Rory O’Neill

Rory O’Neill, director for solutions and alliances marketing, EMEA at RIM

David Anahory
David Anahory, managing director at Spiritel Business
Ed Lewis
Ed Lewis, mobile IT and data support manager at Grapevine Telecom
Mark Seemann
Mark Seemann, product marketing director, Genesis Communications

Mobile business applications have finally come of age. Mobile email is no longer seen as the preserve of the work-junky CrackBerry owner, but has become a pervasive business application across all sectors and all sized companies. Here, Heather McLean takes a look at what is happening in this exciting marketplace.

In Vodafone’s 2008 Institute of Directors Guide, titled ‘Mobile Working’, IDC says the growth of mobile enterprise applications will match the growth of the worldwide mobile worker population. IDC claims there were 760 million mobile workers in 2006, which will increase to one billion by 2011. By this time, more than half the workers in Western Europe will be mobile as part of their jobs, IDC adds.

Dealer opportunity

What is exciting about the mobile business applications area for mobile dealers is the opportunity to create differentiation and add value, says Ed Lewis, mobile IT and data support manager at Grapevine Telecom: “It’s a chance for network partners to differentiate themselves and show their expertise. They can add value into their existing customer base, increase average revenue per unit and cement customer loyalty through the successful implementation of mobile applications,” he says.

Mobile business applications are finally becoming genuinely useable, says Chris Everitt, managing director at TMAC Wireless Solutions. He says technology and infrastructure restrictions have until very recently kept application adoption within the SME area low. From a dealer perspective, selling and supporting applications has been something of a concept proposition, as well as being a potentially daunting one, states Everitt.

Everitt comments: “The increasing awareness and adoption of mobile applications by consumers is undoubtedly spilling over to the business market, at the same time as becoming less scary as an additional revenue stream to the dealer fraternity. What is interesting for the dealer currently is that until network operators adopt those applications that stand out as ‘killer apps’, the opportunity for dealers is to partner the application providers directly and benefit from that undiluted relationship.”

While Mark Seemann, product marketing director, Genesis Communications, states: “Forget the doom and gloom mongers in the industry at the moment; the ever-increasing uptake of software as a service and hosted services means that there’s plenty to be excited about and many opportunities to capitalise on.

“Knowledge of hosted services is growing in the SME community and business leaders are increasingly seeing the value of enabling their staff to work remotely,” continues Seemann. “Gone is the traditional view that access to webmail makes you a mobile worker; businesses are now more sophisticated and rapidly realising that when staff on the move only have access to email, they are at an immediate disadvantage.”

Seemann says that as businesses become more aware of these new applications they realise they need to make changes, but they are not always sure of exactly what they need to do. This gives dealers the opportunity to become expert advisors to existing and new customers, building levels of trust in their relationships which should lead to increased repeat purchases.

He adds: “Most customers are looking for a quick and easy set up procedure that minimises the hassle normally associated with implementing new technology. Dealers should look to partner with providers who offer remote configuration and training as anything they can do to make life easy for their timepoor customers will be greatly appreciated.”

How to sell

“The channel should provide customers with a ‘hook’ to win and retain a customer’s business by demonstrating a solid understanding of their business; in this way traditional revenues are safeguarded.”

Yet dealers are not making the most of selling mobile applications in the B2B space, Everitt claims, though this is not entirely the dealer’s fault: “For dealers to be able to successfully offer customers mobile applications there needs to be far more activity higher up the food chain. Non-specialist mobile business applications are still in their infancy and largely ignored as a channel proposition by the network operators. As a channel, we have become reliant on the products and services that are ‘pushed’ to us from the operators. Only those dealers that are committed to mobile applications and proactively and independently sourcing them are, at this stage, going to have any great success.”

As saturation is achieved in the voice and data market, Spiritel is looking at applications as a way to differentiate product offerings to customers, and

as a method of creating additional margin for their businesses, says David Anahory, managing director at Spiritel Business. “The lack of competition in application sales ensures that Spiritel can retain most of the margin the product has to offer,” he states.

Anahory continues: “There appear to be few dealers that lead or specialise in selling applications on mobile devices. Spiritel takes a consultative approach with its customers, allowing it to understand their requirements and recommending solutions that deliver efficiencies and cost benefits.”

