Workforce mobility

There are a number or early adopter network providers including Batelco, MTC-Vodafone and Etisalat that have combined their technological advancement and their entrenched relationship with corporate subscribers, to push enterprise solutions with a mobile component more aggressively that their counterparts.

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By  Tawanda Chihota Published  May 5, 2005

|~||~||~|Analysts believe that the offer of mobile enterprise solutions is still in its initial stages in the Middle East, but is set to accelerate as more network bandwidth becomes available and employees increasingly require remote access to physical office locations. The proliferation of mobile access devices has also pushed the development of enterprise applications, which can be accessed any time, anywhere. There are a number or early adopter network providers including Batelco, MTC-Vodafone and Etisalat that have combined their technological advancement and their entrenched relationship with corporate subscribers, to push enterprise solutions with a mobile component more aggressively that their counterparts. Batelco in Bahrain, for instance, has a ‘Mobile Office’ solution, which is based on internally developed software and offers users real-time access to smartphones. The operator also has a business-centric Wi-Fi service, which offers a wireless modem access point on the enterprise’s SpeedNet ADSL line. The service costs BD8 (US$21) a month following an initial BD15 registration fee. MTC-Vodafone Bahrain offers nationwide WCDMA coverage, which provides enterprises exceptional bandwidth and the operator has introduced Mobile Connect Cards for remote access to email, internet and corporate LAN. Ismael Fikree, MTC-Vodafone Bahrain’s chief technology officer describes the offer of the operator’s 384Kbps data cards as “very important” to its core offering. “There is no doubt that 3G is the future and what it depends on is the operator, on the market and on the business case,” Fikree says. MTC-Vodafone Bahrain has also launched a corporate push email service and offers mobile VPN facilities. In the UAE, Etisalat has been pushing its GPRS service, which is now backed by flat rate downloads, and has been extending its 3G coverage, offering a boost in bandwidth for corporates. Qtel and Wataniya of Kuwait are said to be following suit in the offer of enterprise solutions, with Wataniya having employed Niklas Sonkin as its chief strategy officer and director of the operator’s business-to-business division. “The whole B2B market is under-serviced in Kuwait. Globally, the B2B market has also not had the focus it should have had,” says Sonkin. “There are a lot of companies in the region that need mobile services but nobody is providing them. We are evaluating now what to do in that area in the coming years,” he adds. ||**|||~|Ismael-Fikree200.jpg|~|Fikree: 3G is inevitable, it is just a question of when.|~|However, analysts believe the enterprise market in the Middle East needs to understand what mobility actually is and what potential benefits it offers before such solutions can be introduced aggressively. “There is a difference between mobility and wireless,” explains Mohsen Malaki, IDC programme and consulting manager, MEA, communications. “Wireless is more the technology, the platform that enables mobility while mobility is essentially the act of a workforce or an employee working away from his main office location,” Malaki says. Mobile solutions have been gaining prominence over the last 10 years, starting off as the preserve of top management and over time have become commonplace amongst even junior staff and field workers. The growth of the internet and the explosion of the number of devices used to access information has also led to the growth in the demand for mobile enterprise solutions. As soon as the internet became pervasive, employees began taking their work home. They began accessing their e-mails over notebooks and BlackBerrys. Mobile phones and PDAs became the devices of choice for managing contacts and calendars. Nearly 87 million mobile devices were sold in 2004 – 9.2 million of these were PDAs [IDC], 27.6 million were smartphones [ARC Group] and the rest, 50 million, were notebooks [IDC]. “It is not just computers that we access networks with now, comments Malaki. “There are a plethora of mobile devices that enable connectivity so computers are just one fraction of devices that we are looking at that enable the workforce to connect to enterprise applications,” he adds. So together with the increased bandwidth offered by new mobile technologies such as WLAN, Wi-Fi hotspots and eventually WiMAX, the uptake of broadband services in the home is ranked as another key enabler for the adoption of mobile enterprise solutions. The migration of enterprises to IP VPN for corporate networks is also viewed as a significant development in the Middle East as the migration of the corporate WAN to IP VPN enables easy access from remote locations. The profile of the mobile worker in the Middle East IDC identifies three main categories of mobile workers: The non-office-based mobile worker; the office-based worker; and the home-based mobile work, a section that IDC says is not all that prevalent in the region. The non-office-based category of the mobile workforce extends to employees such as mobile field workers and mobile on-location workers. Office-based mobile workers include mobile professionals, occasionally mobile staff and mobile non-travellers who are primarily office-based. “In the Middle East, there are pockets in organisations that have some kind of mobility,” says R Murlidharan, general manager, Al-Futtaim Electronics, Toshiba - the sole distributor of Toshiba products in the UAE. In Dubai, the Grand Hyatt and the Irish Village bar and restaurant, for example, have given PDAs to their waiters. Staff member are then able to take orders using these PDAs, which are hot-synced with the kitchen over a wireless LAN. ||**|||~|Sascha-Beyer200.jpg|~|Beyer: More than 50% of penetrations to company networks are made through stolen devices.