The panel opened with a simple question: Is the mobile business market finally ready for primetime? The answer was a strong yes for vertical markets and almost but not quite for the mobile office.
Dexterra's Benjamin Wesson pointed out that many of the roadblocks to mobilizing business applications are the same today as they were ten years ago. Porting complicated business processes to small devices with limited displays and processor power is still tough work, even with better devices and 3G networks.
Motorola's Leah Gabriel was quick to counter Wesson, pointing out that in vertical markets, like field service, the market for mobile business applications has exploded in the last 18 months. Field service groups in industries like utilities, aerospace, public safety, and industrial equipment are spending heavily on mobility and they are seeing significant return on their investment.
Cynthia Zanelli of AT&T said that use of RFID technology for field services was taking off. Zanellli claimed firms were seeing ROI from RFID deployments in a matter of months, not years.
Aberdeen's Winthrop said that one of the biggest challenges for mobile applications was determining a real ROI. Certain applications, like Sales Force Automation (SFA), CRM, and field service have shown hard ROI while others, like messaging, often show only softer returns.
Winthrop added that mobile applications can also include other types of technologies besides just wide-area cellular networks. For example, unified communications is fast becoming a mobile application, and is not just the domain of VoIP and campus-centric networks.
The panel then shifted to change. What changed in the last few years that has allowed verticals, like field service, to really take off?
Gabriel stressed that many organizations no longer see field service as a cost center but as a profit center. Once this strategic re-alignment was complete, it was easy to justify spending on mobility. But for some organizations it took seeing the advantages in mobility for this transformation to occur.
Wesson said that mash-ups were making a lot of the business growth with mobility possible. Composite applications allowed organizations to tie together several disparate systems -- Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, etc. -- into useable applications that could be ported to smartphones. These technologies just weren't available a few years ago.
Despite all this progress, though, many organizations still don't mobilize. Winthrop gave two reasons many IT groups do not: 1.) The companies don't have enough mobile workers and 2.) The organizations have other IT priorities.
Wesson added that one big barrier to adoption remains security. Not just security of the network connection, but security of the data on the devices. Device management still needs some improvement before many companies will feel comfortable mobilizing.
Both Gabriel and Wesson agreed that all companies need to look at out-of-the-box solutions before they plan to mobilize any application. Many companies still think they need to build custom mobile apps but this approach doesn't work. And those companies waiting to mobilize because they think they need to customize are loosing out on potential ROI and business gains by doing so.