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Senior executives have enjoyed enterprise mobility for many years. Could e-mail be the killer application that takes enterprise mobility from the upper echelons to the mainstream of corporate life? And if so, what implications does this have for IT and network managers?

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By  Simon Duddy Published  October 26, 2005

|~||~||~|Interest in mobile e-mail solutions is growing fast in the Middle East as vendors, operators and customers assess the various business models and solutions being deployed in the market. Research In Motion (RIM) pioneered mobile e-mail services (also called push e-mail), whereby users can send and receive e-mails from their enterprise account on a BlackBerry mobile device. This service gripped the imagination of many corporate senior executives, who can now stay in touch via e-mail wherever they travel, without having to carry a notebook PC or log in to a wireless hotspot. Other vendors, from messaging players to mobile phone manufacturers, and even Microsoft, are flocking to the market and promising to take e-mail and other enterprise applications on to mobile devices such as PDAs and smartphones. Gartner says that while wireless e-mail started with executives using BlackBerry, a significant number of large enterprises are extending it to middle management, sales forces and other mobile workers. Although the industry shows great promise, it is still early days, especially in the Middle East, where RIM has yet to focus its attention in any significant way. However, Nokia is looking to leverage its position in the mobile phone space to provide a push e-mail service as part of its Business Center product. This is one of the first push e-mail initiatives in the region and Nokia says it has already seen interest from a number of large prospective customers. “Wireless e-mail is the killer application for enterprise mobility because it’s something that so many of us use,” says Susan Macke, EMEA vice president of enterprise solutions at Nokia. “There are 650 million corporate e-mail boxes worldwide, with only eight million with mobile e-mail, so there is plenty of room for expansion and a variety of players,” she adds. Analysts share this assessment and caution that while the business is in early stages, it has huge room for growth. That said, not every corporate e-mail box is worth ‘taking mobile’. There are a limited number of workers in the enterprise who need to access e-mail around the clock. “Today wireless e-mail is very much in its infancy. We estimate there are from eight to 10 million subscribers worldwide,” says Gartner analyst Monica Basso. “This will grow significantly as demand from enterprises increases, plus new generations of handsets come out. We estimate that 80% of new handsets by 2008 will support wireless e-mail,” she adds. RIM has been the traditional market leader and combines gateway and messaging technology with its own BlackBerry range of e-mail friendly mobile devices. The gateway sits behind the firewall on the enterprise and talks to the e-mail server, while the mobile devices are farmed out to mobile workers requiring the service. The vendor is starting to see significant competition both in the messaging and gateway space, as well as from smartphone manufacturers in the device segment. Good Technology, Intellisync and Extended Systems are all important messaging players, and Microsoft has joined the market in a big way, adding wireless e-mail support to Microsoft Exchange Server 2003. “This makes sense as there is no need for a gateway device or network operations centre (NOC) like with RIM, so costs are lower. With Microsoft there are concerns about security but it will grow in the market,” comments Basso. Microsoft-friendly device manufacturers such as i-mate are poised to capitalise on any gains that Microsoft may make in the sector. i-mate plans to offer the Microsoft push e-mail solution with its devices later this year. It has been beta testing the solution with Microsoft for the last four months and will support push e-mail in the devices that carry the Windows Mobile 5 operating system. “Microsoft will integrate push e-mail as part of the Exchange Server 2003 service pack 2 upgrade, working in conjunction with Windows Mobile 5 devices, which effectively makes it a free solution,” says John Williamson, VP of technology at i-mate. “The push element will be important for us in winning customers from BlackBerry. Some companies are desperate to move away from BlackBerry, so we’re concentrating on integration and security issues to make our devices as friendly to corporates as possible,” he adds. Newcomers are seeking to profit from BlackBerry’s limitations. For example, its platform generally only supports other Blackberry devices, although the company is trying to enlarge its support base. One instance of this is US ISP Cingular, which is offering the Nokia 9300 with RIM’s e-mail platform BlackBerry Connect. Being focused on e-mail, BlackBerry also has limited support for other enterprise friendly applications, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM). Nokia, on the other hand, has a number of Java-based applications available on its Symbian platform and sees e-mail as the tip of the iceberg in mobility software. The Nokia architecture is IP-based, so the vendor can add applications. It already uses Oracle Collaboration Suite, which ensures the mobile user has secure access to back-end applications residing on the corporate desktop. “Furthermore, the Dubai Economic Department has offered a service to consumers, where they can use their mobiles to access web services to view fines and so on, using Java applications,” says Joe Devassy, MENA sales manager for enterprise solutions at Nokia. The Nokia solution does not require a NOC to be set up in the enterprise to manage transactions, so should work out cheaper than RIM’s solution. “BlackBerry is very strong on e-mail, but is limited in other ways. It doesn’t support the variety of applications that are available on a Microsoft platform and is simple and poorly featured in comparison,” says Basso. Gartner sees some limitations to Nokia’s solutions also, however, with the Business Center product remaining tied to Nokia devices. “The company promises that it will extend this to other Java devices, but even then it will miss out many mobiles,” says Basso. “Nokia is also selling directly to enterprises when it makes most business with carriers, who