|~|Emirates Airlines has deployed a mobile solution for its corporate sales force that gives access to information residing in various proprietary applications via their notebooks. “The idea is to enable salespeople – who are out in the field most of the time – to have the latest information, every time they walk into a meeting,” says David Leckie, senior technical manager, Emirates Airlines. Nearly 220 employees are using the application currently, which Leckie expects to increase to 500 in year’s time. Last month , Bahrain-headquartered Arcapita Bank announced the deployment of BlackBerry devices to keep its executives connected and increase productivity. The bank has connected the BlackBerry Enterprise Server to its e-mail server, giving executives real-time access to their e-mail on the move. While BlackBerry has proved to be a sensation in the U.S. and Europe the Canadian device manufacturer, Research In Motion (RIM), has not yet set up operations in the Middle East. Arcapita’s BlackBerry solution is based on a hosting agreement with MTC-Vodafone in the UK, where Arcapita has an office. “Due to the fact that we have an office in London, we have a GPRS deal with MTC-Vodafone there, so we can deploy the solution,” says Vikash Bhandari, head of IT for Arcapita. Although it means paying phone connection charges from the UK “the low price of the BlackBerry solution makes it worthwhile for us” he claims. Arcapita has issued BlackBerry devices to around 35 users so far, with its senior management and other key staff all using them. “In terms of productivity, it’s great, it’s effectively changed the way people do their work,” says Bhandari. “People get access to their e-mail, calendaring, SMS, phone, everything in the handset. The first thing we saw was that executives don’t carry their laptops around anymore.” Arcapita is also looking at connecting its customer relationship management system to the BlackBerry platform, so that executives will be able to access it through their devices. “Because BlackBerry is Java-compliant, you can write applications in Java and put them on,” says Bhandari. Services and applications demanded by mobile enterprise users Enterprise users in the Middle East have traditionally been given access to voice and messaging services, though this is fast being superseded in terms of importance by applications including remote access to email, internet access, LAN access, and access to general enterprise applications. IDC recently conducted a survey in the U.S. in which participants were asked to identify the key applications they required to have made mobile as a matter of priority. Email was found to be the most important application to be mobilised, followed by internet access, with the subsequent applications on the list basically replicating the desktop experience. ||**|||~||~||~|“I believe e-mail was a key application that drove mobility because users needed to be able to access e-mail from anywhere. Today, business is e-mail,” says Osamah Hussameddin, business manager, Data Centre Solutions, HP Middle East. Security Securing access devices as well as the networks over which the enterprise applications are transmitted remains one of the most important elements in ensuring the continued uptake of mobility services. “Worries about security are another big reason for the mobile initiative not taking off in a big way in the Middle East,” says Al-Futtaim’s Murlidharan. Any security approach must take cognisance of two types of threats. The small size and the mobile nature of these devices make them vulnerable to loss or theft. So it is important that all corporate data residing in the devices is encrypted. “The physical threat of theft is larger than the threat of electronic theft,” says Sascha Beyer, managing director of Pointsec Middle East and Africa. “More than 50% of penetrations to company networks are made through stolen devices,” Beyer adds. The other risk surrounds malware (viruses) and data interception. “Although there has not been a major virus outbreak as far as PDAs and smartphones go, we have been lucky so far. But you never know,” says Jarmo Hostio, senior sales manager, Nokia Enterprise Solutions. A provision for updating anti-virus software remotely (by administrators) could minimise the risk as users often forget to carry out updates. For securing in-transmission data, the corporate network can deploy a VPN to connect to mobile devices. Many devices now have VPN clients that help secure data while the device is talking to a corporate network. And if the device is accessing a browser-based application from the corporate server, even a VPN client may not be required if the company is using Secure Socket Layer-based VPN. SSL, which is built into all web browsers, authenticates and encrypts transmitted data. Despite security concerns, mobile enterprise is already a reality. Enterprise-wide mobile solutions that include mobile devices, wireless LAN infrastructure, associated software and professional services, is a market estimated to be around US$16 billion in 2004 according to IDC. Enterprises in the Middle East, like those across the world, shall need to tap the efficiencies generated through the offer of mobility solutions or risk being left behind by organisations that do so successfully. ||**||

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