Now that we’re well into the first quarter of the year, most enterprises have a good idea of the investments they’ll be making over the coming months. Will those investments be in mobile apps? We pick the brain of the Yankee Group’s Gene Signorinni to see what he thinks will develop as we push further into 2004.
Mobile Enterprise: Wireless infrastructure providers seem focused on bandwidth and applications for the consumer sector. Do mobile enterprises derive benefits or would the needs of enterprises be better met with improved coverage or other upgrades?
Gene Signorinni: Everybody—whether enterprise or consumer—could benefit from improved coverage, but I believe enterprises can derive value from the current focus on upgrading the current networks to next generation support of high-bandwidth data. If you look at the 2G or 1G world, what was good for consumer users was also good for business users. They were intertwined markets; business users were consumers.
As we move toward more segmented applications for voice and data with improvements in bandwidth, business users in the enterprise probably derive more value [from bandwidth] than consumers do. Consumer data applications—messaging, downloading content, ring tones—do not require high data speeds. Applications enabled by next-generation networks—Web browsing or access to enterprise applications—benefit enterprise users.
If there is one area where enterprise users have suffered, it is the devices. Devices have been targeted at the consumer market; we haven’t seen a tremendous focus on integrated wireless devices for business. The enterprise market is smaller and has more risk for manufacturers. As device manufacturers have ramped up for the consumer, the enterprise market has suffered.
ME: Will we see enterprise applications utilizing technologies like picture phones, mobile messaging and push-to-talk?
GS: Well, push-to-talk really is a business application—as we can see from Nextel’s success. They’ve tapped a large portion of the business market with their two-way radio functionality. I really haven’t seen that many specific applications for picture messaging—just anecdotal tales of real estate agents who can send images of properties to prospective buyers or insurance claims adjusters using a camera attachment to capture images of a dented car. But I think they are few and far between. While there are clear benefits to having a digital photo attached to the wireless network, the images on the camera phones are not high in quality; though we are going to see that change over the next several months with megapixel cameras added to phones. So that may change, but I think it will be an ad hoc situation where business users pick up the technology for themselves and discover the benefits rather than see it in packaged enterprise applications.
As far as mobile messaging, beyond e-mail, SMS has not really taken off in the U.S. except in some consumer segments like the teen market. I don’t see tremendous penetration in the enterprise. The one potential area is instant messaging—when we get instant messaging clients onto devices there may be an increase of IM rather than true SMS.
ME: ROI has become a critical threshold for most if not all enterprise deployments. Has there been significant proof of ROI for mobile enterprise solutions?
GS: Among the implementations I have seen, about half had a very strict ROI or cost-benefit analysis prior to the implementation. And in half, it was intuitively understood that there were big benefits without necessarily having a hard and fast ROI.
It comes down to understanding how mobile technologies can impact the business process with some sort of measured benefit, whether that is an ROI depends on how you define that term. It does not always come down to a hard-and-fast, detailed approach. There are definite ROI cases out there, but they are specific to the particular company. It would be very difficult to apply one ROI across different implementations or different companies.
There has to be some cost-benefit analysis done. It may be a more intuitive thing where they understand the costs, but really think they can make up the costs with the technology. That’s a cost-benefit analysis, just not a formal one. But there definitely is no investment in technology for technology’s sake.
And that highlights another trend we are seeing in the mobile software space—a much greater focus on applications rather than platforms. If you look back three years ago, there were a lot of mobile middleware platforms offered with the idea that a company could put them in place and build multiple applications for multiple users on multiple networks for multiple devices. And that obviously didn’t resonate because there have to be applications that can be deployed relatively easily, which can yield measurable benefits and affect the business process. That’s why we are seeing a transformation in the mobile software space toward applications and away from pure platforms.
ME: Are there any new solutions that folks should keep an eye out for?
GS: There are some interesting technologies we have been tracking in what we call “Inter-network mobility management solutions.” They allow for roaming, securing and managing applications across different types of networks such as wide area networks, like 1X, GPRS, or EDGE networks, Wi-Fi/802.11 networks and public hot spots or private wireless LANs.
They help solve some of the challenges regarding the hodgepodge of networks. Organizations can use the different networks and also manage their mobile applications in terms of how they use the networks. For example, you might not want to use a specific data-rich application on a WAN, but be able to use it on your corporate wireless LAN. Inter-network mobility management allows roaming between the different networks, so you could switch from a LAN on your campus to a wide-area data network.
ME: What’s your take on the likelihood of a killer app for mobile enterprise solutions?
GS: I don’t really believe that there is a killer application. If you look at some of the survey data that we have at Yankee Group, in excess of 80 percent of businesses indicate that e-mail would be a driver for wide-area mobile data applications. However, custom corporate applications or custom database access rank pretty close to e-mail. I think e-mail will be a horizontal application that cuts across, but then you’ll get specific applications as you dive down into specific vertical markets and companies within those markets. •