also have push e-mail solutions. It doesn’t make sense for Nokia to compete with its main customers,” she adds. In such an emerging market, the enterprise is well advised to step carefully when choosing which solution is best for its needs. A key decision that enterprises must make is whether or not to go for a carrier-based solution or deal directly with a vendor. Operators, as well as vendors, see push e-mail as an important business opportunity. For example, both Bahraini telco MTC and Kuwait’s Wataniya have partnered with Smartner to provide push e-mail to their users. Smartner was acquired by US mobility solutions provider Seven Networks in April. “It is extremely important for us to offer this kind of solution as it will foster Wataniya’s position as a prime driver in the enterprise telecom market. Companies in Kuwait want to use mobile e-mail and it is a major driver of mobile, internet and multimedia businesses,” says Niklas Sonkin, director, strategy & B2B business, Wataniya Telecom. Paul Hedman, who is managing director of Seven Networks for EMEA and APAC, was the former CEO of Smartner and sees the Middle East as a small but important market, because of the high volume of business travel. He is looking to follow his success with MTC and Wataniya by closing further deals in the region. “RIM sells BlackBerry to high level executives, which has created a gap for us and other companies to come in and sell less expensive products and take greater volume business,” says Hedman. “Smartner and Seven have different platforms but we plan to come out with a combined offering in the near future,” he adds. Basso feels carrier based services will not be able to compete with independent offerings for enterprise business as companies will not want to get locked in to a carrier. As well as the lock-in issue, larger corporates will also have security and management concerns about outsourcing key functions such as e-mail to third parties. For this reason, they are likely to gravitate towards the in-house control that vendor solutions offer. Smaller businesses, on the other hand, are more likely to put their faith in a third party, in order to avail themselves of the functionality on offer while keeping costs under control. Increasing enterprise mobility rightly makes network managers nervous as it raises security and integration issues. The danger is that client devices could be easier to compromise than the enterprise network and that intruders can gain access to confidential e-mails by infiltrating an executive’s PDA or smartphone. Another concern is that these devices are small and can be lost, which again can lead to confidential data falling into the wrong hands. “Organisations really need to implement effective measures of mobile e-mail protection to ensure that both their critical business documents and sensitive information are always kept safe,” explains Tim Belfall, operations director of messaging vendor OpenHand. To counter these threats OpenHand uses 128bit advanced encryption standard (AES) to protect traffic flow and RSA SecureID’s two-factor security authentication model to make sure that lost devices can only be opened and used by their authorised owners. Encryption technology is key in ensuring application security, but it only takes care of the information flowing from corporation to device. The mobile user will see the corporate inbox exactly as it is on the desktop. For example, if the gateway anti-spam engine is not doing a good job, then mobile users with a mobile device must wade through the same amount of spam they get at the desktop. “Security is important for IT managers, but the other main challenge is that push e-mail is a new concept. Not a lot of IT managers in the region have seen and used BlackBerry, unlike in Europe and North America. It represents a paradigm shift for them,” says Devassy. Push e-mail looks set for serious growth worldwide in the coming years and there is no doubt the Middle East will participate in this. However, traditionally the Middle East has not been a strong area for companies like RIM. This can partly be explained by the limited attention RIM has devoted to the region but arguably more fundamental forces have also been at work. One reason that has been mentioned is the large and chunky form factor of the BlackBerry devices, which run counter to the sleek aesthetics typically favoured by executives in the region. “A lot of devices are more ergonomic than the BlackBerry. People in the Middle East don’t necessarily look at functionality, mobiles are a status symbol.” says Hatem Al Sibai, the CIO of the United Arab Emirates’ Al Ghurair Group. “Also the US market is highly controlled, with ISPs selling devices to users with plans. In this region, consumers have more freedom, and tend to go for models that look attractive,” he adds. Al Sibai is not currently looking at mobile e-mail as an application, mainly due to the limited functionality of mobile phones and handhelds. Instead, the firm focuses on deploying ultra portable notebooks, with users accessing the corporate network via VPN at hotspots. “We’re more focused now on having connectivity from notebooks and empowering our sales force to serve clients, generate quotations and do other business that you can’t do with a mobile. We’re more interested in staff being able to run applications anywhere rather than just see their e-mails,” explains Al Sibai. The mobile e-mail concept faces peculiar and typical challenges in the Middle East market. It is imperative that vendors target the end users as well as the enterprise, as the desire for attractive personal handsets is especially strong in the region. Furthermore, handhelds and mobiles will always struggle to match the functionality of notebooks and therefore IT managers must be convinced that mobiles will both support enterprise applications and be practical enough to be used in the field to yield competitive benefits. However, given the combined efforts by operators, device manufacturers and application vendors to create a secure, cost-efficient service for enterprise users, the industry consensus remains that the deployment of push e-mail solutions will witness solid growth in the region. Collectively, the companies involved in the deployment of a complete push e-mail solution must ensure that customers are clear on the party leading the sale. They must also ensure that post-sales support and service requirements are handled in an effective manner.||**||

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