If you are a regular reader of Mobile Enterprise magazine, you’re probably well versed in the enterprise uses of Palm OS- and Pocket PC OS-driven devices. We’ve devoted endless pages to the myriad form factors (PDAs and smartphones) and applications that use those systems. What you may be less familiar with, however, is the Symbian open OS.
Founded in 1998 by Nokia, Motorola, Panasonic, Sony Ericsson and Psion, Symbian is headquartered in London and its goal is to provide a standard operating system for wireless devices such as smartphones. Symbian is one of the major contributing factors to the international wireless industry. Why, then, don’t we see more Symbian-based solutions in the United States? According to the experts I conferred with on a recent trip to Holland, we will.
Nestled between the canals of Amsterdam, the Forum Nokia brought to light many interesting developments with the Symbian operating system, and the Series 60 platform in particular. I had the honor of moderating a panel of four enterprise software developers from around the world, speaking to the future of mobile and enterprise computing.
EZ: Where do each of you see Symbian and the Series 60 platform fitting in with the enterprise compared to the other mobile operating systems out there?
CH: The principal role for operating systems is to foster competition and present options to end-users and to the enterprise. Symbian has the opportunity to take a central role in the enterprise. It’s a mature OS with many advocates and rapidly growing deployments.
Series 60 definitively has an enormous potential to both expand existing business applications and to create totally new solutions benefiting from mobility. However, from a developer perspective—at least for those of us who do not provide Java applications today—Series 60 is one of the many UI frameworks for which dedicated effort is needed. It still has a way to go both regarding technology and critical mass of devices out in the markets.
EL: There are limitations with Series 60, which make it not usable for all enterprise applications. If small screen size and no keyboard entry are acceptable for enterprise applications, then Series 60 is suitable. The performance of Symbian OS is comparable to other operating systems, and phone and radio interfaces are better optimized in Symbian than other OS options. If larger screen size and better data entry are required, whether it be pen or keyboard, then Pocket PC or Symbian Series 80 devices are better for enterprise use.
CS: Symbian and the Series 60 devices will be widely adopted as a way to extend the business apps to the mobile professional via e-mail, PIM, office documents and other productivity tools. The leading brands with high volumes as well as enterprise applications with compelling content will create many opportunities for enterprise adoption and usage. Series 60 is a rich operating system for many business users.
EY: Symbian and the Series 60 Platform are relative newcomers in the enterprise market. Historically, Palm- or Pocket PC-based PDAs are used more for enterprise applications. Symbian is a great mobile operating system for the smartphone. Generally speaking, smartphones offer more mobility but less functionality than PDAs. So Symbian will compete in areas where mobility is key. We like Symbian for its ability to integrate connectivity with the application. Power management is another thing that we like. With Symbian's capability , I think it can play a major role in the enterprise market.
NG: We believe Symbian and Series 60 specifically will dominate the mid and high-end markets for phones. Therefore, enterprise applications that will not be tied to special vertical devices but oriented toward the main mass of users, and especially white-collar users, shall ultimately need to be targeted at these phones—including both horizontal apps like PIM and e-mail and vertical ones like CRM.
EZ: Do you find that IT managers are basing decisions about mission-critical mobile solutions on device, operating system, application or carrier? What are the most important criteria in their decision making?
CH: Most IT managers probably deploy what they are familiar with. However, the best solutions for their company will likely require some measure of customization. If they are serving a mixed environment with multiple devices and operating systems, they will have to demonstrate a certain level of creativity. In the end it’s the application that matters.
EL: Decisions are based most often on application and terminal combination. To be able to roll out large mobile solutions, end user acceptance is important. Both application and device play a major role in determining the level of acceptance. Operating system is less important. It is enough if it is one of the most common in the market.
CS: IT managers base their decisions on all of those items. However, the most important item is the application or technology and making the users’ lives easier. Managers also want something that is easy to support and implement.
EY: The application is the most important thing for IT managers. When evaluating solutions based on mobile technology, the IT managers are looking for what the application can do to meet their business needs. Device, operating system and carrier are considered for their functionality, cost, reliability and ongoing support. However, they play a secondary role in the decision-making process.
NG: For vertical applications the application is the focal point, and device/OS decisions come second. Of course, standardization and future device roadmaps still play a key role. For horizontal, or wide-reach applications, the question has to be “what devices will our end users be using?” The decision is usually, “Can we support the application on these devices effectively?” rather than, “Should we replace their devices with devices that will support our application?” For the longer term, however, they are applying application requirements to future corporate handset purchasing decisions.
EZ: If there’s one thing businesses like to protect, it’s the integrity of their data. How do Symbian and Series 60 hold up in terms of securing the devices on which they are used?
CH: Security on mobile devices is still in its infancy. Symbian is no better here than any other OS. For example, we provide support for client certificates with some versions of our NetFront browser. This is especially true in cases where security is needed and not supported by the platform itself.
EL: I think that Symbian and Series 60 are about in the same level as competitors.
CS: This is an area that needs development in all wireless devices. However, you are beginning to see the proliferation of VPN clients and other security and authentication tools on Series 60, which will ease the concerns of many businesses as well as users. However, we feel this will continue to be an overriding issue in the near future.
EY: I think the Symbian and Series 60 do quite well in this area. For mobile devices, we consider two things regarding data integrity: secure access of the device and secure data transmission. Data and applications on Symbian devices can be protected by password and encryption. I also saw some Symbian devices that are protected by fingerprint recognition. On the secure data transmission side, Symbian's support is also quite good.
