'Guaranteed ROI'
Posted: 04.04 - Interview by Matt Purdue

There might be some Linux wonks out there who will pry themselves away from their Apple PowerBooks and Jolt Cola long enough to argue the point, but most of us will concede that Microsoft owns the desktop—and the laptop and the Tablet PC, for that matter. And if history serves as any guide, the folks from Redmond will be focused on dominating the one area where the OS is still up for grabs: the mobile and wireless space. So what’s Microsoft’s battle plan? We spoke with Doug Dedo, marketing manager for enterprise strategy for Microsoft’s Mobile Devices Division, to get the scoop.

Mobile Enterprise: Bill Gates has said many times that his vision is delivering data when we need it, where we need it. Is it intimidating for you when you hear that?

Doug Dedo: That’s a consistent message Bill’s been delivering. When he wrote his book he highlighted information at your fingertips as a key vision. He saw the PC as the first stage of delivering that, then put that into our server investments and the development of new technology. Now we’re taking the client software and creating the Windows Mobile platform that enables more clients to consume that information.
One of the biggest adaptations he made was going from just having information at your fingertips to information anytime, anywhere and on any device. That’s when it really got personal for us working in the PDA and smartphone space, because “on any device” started to communicate our belief that there are going to be many computing platforms.
It sure helps when your founder acknowledges what you’re doing as part of the overall vision. And we are delivering on that.

ME: How is the uptake of Windows Mobile as an umbrella brand? Do you feel you’ve cut through the confusion in this area?

DD: I think the uptake has been positive, but there are still a lot of people who don’t understand this space particularly well. Our effort was to try to simplify the messaging around the software that enables these devices to be created.

We are moving from an approach of creating a new OS for different shapes and sizes of devices. We knew that was not sustainable, for our hardware manufacturers or the developers. So a few years ago we realized we needed to align our core software on one platform to enable multiple devices to be built from that.

Windows Mobile 2003 is the culmination of that development effort. Now between Pocket PCs and smartphones we have a shared operating system. About 20 percent of the code is different because of the physical differences in the devices and user interfaces.

When we got to a point where we had one core OS platform, we thought it was important to give it one name; we think it resonates well.
ME: So where do you see the device market going?

DD: It’s always fun to juxtapose what is happening with mobile devices with what we saw happen with the PC. In the mid ’80s you could have found [experts] writing that PCs were a niche compared with the massive amounts of 3270 terminals that were accessing data on mainframes. And [other experts] writing that the PC was going to enable people to access infinitely more data than a terminal. At the time, both of them were absolutely right.

In those early days the number of terminals was so much larger, but the trendline was very clear. The PCs were taking us to a new age of computing. I would argue that we are in the exact same boat with PDAs and smartphones.

Microsoft just started shipping our first smartphones with our partners a year ago. Is it realistic to think that overnight people will throw out their cellphones and use a smartphone? Unrealistic.

I’ve also seen this behavior in the enterprise. I’ve seen enterprises in the U.S., once they’ve realized what a small and powerful computing platform they are, going to buy smartphones in Europe to start their development efforts in the U.S. When AT&T Wireless and Verizon started shipping Microsoft smartphones in the U.S., these enterprises were ready to take advantage of these with pilots. Some of the enterprises discovered the value of these early on are taking extraordinary steps to jump on the bandwagon and put their applications in place and start building up their expertise.

On the other hand, PDAs have been around five or six years and are much better understood. What we’re seeing is that the numbers are slowing down in the consumer space because of economic factors. But in the enterprise space we’re seeing our market share growing while the rest of the market is flat or decreasing—and that’s because of enterprise adoption.

ME: There is definitely a school of thought that mobile ROI is so hard to come by because success is predicated on the performance of the device, the application and the wireless network.

DD: You’re right: Those three legs of the technology stool have to be solid for it to stand. But there are two aspects to ROI that come up.
The first is where you can’t get your ROI: You cannot get a financially justifiable ROI from wireless e-mail. To get guaranteed ROI, I encourage companies to look for business processes that today are still based on paper.

That is so helpful for someone trying to go to a wireless application [because] paper indicates that existing technologies, including laptops, have not been sufficient to automate that process—either because the laptop is too heavy compared to the paper or it cannot run long enough. That gives you an opportunity for new technology to step in.

The second part that makes this such a great ROI opportunity is when you put data on paper, someone [must enter] that data into a computer. When you remove the data-entry step from the process you are removing a fairly large cost factor. If the person collecting the data upfront is also the data entry person, there is an immediate hard-cost savings.

What typically happens is that many other factors emerge that strengthen ROI. First, when you move to an electronic form on a digital device, it saves you time collecting data. Now you can populate the form with drop-downs that make sure they enter valid data; you also can ensure that mandatory fields are filled in.

In this process we’re finding that data-capture times can be reduced by about 50 percent, on average, and the completeness and quality of data is much higher, reducing costly errors. And all of this can be measured and has financial implications.

Increased productivity, improved quality of data, reduced hard costs for data entry and ROI in 6 to 12 months [are] very powerful incentives for enterprises to move forward.

ME: So does this industry need an ROI template, or ROI calculator to enhance the uptake of these projects?

DD: I don’t think you can have a simple ROI calculator because of the complexities of these deals. When you start doing business process reengineering, it is not just plugging the numbers into a spreadsheet and cranking out ROI. It is asking: How are we working today and how can we streamline these business efforts? You will never get that from a simple ROI calculator.

ME: PalmSource has introduced the Cobalt OS, which supports multitasking, more memory and larger screens. How does this change the landscape?

DD: We see the Palm announcement primarily as catch-up work. Microsoft implemented native ARM, multitasking and strong security features in Windows Mobile years ago. We are focusing on supporting complete enterprise solutions for different market segments rather than focusing on infrastructure components.•


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