The three vendors and AT&T had one answer for flustered IT managers: Work through a vendor or a carrier.
The panelists pointed to three challenges that await any IT manager looking to expand their mobile IT strategy: The lack of best practices, the business case, and standards fragmentation.
For the first problem, the vendors and the carrier panelists said there is no easy answer. IT managers will have to examine their internal processes carefully to determine the best way to leverage mobility in their existing IT networks. There will likely be a lot of customization and the CIOs have to work with business managers for this process to work.
As for the business case, IT managers have to learn to work through both the soft business case (enhanced productivity, extending communications) and the harder business case (direct cost savings, more revenue, and greater profitability). Neither is easy to establish, but if businesses have deployed mobile e-mail, chances are it has proven its worth in their respective orginizations. Learning how to use past success, like push e-mail, to push for more mobility is key.
Fragmentation remains a serious issue for mobility. Fragmentation is threefold: Networks, devices, and operating systems. On the network side, there are two cellular network standards in the U.S. -- CDMA and GSM. CIOs and IT managers have to make sure that they standardize against one carrier to avoid balkanization of their applications. As for devices, there are all kinds of mobile gadgets in most enterprises, including notebooks, PDAs, smartphones, and feature phones. A truly effective mobile application should be able to work across these devices without losing functionality.
The final form of fragmentation is operating systems, particularly on mobile devices. Most mobile devices in the United States run applications on Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, and mobile Java. Enterprises have to be willing to standardize against the mobile operating system as well if they hope to effectively leverage their new deployments.
I came away with a couple of interesting findings from the discussion. The first was that many larger companies with field workers are looking beyond ruggedized devices and beginning to look at consumer-grade smartphones. Now that smartphones are relatively cheap, many businesses are opting to replace consumer-grade devices once a year rather than spend a premium on a more robust gadget. Does this mean that ruggedized notebooks and PDAs will soon disappear? Or will their market share just gradually decline? I think it is too early to call this one.
The second thing that emerged from the discussion was how easy BlackBerry is to deploy. The end-user on the panel said that he had carefully reviewed every option but, in the end, he went with BlackBerry. Why? Because BlackBerry was easy to deploy, easy to use, and it was easy for employees to understand.
In my opinion, the unspoken takeaway from this panel was that the mobile vendor or carrier that can make deploying complex data applications as easy as BlackBerry will win this market.