January 28, 2006
 

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Posted: 11.04

With New Devices, New Strategies

Companies look to play it smart by adopting next-generation phones and converged mobile systems. But can management tools keep pace with newer client technologies?
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By Tim Scannell




Many companies that jumped headlong into mobile and wireless projects over the past few years, and in some cases into new and emerging solutions, quickly discovered why there are so few true technology pioneers in the enterprise.

The pioneers are the ones who usually wear the big red targets when it comes to validating rash decisions and knee-jerk deployments that focus too much on technology and too little on the actual impact of mobile solutions. In short, they are now paying for not doing enough initial homework when it comes to management, control and overall administration of mobile applications. And in this economy, that can be the difference between being online and being in the unemployment line, since mobile tools and technologies have a direct impact on a company’s competitive stance and strategies.

Most people tend to push mobile management to the back burner, or to assume they can put off selecting a solution for a bit since a better one is just around the corner, says Mark Bell, VP of worldwide sales for Mobile Automation. He refers to this procrastination and technology denial as an “accordion effect,” since enterprise users truly believe there are no good solutions available and get caught up in the noise made by some vendors as they tout planned products that may take some time to see the light of day.

Earlier this year, for example, Microsoft stirred up the industry with talk of planned mobile management tools, which caused a lot of companies to postpone purchase decisions since they thought these tools would be available free as an update of some sort. These tools have yet to materialize, Bell states, and as a result, the accordion principle
comes into play and we are “in the midst of a wave of interest in mobility and management.”

Trekking to the Next Generation

The fact is, managing mobile devices, mobile users and the information that is channeled from centralized information resources out to a mobile workforce has become a lot more complicated than just assigned passwords and authorization levels—especially as newer and more robust mobile devices have entered the scene. Managing and properly deploying these mobile tools has also become more challenging as companies begin to recognize the core value of newer, next-
generation devices and consequently put more effort into mobilizing mission-critical data and applications.

General security is still an important hot button, although sub-issues like data policies and provisioning, collaborative access and integration, and centralized management and control are quickly becoming key mobile mandates. “The effort has evolved to provide a total enterprise solution for mobile devices,” says Chris Hawver, senior VP and chief marketing officer for Adesso Systems, a mobile solutions provider based in Boston. “Mobility is the benefit or result and not just the driver.”

Recently, Adesso Systems unveiled an upgrade to its Instant Mobility Platform, a set of software tools that allow administrators to easily develop mobile applications that can channel information to a mobile sales force to provide more information and interaction with customers. One of the primary new features added to the software is support for next-generation mobile devices, such as smartphones and mobile devices that take advantage of a variety of short-range communications technologies, such as Bluetooth and radio frequency ID (RFID).

In terms of operation, “everything goes through security and policy procedures,” says Hawver. “The system controls what can happen and when it will happen and also provides a full audit trail at the management console level.”

Putting Data on the Table

Adesso’s software also takes a more granular approach to mobile data management, taking the management console down to an individual level in terms of which users are allowed access to which specific fields of data. “You can go into existing applications tables and utilize data within those tables,” he explains, which is important if you have hundreds of salespeople routinely accessing the same files but using the information for different purposes.

This granular approach to mobile management can also be focused on a specific aspect of a mobile framework, such as applications support. This is the primary reason why St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital in Houston selected Mobile Automation’s Mobile System Manager to administer the use of laptops and handheld devices used throughout the hospital. The software not only allows hospital IT managers to perform automatic software updates and view detailed system inventory, but it can be used to distribute frequent patches and updates.

“Patch updates are still a primary motivator in selecting a mobile management solution, says Bell. “We are finding this is especially true where there is a small IT staff and remote location. It’s hard to keep up with critical patches and normal monthly patches by sending out CDs to all remote locations.”

Rising interest and the use of smartphones—which basically meld voice and data capabilities in a single device—is also creating a demand for more adept mobile management tools that can keep pace with a new class of users and more media-rich channeled data.

Stir of Ecosystems

Broadbeam, for example, takes a “mobile ecosystem” approach to managing, channeling and integrating data for mobile workers by offering systems that are closely tied to particular applications as well as each individual worker’s “need to know.” The company maintains extensive relationships with wireless carriers and technology providers to offer a menu of solutions, and it claims to be able to customize backend systems to meet the specific mobile sales needs of an organization.

One of its customers, Bell South, already had dispatch and inventory systems in place but wanted to tweak those systems to help its field service people take on more of a sales role in dealing with customers. The solution was to add applications in a thin-client mode that would help its field service people to up-sell products. An important requirement was to not outsource any of these applications but to keep them close and under the control of the company.

“Companies at the high end want to integrate and own apps, while at the small business and enterprise level they want to outsource,” says Janet Boudris, Broadbeam’s chairman and CEO.

Most companies are skittish about mobile solutions because of the apparent risk involved in designing, deploying and managing these systems, she noted. They are also concerned about the balance of “role-based and non-role-based” workers within a mobile ecosystem. Basically, though, “Every company is looking for a mobile client that allows it to access information and use that device to access other applications, such as inventory scheduling,” explains Boudris.

Although the use of smartphones and other next-generation mobile devices is growing in the enterprise, the number of installed devices is still very small at this point, compared to notebooks, handhelds and tablet PCs. However, that hasn’t stopped a lot of companies from at least building early bridges and thinking about management solutions for these systems.

“Companies are now looking at things like Microsoft’s Windows-based smartphones for their mobile sales forces,” says Shari Freeman, manager of software engineering and product management for the XcelleNet Products division of iAnywhere Solutions. XcelleNet was acquired by Sybase earlier this year, and one of the first strategic moves it made was to focus on the enterprise smartphone market.

“At first, they didn’t think about security issues and data protection on the devices. But now, we are seeing more and more customers planning these deployments because they want to make sure they do it right.”

The evolution, and in some cases revolution, of mobile devices will ultimately draw more attention to the tools needed to provide a more managed environment, adds Mobile Automation’s Bell. It doesn’t matter how complex the network, or how many communications networks are involved, just so long as a company can launch and control everything from a unified console.

This is one of the reasons why Mobile Automation is actively working to expand its OEM relationships with solutions providers like Aether Systems, Sybase and others—to keep pace with the demand for integrated management solutions and applications complexity. “The convergence of security and management is important,” Bell says. “You just can’t have one without the other.” •

Tim Scannell is president of Shoreline Research, a consultancy based in Quincy, Mass. (www.shorelineresearch.com).



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