Pushing forward

Push email is an application that is gaining traction in the Middle East region, and as it does, the market for smart devices is being proportionately impacted upon. Dylan Bowman looks at the trends helping to shape the market for push email services, and assesses how corporates are benefiting.

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By  Published  October 31, 2006

Amajor technology development driving the increase in employee mobility and the implementation of handheld solutions is push e-mail, according to analysts.

Push e-mail is an e-mail connection that is always 'on' and, through a variety of techniques depending on the solution provider, takes e-mail on a company's server and sends it automatically to users' handsets in real-time.

Previously, users would have to manually check for mail on their GPRShandset, which in turn connected to the office mail server, or check mail from their GPRS-handset on their company's web mail site.

“I believe the main driver in the market is push e-mail.

Previously people used to send faxes and wait for replies and so on for documentation purposes, now it is mainly e-mail that is your reference,” says Naser Shashaa, research manager for handheld devices at market research firm IDC.

“When you are mainly dependent on emails, you have got to see the documents in front of you, so you have to keep in contact.

With push e-mail, you are able to constantly download your e-mails, read them and reply instantly,” he explains.

Gartner's Cozza agrees: “Wireless email is definitely the application that is driving the market at the moment and is bringing the most benefit in terms of being on top of everything wherever you are.”

With the growing focus on push e-mail that we are seeing in the region, it is hardly surprising to see Research In Motion (RIM) targeting the Middle East market to promote its BlackBerry devices.

According to Gartner, RIM shipped almost twice as many devices worldwide in the second quarter of this year than its closest rival Palm.

It controls around 22% of the total market.

In May, RIM launched its BlackBerry solution for corporate customers in the UAE with Etisalat, with further launches in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

RIM channel partner, mobile systems integrator Emitac Mobile Solutions (EMS), says it already has pilot implementations up and running at eight of the largest corporations in the kingdom.

Even some rival vendors are willing to admit what an important impact RIM has had on changing companies' and users' perceptions of handheld solutions.

“Over here people have been a bit reluctant to do their office work on PDAs, but that has changed thanks in part to people like BlackBerry,” acknowledges Shams Jafery, business development director for ITE Distribution, Palm's partner in the region.

The majority of companies implementing these handheld solutions in the Middle East are big corporate firms wanting to mobilise their senior management.

Firms such as Emirates Bank, the Jumeirah Group, Emaar, Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB) and Union Properties are among those to have implemented handheld solutions recently.

The solutions, however, are mainly being used by a small part of these companies' workforce and small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have yet to embrace the technology, according to analysts.

“It is mainly the big multinational companies that decide to procure handheld devices for some of their executives or high-end professional users that use these kind of devices in emerging markets,” states Gartner's Cozza.

“This is really an emerging market and apart from some large businesses, adoption is very limited everywhere else,” she continues.

“Medium-sized companies are not looking at handheld devices, probably because it is not their priority, because these are companies that would prefer to focus on the shift between desktop and notebooks and are not there yet in terms of understanding the benefits of PDAs.”

However, Abdul Karim Sawan, EMS director of engineering and architecture for BlackBerry, thinks this trend is changing, especially in the UAE.

He says since the BlackBerry was launched in the UAE he had acquired a number of SMB customers and that EMS has now released an edition of the BlackBerry enterprise server for that sector.

“If there is a SMB that is looking for only three or four devices maybe, they don't have to bear the cost of a full BlackBerry server that allows access to 20 users.

They now have the option to purchase the small medium edition of the BlackBerry solution,” he points out.

Whether in the case of a large enterprise or an SMB, the benefits of a handheld solution with push e-mail technology appear fairly clear.

It mobilises a company's workforce, reduces communication time and speeds up users' ability to access information - which in turn has a positive impact on employee productivity and efficiency.

It can also reduce costs by rolling out handsets to a firm's workforce rather than more costly notebooks.”

[With a handheld device] you can access whatever information you need; whether it is accessing your corporate network wirelessly, whether it is browsing the internet or answering your e-mails, any sort of activity like this,” comments Vishnu Taimni, HP Middle East portables and handhelds category manager.

Jon Moss, i-mate technology director states: “In terms of efficiency then there would be significant enhancements as well as improved productivity from the employees.

Employees will also feel valued as well from being equipped with the latest in mobile technology.”

For an IT manager, however, the implementation of a mobile solution can be a very risky business, especially when it relates to the management and security of the devices, the network and the data that travels across it.

In fact many in the industry see mobility as one of the largest IT security challenges facing enterprises today.

