Take 5: Business Mobility Beyond Push E-mail

Welcome to this week's edition of Take 5, our regular feature on <em><a href="http://www.overtheair.biz">Over The Air</a></em> where we ask a wireless or enterprise IT industry insider five questions about a specific area of interest. This week's guest is Shirley Macbeth, senior director of marketing for <a href="http://www.ianywhere.com/">Sybase iAnywhere</a>. Our topic is "Business Mobility Beyond Push E-mail." Let's dig in.

Stephen Wellman, Contributor

May 10, 2007

6 Min Read

Welcome to this week's edition of Take 5, our regular feature on Over The Air where we ask a wireless or enterprise IT industry insider five questions about a specific area of interest. This week's guest is Shirley Macbeth, senior director of marketing for Sybase iAnywhere. Our topic is "Business Mobility Beyond Push E-mail." Let's dig in.1. How can a business move from a tactical mobile business paradigm -- i.e. let's mobilize e-mail -- to a strategic model where mobility is at the core of an IT strategy?

If a company has had success with one or two point solutions, such as mobile field applications, line of business applications or mobile e-mail, and is considering mobilizing another application or business process (or deploying to more users), it's time for IT managers to consider their mobile architecture needs. An important first step is to recognize mobility as core to part of an overall IT strategy, rather than a silo application.

Key considerations for a company's architecture needs include:

• Integrated device management and security -- With deployments common in the hundreds or even thousands, IT faces unique challenges when managing and securing data, devices and applications that remain outside the four walls the company. IT must have a way to protect against unauthorized access and other security vulnerabilities, wipe data, disable access to lost or stolen devices, and encrypting data transmissions.

• Heterogeneous environment support and independence -- With the rapid proliferation of mobile devices supporting a range of operating systems, organizations should take an open approach. This enables IT and LOB to select the best device(s) for their application(s), rather than be tied to a specific device or OS.

• Ability to work online or offline to have "always available" access to business-critical applications -- Despite improvements in mobile coverage, wireless is still not ubiquitous. In addition, relying on a wireless network to access data can be costly, drains device batteries, and slows application performance. Organizations should look to develop applications that combine local data storage with periodic synchronization of new data.

• Ensuring compatibility among mobile applications -- It's important to ensure that multiple applications aren't competing for bandwidth, "waking" the device at different times (draining battery life), employing conflicted security measures, etc. This can be a complex challenge that is best solved by working with a trusted software vendor that provides an open platform architecture to address the range of an company's mobility needs. Proprietary point solutions can severely limit the extensibility of a company's mobility strategy.

2. What are the vertical industries -- i.e. manufacturing, retail, transportation, etc. -- that are leading the way by using mobile applications and devices? And which verticals have been slower than you expected?

What we're seeing is that industries that are often thought of as slow adopters of technology are actually embracing mobility as a way to streamline business processes. Healthcare in particular is a strong player, moving cumbersome paper-based systems to mobile devices, enabling healthcare workers to maintain records that are more accurate and freeing up time to administer to patients. For example, Peoplefirst Rehabilitation is using mobile devices for more than 6,200 therapists across the country, giving them the power to document daily activities at the point of care, with the ability to synchronize data at regular intervals.

Transportation is another industry that may seem like a surprising mobile leader. As a result of a mobile work order management system, BNSF Railway Company is currently saving $7,500 per day on data entry labor costs.

We're also seeing uptake with mobile field service and sales/field force automation applications across a wide variety of industries, particularly utilities, insurance, retail and government.

3. What are the first applications most businesses look to mobilize after e-mail?

After e-mail, field service and field force automation applications are probably the most common transition to mobile for most companies. Streamlining paper processes is becoming more and more of a high priority. Mobilizing these types of applications yields dramatic and quick ROI - for example, Millstone Coffee realized 30% annual ROI and Pepsi saves $7 million per year with mobile field service applications.

Mobile helpdesks are another up-and-coming application that is gaining traction. Workers in the field need a way to submit problems to the help desk while they are on the go, and businesses who service customers in the field need an easy way to manage tickets rather than waiting till the end of the day to log updates. Mobile helpdesks are helping companies drive efficiency and improve customer service, for both internal and external customers.

Beyond today's mobile applications, the future holds some exciting possibilities. I expect that in another two years we will see more mobile applications that will leverage "presence" technologies, such as mobile IM, to enable real-time collaboration and speed decision-making. I believe we'll also see mobile applications such as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) becoming more prevalent as companies develop more intelligent, context-aware RFID networks that can take data from the RFID sensors and turn it into true business intelligence that aids in the decision-making process. 4. A lot of wireless industry insiders claim that most mobile deployments that go beyond e-mail are customized installations. Is this the case?

For mobile laptop deployments, packaged applications are more common than smartphone environments. There are many reasons for this -- the laptop environment is easier for application vendors to support (Windows being a single platform). Laptops provide a larger interface and faster operation, which allows vendors to more easily create a satisfactory "one size fits all" application.

However, in handheld environments, most of today's deployments do tend to be custom in some way. Application vendors are challenged to support multiple device types and operating systems (Windows Mobile, Symbian, Palm OS). The type of application that is mobilized tends to be very specific to each company's business process, and often involves integration across multiple backend systems. Many mobile "packaged" applications are actually an application framework, which can be quickly customized to suit the needs of a particular company and deployment.

5. What are the biggest concerns IT managers have with a mobile deployment?

The toughest IT challenge is around management and security: how to ensure that frontline applications are as reliable, secure, and available as applications that run within the enterprise. Companies don't often realize that mobility needs to be managed very differently than laptops and desktop machines. IT managers are used to having control of applications and devices within the four walls of their enterprises, but are often unsure how to deal with the complexity of frontline environments. The frontlines are characterized by a variety of different devices, communications networks, and are often beyond direct IT support and control.

IT must deal with issues such as how to update information on mobile devices that are away from the enterprise, how to secure data on the device and during transmission, what to do in the event of a loss or theft of a device. Organizations need to incorporate a mobility strategy as part of their core IT backbone, not as a silo project.

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