Safe, secure and mobile

Mobile working is becoming a hot topic – at least if mobile solutions vendors have anything to do with it. But if you want to see if these systems have any real value, why not pester the vendors at Gitex?

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By  Eliot Beer Published  October 31, 2006

For any Middle Eastern IT professionals that have been living under a rock, Gitex Dubai is almost upon us once again. But for any prospective attendees who are not sure what to look out for at the show, here is a suggestion: mobility and security, quite possibly combined.

There is no doubt both of these are important fields, but why look out for them at Gitex? Well enterprises are looking to leverage and protect their existing IT systems, and vendors need a new market.

For mobile service providers, device manufacturers, middleware developers and systems integrators, the mobile workforce market – looking at PDAs and phones, rather than laptops – is one of the last great untapped enterprise markets. Phone giant Nokia last month pointed out that of an estimated 650 million corporate email accounts worldwide, only 10 million of them are enabled for mobile use.

Security vendors have been talking up the importance of mobile security, with no appreciable effect.

Moreover, mobile working is something more likely to start at the top of an organisation than the bottom – how many sales executives do you see with BlackBerry devices, compared to chief executives? – meaning potentially higher margins for vendors. But the trick they need to manage is to extend the appeal of mobile working further down the food chain, where the volume sales will kick in.

To do this means extending the functionality of mobile devices from email to ERP, from web browsing to database integration – otherwise, there is little value for an enterprise to m-enable (to coin a phrase) the vast majority of workers. And this is where security makes its play.

For some time security vendors, particularly niche players, have been talking up the importance of mobile security, with no appreciable effect. The fundamental problem has been that there have been no genuine threats to mobile devices until very recently, and even these are still largely in the proof-of-concept stage. Even now, there is often little of value for a hacker in the average executive smartphone.

But if core enterprise applications – loaded with large amounts of valuable data – arrive on several thousand PDAs across a workforce, then mobile devices become a much more attractive collective target.

This is the theory, and it is certainly one a number of players in the market would like to see becoming fact. And in the Middle East, where fewer organisations cover wider geographical areas, vendors see substantial opportunities for mobile workforce solutions, and their attendant support systems.

Only two major obstacles yet remain – first, none of this quite works yet; second, enterprises do not know whether they would want it even if it does. Developers will overcome the first of these obstacles – it is only a matter of time. As for the second, this is where Gitex comes in.

The show will be the opportunity to ask these mobility solutions (and mobile security) providers some tough questions about the exact functionality, usability, robustness and security these solutions can offer.

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