NG: Symbian comes equipped with all the basic ingredients: encryption, secure communications and so forth. However, we’re still waiting for devices to have better integrated capabilities, perhaps biometric user identification and things of that nature.
EZ: How do you measure ROI on Symbian applications you’ve created for business?
CH: Our solutions are basically enabling technologies, which are by nature independent from the actual user cases or applications that enterprises, operators or consumers make use of.
EL: The cost of investment is an important criteria for mobility project decision making. Quite often today enterprises have investment budgets that should cover the costs of mobile terminals and applications. The ROI is calculated based on development work plus communications costs against efficiency improvements on billing and improved processes in the general workforce after deployment. At Celesta mBusiness, we measure the price of the application development work against the number sold licenses.
CS: We develop MS Office-compatible applications for businesses that require very little customization. End-users and businesses are likely to see tremendous productivity and functionality improvement by viewing and editing Quickoffice files on their Series 60 and Symbian OS handsets. Quickoffice software applications are very affordable and ROIs are likely to improve as enhanced accessories such as wireless keyboards improve text input.
EY: For the Symbian application we've created, we got quite positive feedback from our clients. The direct return is coming from the improvement in work efficiency. By using our MForce solution, field staff can perform much more work than before. The cost saving alone makes the investment worthwhile. Much bigger returns come from the increase of sales. Up-to-date market information and real-time communication help enterprises make good decisions and act quickly.
NG: A real ROI analysis is tough for any horizontal application. However, some case studies indicate major savings. For instance, one business traveler attested to being able to shorten his trip abroad by an entire day. He had to change his meeting schedule and wanted to fly home a day early, but the travel agent couldn’t find a suitable flight. By looking up flights using WorldMate’s Flight Schedules, he managed to locate a suitable flight (from an airport the agent didn’t consider), have it booked and get home a day early. With a day in London costing the company over £200, that traveler saw a 300 percent ROI just a month after subscribing to the service.
EZ: Give us an example of a Symbian application you’ve created that’s currently deployed in businesses.
CH: Access Internet technology is deployed in millions of non-PC devices. Most of those deployments are mobile phones. User cases include access to corporate Intranets and data services, data collection and upload to online data storage as well as access to corporate mail and messaging services.
EL: We have deployed a large security solution in Europe. Security guards are receiving their orders from a central center and sending back their daily work reports via the GPRS network. Currently there are approximately 700 users and before the end of this year the system will have approximately 1500 users. The system is based on Celesta’s mBusiness software and Nokia S60 terminals.
CS: We develop Quickoffice for Series 60 and Quickoffice for UIQ. Many professionals in businesses use our application and are likely to buy the application directly from the partners we have throughout the world. Quickoffice is an editable spreadsheet and Word processing application that takes your standard Microsoft applications from the desktop and provides compatibility on your Symbian OS-based device. For Series 60 we have announced Quickpoint, which is a presentation tool that has editing capabilities.
EY: MForce is one of our products we built on the Symbian platform. It is an SFA system. A sales rep is equipped with a Symbian Series 60 phone, which has the MForce client software installed. With MForce, sales reps can get work assignments and instructions from the company, collect market information in the field and report back. One of our clients has over 2,000 personnel using the system, covering over 25,000 retailers and wholesalers, and saw great improvement in its sales force operation.
NG: WorldMate Professional Edition joins the ranks of other critical horizontal business applications aimed at executives, sales forces and other business travelers. The Professional Edition adds must-have services, like flight schedules and itineraries, that allow a traveler to have better control of his or her time and expenses. We have seen several business-wide deployments.
International developers firmly agree that the Symbian OS is a viable platform on which many business applications can be based. As noted above by the panelists, there are already may successful applications running on the Symbian-based mobile and smartphones. In a world used to having alternatives, it's nice to know that there's one more operating system available in the ever-more-competitive mobile market.
On the Forum Nokia Panel:
Claudia Hock, marketing and strategy manager of the German company Access Systems. Access is a global provider of integrated, next-generation data platforms and Internet access technologies for the mobile communications market. Its embedded browsers power over 275 different commercial products including mobile cell phones, PDAs, set-top boxes, video game consoles, car navigation systems, digital televisions and other non-PC Internet devices.
Erkki Lohinivi, director of research and development from Finland's Celesta mBusiness. Celesta is a leader in wireless enterprise solutions for smartphones and handheld deveices. Its innovations rely on mobile platforms such as Symbian OS. Celesta provides enterprise mobility for companies in vertical market segments such as field service, sales force automation, transportation and logistics, security services, healthcare and social services.
Craig Senick, business development director, from U.S.-based Mobility Electronics. Mobility Electronics is a developer and marketer of a broad range of innovative power products and other accessories for the mobile electronic device market (mobile phones, smartphones, handhelds/PDAs, digital cameras, for example). Mobility Electronics' vision is to be a worldwide developer and marketer of innovative, highly differentiated products and solutions for the converging mobile electronics industry.
Edward (Yaheng) Yu is the deputy general manager and CTO for NetFinance Software. NetFinance Software is a wireless business application provider in China. It develops and markets wireless business software to enterprises and customers in China. Key products include its award-winning wireless brokerage and trading product, and its wireless sales management product.
Nadav Gur, founder and CEO of Isreal's MobiMate. MobiMate is a developer of mobile, business-oriented application software and has developed some of the world's best-selling mobile consumer applications, such as DateMate, and WorldMate, as well as several highly innovative enterprise systems in fields such as mobile banking, CRM and others.