Since its founding in 1995, AvantGo has managed to carve out a respectable market niche by first providing a way for mobile users to easily access public or corporate data on their PDAs or remote notebook PCs, and then offering technology and services that let companies develop their own mobile applications.
In fact, the company’s efforts at content aggregation and presentation were so successful that the technology quickly became commonplace on nearly every PDA and mobile device in existence. While most consumers downloaded and used the client software for free—which allowed them to access and automatically download updated electronic versions of a variety of newspaper and magazines—businesses also signed on and used the enterprise version to mobilize applications and develop Web portals for their field and sales force workers. Major companies like General Electric and British Petroleum used the technology not only to channel Web-based information out to their mobile workforce, but also to develop customized forms-based applications that could be easily used and adapted in the field.
While successful, this sales and marketing strategy has changed quite a bit since the company’s original charter, even after it was acquired earlier this year by database software maker Sybase, which now runs it under its Anywhere Solutions division. Today, AvantGo is much more focused on providing highly adaptable vertical solutions that can easily be customized and used by remote teams of enterprise workers.
One area of interest, for example, is forms-based inspection processes that involve small groups of mobile workers who continually collect information and often make changes to the forms that are used. “There are very few instances where forms don’t change,” explains Ojas Rege, senior director of product management at AvantGo, noting that there is always a need to add context to a particular question to provide a more complete and useful answer. This is especially true of one of the company’s customers, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is making changes to electronic forms as it inspects water quality.
In fact, demand from customers involved in the inspections field prompted AvantGo to develop and recently release a new product that is designed specifically for field inspectors, called Mobile Inspection. The customizable software is designed for vertical inspection applications, and reportedly helps reduce inspection errors, speeds information flow and improves inspector productivity and data quality. It can be used on both PocketPC and Palm-based operating system platforms.
AvantGo’s marketing strategy targeting the public sector has also shifted more toward offering specific types of forms-based systems to vertical segments that can be easily adapted and changed by users in the field. The reason, says Rege, is that mobile teams within large corporations are being asked to perform more duties while out in the field, so their software tools must be flexible enough to keep up with diverse demands. These companies must also deal with employee turnover and mobile training issues, which are less of a concern when the software can easily be changed and takes on more of an instructional role. “I see a lot of people being limited by their technology,” he points out.
AvantGo is not the only mobile solutions company that has taken a vertical and more targeted approach to developing and selling products to mobile professionals in specific industries. Extended Systems, based in Boise, Idaho, has long recognized the value of thoroughly knowing an industry’s core business model, and applying laser-focused marketing tactics to promote, sell and enhance its mobile synchronization products for specialized areas.
Down on the Pharma
This is particularly true in the company’s pharmaceutical unit, which develops and sells mobile solutions that support sales teams working for drug manufacturers. In fact, a number of Extended’s salespeople originally hail from the pharmaceuticals industry, so they know very well the demands and challenges faced each day. Concerns that are unique to the pharmaceuticals industry, for example, include:
•Tracking the latest government rules and regulations restricting how much time and money can be spent on sales to individual doctors and how contacts are developed within the medical community;
•Maintaining careful records and journals of sales activities that target doctors and medical workers;
•Making the best use of the limited time most pharmaceutical salespeople have in communicating and interacting with doctors (which in the case of initial contacts, is often limited to 45 seconds or less);
•Keeping up on the latest news and developments surrounding drug testing and trials, which is important in building a strong advisory relationship with doctor clients;
•Maintaining a sharp competitive and knowledge edge against the competition, which is getting more challenging as the number of potential doctor-clients shrinks because of consolidation among hospitals and a more centralized approach to healthcare and purchasing.
Fortunately, most of the people involved in pharmaceutical sales are already convinced of the effectiveness and ROI benefits of mobile sales and CRM products. They are also sold on the benefits of using devices such as PDAs to reach into remote databases and pull out specific information for their doctor clients.
Mobile Automation CEO Doug Neal is also a firm believer in taking a strong vertical approach when pitching mobile solutions to the enterprise. His company specializes in mobile systems management solutions that can be used to control software distribution, track computing assets, coordinate system configurations and perform a host of other management duties for notebook PCs, as well as all types of handheld systems.
While these solutions can be applied across a horizontal plane, Doug and his crew often find themselves selling solutions that target specific industry niches. “It’s a more efficient and tailored pitch when it is packaged as a vertical presentation,” he notes.
A vertical approach, for example, is effective in the healthcare industry because the companies involved in this segment must deal with unique rules, such as government-mandated HIPAA regulations that target everything from doctor’s offices to medical equipment suppliers.
“File synchronization and security are very important,” Neal notes. Mobile Automation also tailors its approach for those in the financial industries, because they must deal with unique rules governing inventory assets and record keeping. “Playing to these vertical segments is key to our market,” he says, noting that roughly 15 percent of the company’s present business flows through reseller channels that host Mobile Automation solutions and sub-license the apps to individual clients.
Tailoring generic solutions to specific vertical markets is also a key strategy for ReefEdge, a wireless LAN networking company that specializes in developing applications to help enterprises deploy, manage and secure their mission-critical wireless networks. The company directs sales activities through a worldwide network of channel partners and system integrators who have an intimate knowledge of the businesses and business models in which they deal.
“There is a recognition that the [wireless] market has matured,” explains CTO Sandeep Singhal, although what clients are buying and how they buy it differs dramatically from one industry segment to the next. Executives in the retail and healthcare industries, for instance, are interested in large-scale wireless solutions.
However, customers on the retail side usually want “systems-level solutions that solve all their problems,” he observes. On the other hand, government clients are more interested in collections of services and how those services react to each other.
“Ultimately, though, everyone wants to get the system up and running as quickly as possible,” says Singhal, which means the company usually starts by offering generic products and services, and then customizes these packages to fit each individual vertical need and application.
Vertical approaches are often based more on the intended use of the technology, rather than the strict definition of a particular business segment. This is the case at Chantry Networks, a
developer of large-scale wireless LANs that employ a routed IP architecture. Because the company’s technology is adept at subscriber management, or tracking the identities and locations of users within a large area, the strategy is to focus on such applications as university campuses, large hotels and resorts, and convention centers. The company is also looking into service-oriented environments where wireless data must be directly channeled to individual areas and users within that space.
“By placing beacon points wherever they are needed, you can have a completely managed world and bring data and information back into control,” says Peter Vicars, Chantry’s CEO. He points out that while the hospitality and trade show/convention industries are prime vertical targets for the company, he and his team are also looking at the uncarpeted world of manufacturing and in-building workforce automation.
The education segment is also a prime target, he adds, pointing out that widely dispersed Cornell University is a beta site for the technology. The financial services industries are also interesting, but the key, he says, is not to “go down the path of chasing everyone and every company on Wall Street.” •
Tim Scannell is president of Shoreline Research (www.shorelineresearch.com), a consultancy based in Quincy, Mass.