However, network partners are becoming more developed in this area and their expertise is growing, states Lewis. He says dealers should sell in this area by highlighting that mobile applications should reflect the way that people work on the move. “The simplicity of mobile application use must also be demonstrated, as it will be a critical tool for those workers operating remotely. Ease of use and reliability are mandatory,” he comments.


Apps for handsets

According to a recent study of small businesses in the UK by RIM and YouGov, the top five most beneficial mobile applications are CRM tools or customer databases, banking facilities, conference calling, instant messaging and satellite navigation.

The applications which are gaining the most traction in the market broadly fall into three key areas, according to RIM. Those are: managing finances; managing resources; and managing customers.

Rory O’Neill, director for solutions and alliances marketing, EMEA at RIM, comments: “Every business needs to generate revenue, so mobile technology that can either help generate, process or administer sales, or provide insight into financial matters, can prove vital to decision makers on the move. Operational applications that inform people with the information they need when out and about, as well as those that can improve customer service, are continuing to provide businesses with a real competitive advantage.”

Through the BlackBerry Alliance Programme, RIM has partnerships with over 1,000 ISVs who have developed thousands of applications that enable businesses to access the information that matters the most when on the move. The BlackBerry application storefront, set to launch in March, will offer developers another channel to market their applications and an easier way for businesses and consumers to find and purchase them.

More and more companies are now realising that mobile technology is not just about communications, states O’Neill. He says it is about improving overall business efficiency. “70% of RIM’s enterprise customers are already using applications other than email and the uptake of mobile business applications is one that is set to increase,” he claims.

Yet mobile email is arguably the single most successful business application to date. Everitt adds: “Lower costs and increased efficiency are the headlines that will capture the widespread interest of businesses in 2009. Applications that can provide these benefits are going to lead the way, certainly within the SME marketplace. Once the foundation application has been laid and proven, it should be possible to quickly build on its success with additional, progressive applications.”

Mobile business applications are starting to mature, says Jonathan Rutherford, head of corporate and public sector marketing at Vodafone UK. “We’ve seen continued explosive growth in horizontal applications like email and sat-nav and we are finally starting to see vertical applications gain traction in the market. Application platforms are maturing, suitable devices are becoming more accessible and software vendors are really taking application mobility seriously,” he comments.

Rutherford says: “The economic climate is driving this year’s customer focus to value and efficiency, so those applications that can really make customers more efficient will be top of mind. For example, applications that enable employees to collect and process data, such as sales information, that can be recorded via a mobile device rather than needing to fill in paper forms will be key. Or fleet management applications will be another high area of interest, where companies can reduce fuel and time expenditure by making their fleet more economical across the board.”


Handsets for apps

With an existing strong position in the business market, BlackBerry has adapted well in optimising handsets for the purposes of mobile applications and promoting usability for app function, and not just for mobile email, comments Lewis. A typical BlackBerry smartphone user converts 60 minutes of downtime into productive time per day, according to O’Neill. Users state that this can increase the efficiency of the teams that they work with by 38% (Ipsos Reid 2007).

According to a survey from RIM and YouGov carried out this year, 70% of RIM’s enterprise customers use applications beyond email on their BlackBerry smartphone, while 25% of SME decision makers are already using or are considering using their smartphone to access company systems such as accounting and CRM databases, with that figure increasing to 47% for 18 to 34 year olds.

Lewis adds: “Microsoft has long recognised the mobile market and is in a great position with it Windows Mobile environment due to the widespread use of Windows. It will also benefit from the flexibility of Windows Mobile, and there are a lot of developers in the marketplace with the necessary skills to write applications to run on Windows-based handsets.”

The original mobile working champion, BlackBerry, is still one of the market leaders when it comes to business apps, agrees Seemann. “These days though, there are more than a few other options when it comes to handheld business devices,” he continues. “HTC and Palm have both produced new handsets (the Touch HD and Treo Pro respectively), which are well designed for running Windows Mobile and are well worth considering for running business applications. And then, of course, there’s the iPhone. Whilst it’s really designed for consumers, there’s no doubt that it will begin to be adopted by business users and companies are already designing apps to run on it. It’s not a big player at the moment, but it’s definitely one to watch.”

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