Out and about

The mobile workforce is becoming a reality, but the Middle East still lags when it comes to advanced deployments – despite high demand for mobile devices. Eliot Beer looks at the shift to smartphones.

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By  Eliot Beer Published  June 2, 2007

In America they call it ‘CrackBerry'. The addictive nature of push email devices that link directly to corporate email systems is now a recognised phenomenon - a dictionary named ‘CrackBerry' as its new word of the year in 2006. One story sees an addicted BlackBerry user wander a small town searching for a signal, until begging a friend to take him somewhere with coverage.

That electronic communication is so compulsive should not come as a surprise to the Middle East - a region where Bluetooth headsets are de rigueur and significant numbers of professionals carry two or more phones. The highly successful launch of BlackBerry across the region - at least seven countries and counting - definitively demonstrated the demand for enterprise-class mobility systems.

But Middle Eastern enterprises are still largely conservative when it comes to exploiting the possibilities of mobile working - currently push email is more or less the limit of mobile device deployments. This is in contrast to the possibilities of integration that all of the major mobile OS vendors offer.

Joe Devassy, enterprise solutions sales manager at Nokia Middle East and Africa, says that although solutions such as Nokia's Intellisync offer integration with enterprise applications, uptake in the region is still non-existent.

"It would take around 12 to 24 months before most organisations look to mobilise an ERP or CRM application for a mobile phone," says Devassy. "Our strategy is to make sure that the email works well - that's the application that most enterprises want to mobilise first, as it gives the most RoI right away. We expect there will be a time when most organisations have email mobilised - then that raises the concern of things like security policies, standardisation of devices, device management.

"It's only when you cross that hurdle, and you have full control of your fleet of devices, that you'll look at ERP. Financials will never mobilise till you have full control of your devices."

Devassy outlines a two-year roadmap for organisations' mobility deployments, starting with push email. Once this is running, Devassy predicts IT managers will experience several relatively serious security breaches, which will compel them to implement proper security policies and management software, and standardise on one set of devices (Devassy suggests Nokia's E61).

"So then the IT manager feels secure, feels in control - then he looks at implementing CRM, ERP," says Devassy. "I think two years is a fair assessment for these phases - not to say a few companies here and there won't start. But for most, it will be around two years."

Nokia claims a lead in the mobility market, with its Intellisync and Symbian OS widely used throughout enterprises. And with its devices almost ubiquitous in the Middle East - Devassy says the vendor's Communicator range of phones sees huge success in the region - it can justifiably feel somewhat proud.

But Microsoft is busy in its attempts to promote its Windows Mobile system for enterprise mobility devices, and has the advantage of its desktop OS experience, along with major clout among developers and other technology partners.

It has also extended its reach to cover a huge number of device vendors - even down to former bitter rivals, such as Palm. But Microsoft's efforts in the mobility space have been hampered by Windows Mobile's image as a consumer OS, not as suited to business users as Symbian or RIM.

The Redmond giant is fighting back, though, with devices such as the Samsung i600 - or BlackJack, as it was branded in other markets. The new business-focused slim smartphone has proved a major success in the US, with more than a million handsets sold in the months following its launch.

At a joint announcement to promote the i600, Samsung and Microsoft's executives were both keen to promote the development capabilities of both the device and the OS - with Microsoft on the back foot for once in the OS sector, the vendor is working hard to brand Windows Mobile as a fully open platform for developers.

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