgrounds of the people who created it, and the result is that some RFPs are extremely detailed about architecture and computing but fall short on the details of carrier services, device management and networking. The obverse is also true, and I have seen organizations learning the hard way each and every day. The demands presented by mobility often require IT managers to have broad "Renaissance"-style IT backgrounds, and there are some truly talented individuals managing mobility in IT organizations, but that's the exception rather than the rule. And this is where standards and brands can come into play -- to simplify the process and to pre-package the technologies in a way so that more things work "out of the box" than they do today. Mobility is hard, and what we need from vendors and carriers are the standards, interoperability, certification and branding to make it easier for IT managers to deploy and manage mobile solutions. For example, take the iPhone. How does an IT manager deploy services to it? What management tools give the IT department visibility onto the device? What services and software are compatible with it? How can the IT department define a "base line" level of services for iPhone users? If we managed enterprise mobility like Wi-Fi, there'd be a brand (just like Wi-Fi) that would lead IT managers to a set of compatible and interoperable products and services.

OTA: Why were carriers and vendors so unwilling to work to create open standards for mobile devices? DT: This is simply a matter of perspective. The hard-charging managers at both the vendors and the mobile operators justify their own existence by talking about numbers, about ROI, and even about gross margins, They make difficult decisions with hard figures. But they're the wrong numbers assembled in the wrong way with the wrong priorities. Priorities that don't even match up to vendor and carrier marketing. I'm talking about the artificial distinction between "consumer" and "enterprise" markets. This is a distinction that both the carriers and mobile device vendors actively blur with marketing and advertising. Go to a trade show. Read a magazine. Watch television. Look online. And you'll see that the device manufacturers and the carriers believe in the formula of the consumer market plus the carrier retail channel -- they believe in giving users technologies that ultimately end up in the workplace. So if you believe the marketing, everyone wants users to choose their own device and to take it to work with them. The next step (not stated, of course) is for IT to "make it work." Herein lies the challenge. There are two groups of users: "consumers" and "enterprise." The necessity of accounting requires us to put users in one of these two groups according to unflinching binary logic. Either you're one or the other, and according to the financial statements, there's no such thing as a consumer who spends half of his money every month on corporate uses. Even though this is precisely how things play out. Unless you're out of the workforce altogether, chances are that you're both a worker and a consumer at the same time. This is what the vendors and mobile operators tell us, but when the time comes to measure the performance of corporate-focused products and services, only the users and subscribers with 100% attribution to "enterprise" are actually counted. I can count on my hand the number of Fortune 100 companies that assume full corporate liability for worker cellular plans. Everyone else relies on personal liability for those plans, meaning that the bulk of corporate cellular spend is actually "consumer" market dollars that never gets counted as "enterprise." We then add these numbers, the enterprise groups come up woefully short. Motorola's "enterprise" group doesn't get credit for millions of handsets that are used every day by people at work -- they only get recognized for sales of products like the Motorola Q smartphone. The same goes for Nokia, AT&T, Sprint Nextel, Vodafone, Orange and others. If it isn't a smartphone, a corporate account or BlackBerry service; it isn't "enterprise." As a result, the enterprise teams remain in subsistence mode and find themselves constantly justifying their own existence. A standards activity won't yield short-term results (next quarter, next year) and therefore isn't a priority. I'd like to see this change.

OTA: Everyone is talking about device management these days but it seems no one is doing anything about it. Is real device management possible without some form of open standards for mobile devices? DT: Yes, it's possible, and it's being done today. Take one look at Sybase iAnywhere's Afaria product, and you'll see what I mean -- that's the textbook definition of mobile device management. Absent any other changes, it's only a matter of time before the enterprise management vendors (and associated IT professionals) will seek to integrate between mobile and enterprise management platforms. Enterprise management seems to function perfectly well without open standards among the platforms. The challenge lies in the future as enterprises and carriers seek to manage the same devices. In a world without networks, we can get by without open standards for mobile device management, but once you bring the mobile operators into the equation, open standards become a necessity. For example, suppose you invest in Afaria today and get everything ticking along just fine. And one day, one of the carriers servicing your company turns on their OMA DM-compliant over-the-air management platform and starts pushing updates to your mobile devices. What happens then? Who's in charge? What things can the enterprise change? What things can the carrier change? And what happens when one party tries to over-write the other? There will be questions about handset subsidies and the rights that the subsidy and contract create for the carrier. There will be questions about how these polices vary from one carrier to another. One carrier may try to push users onto carrier Wi-Fi services, while others will happily let their customers specify iPass or another competitor. Some vendors have said that OMA DM can answer these questions without any changes, but that's the same as saying that IEEE 802.11 is the same thing as Wi-Fi. And that's why we need a separate activity that involves the enterprise, enterprise vendors and anyone else with a vested interest in making certain that OMA DM doesn't wreak havoc on enterprise management. OTA: Now that the MEA is closing, you've decided to go back to being an analyst, but this time you're going to cover the consumer market. Does this mean that you think the mobile business market is doomed to the status quo? DT: It's a toss up that can go either way. I honestly believe that the most innovative next-generation mobile operator will succeed by eliminating the cancerous groupthink that accompanies terminology like "cannibalization" and "ARPU." These are arcane ideas that simply have to go. So rather than spending my time leading the proverbial horse to water, I'm headed towards a part of the market driven by innovation and creativity. In the long run, innovation in Web 2.0, facilitated experiences, advertising-supported business models, social networking and other areas will help the carriers to change course and re-focus their business models. As long as subscriptions drive things, the status quo will remain. The wild card lies with game-changing companies and business models like Google. It's my hope that one day we look back at the early days of mobility and show our kids museum exhibits of BlackBerry devices. "You mean that you had to carry this thing with you everywhere and it only did e-mail?" they'll ask. We'll just smile, "Yeah. Only e-mail. And it was a huge deal at the time."

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