Security is one of the top concerns on the minds of customers and handheld vendors take this concern very seriously as the success of their mobile enterprise offerings will sink or swim depending on how the security of their solutions holds up.

“Large corporations and their employees always hold confidential information and they have to make sure they control, manage and deliver the secure information to the people that need it,” comments Sawan.

Susan Macke, Nokia mobile devices enterprise solutions portfolio management and product marketing vice president, adds: “With all a company's secure data, even a contact list, IT organisations of even small enterprises are looking for how to secure that data.

This is a concern I am always hearing.”

Craig Mathias, principal analyst at US advisory firm The Fairpoint Group highlights encryption, two-factor authentication and a virtual private network (VPN) as key building blocks for a secure mobile handheld solution.

Jack Gold, principal researcher and founder of analyst firm J Gold Associates, also includes virus and firewall protection and the administrative control of a lost device as other key areas of security companies looking to implement a mobile handheld solution must take into consideration.

I-mate's Moss says that the latest, fifth, version of the Windows Mobile operating system - which is also used by vendors such as HP and Palm - comes with a number of inbuilt security features.

“It has the ability to enforce a PIN code on the device so if somebody leaves their device on a train the PIN code comes on and no one can get into the device,” Moss points out.

“On top of that we have the i-mate suite solution that gives you full remote administration of the device and that can allow you to lock it, to debug it, or to wipe all the data that is on there,” he adds.

HP has a biometric fingerprint reader on one of its high-end devices aimed at corporate executives.

“One of our devices has a fingerprint reader, which is popular for these type of business solutions because it adds a second level of security,” HP's Taimni comments.

Sawan points out that the BlackBerry enterprise offering, as with many other offerings on the market, has full end-to-end encryption through a VPN so that data is kept secure from beginning to end.

“BlackBerry is a full end-to-end encryption that manages the messages, so that as soon as it arrives on the e-mail server the BlackBerry server will take a copy of that message and then compress and encrypt the message,” he explains.

“As soon as the message is encrypted it is sent over the internet to the network operation centre of BlackBerry and then delivered to the device,” he continues.

“Only when it arrives on the device does it get de-encrypted.”

Administrative control of a lost device is a major concern for most customers and this particular aspect of mobile security also touches on the manageability of a device, which is also a major consideration for IT managers when looking at mobile handheld solutions.

“[If a device is lost] an IT administrator can lock a device wirelessly if the user has chosen not to put a password on it.

They can actually send a wireless kill command to the device that will delete everything on it over the air so that it will protect the confidential information of the corporate,” explains Sawan.

The importance of this function is highlighted by a recent survey by Swedish mobile security firm Pointsec, which found that over 60,000 mobile phones, nearly 6,000 pocket PCs and just under 5,000 laptops were left behind in London taxicabs last year.

So although the emerging market for smart phones and personal digital assistants is currently small in the Middle East - analyst firm Gartner estimates the region only accounts for around 4% of all PDA shipments in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region - its growth is strong and, more importantly, usage trends are beginning to mirror those seen in more mature markets such as Europe and the US.

Perhaps the most significant trend beginning to take hold in the Middle East, and one that many vendors and analyst feel will be a driving force for growth in the market, is what Fairpoint Group's Mathias has described as the “horizontalisation” of mobile devices in the corporate world.

Horizontalisation is the shift away from traditional vertical data applications, or fleet applications, such those used in sales and services, towards wireless accessed information being an integral tool for every business professional.

While handheld devices have been used for some time by individuals within companies and in vertical markets such as retail, the rise of the mobile handheld solution - where firms mobilise their workforce with handheld devices and implement systems and policies to support those devices - is changing the structure of the market as well as the way that professionals operate.

This trend began in the US and Europe and analysts claim it is beginning to take hold here.

“These devices are becoming an essential tool for business professionals,” says IDC's Shashaa.

This is borne out in the staggering rate of growth in the Middle East market for handhelds.

IDC claims that in 2004 the total mobile device market (including both data-centric handheld devices and converged devices that offer both voice and data capabilities) grew by a massive 454%, with the handheld segment increasing 102% and the converged devices segment by 532.5%.

While that rate of growth has slowed from that meteoric hike, even so the analyst firm expects to see growth of 84% this year.

“I believe the main driver in the market is push email.

Previously people used to send faxes and wait for replies and so on for documentation purposes, now it is mainly e-mail that is your reference”

“Over here people have been a bit reluctant to do their office work on PDAs, but that has changed thanks in part to people like BlackBerry”

“Large corporations and their employees always hold

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