Moving times

Advancements in mobile technology have enabled firms to evolve into more fluid and efficient mobile enterprises

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By  Chris Whyatt Published  May 28, 2006

|~|mobilitymain.jpg|~|Mobility is rapidly changing the way organisations conduct business and employees engage in work practices.|~|Constantly moving from one place to the next to meet work schedules? Stop and imagine being completely cut off from your colleagues back at the office, as well as your customers, partners, clients, suppliers, both locally and around the globe. With no means of you contacting them or them contacting you. If this sounds like an impossible situation, its because of our increasing reliance on mobile technology: the definitive 21st century business enabler. This revolution in anytime-anywhere availability has mainly been realised through a simple, yet effective tool: the mobile phone. Through the rapid evolution of this device — and the ever-shrinking size of PC hardware — a blossoming industry sector has been born, into which IT and telecom companies are ploughing billions of dollars. This concept of enterprise mobility is now spawning an ever-growing multitude of voice and data devices, often converged — mobile phones, smartphones, personal digital appliances (PDA’s), notebooks, laptop PCs — and a dazzling array of versatile services, along with applications that would have been unthinkable five years ago. “Mobility is changing today: everybody is on the move. People are increasingly working in different locations and different environments…. and using different devices,” reasons Roger El-Tawil, channel and marketing director MENA for global networking vendor Avaya. “It’s all about trying to give the end-user one single seamless experience,” he adds. The evidence of an explosion in the mobility arena is compelling. Research from analyst giant Gartner reveals that the worldwide PDA industry grew 7% in the first quarter of 2006, on the back of shipments totalling 3.65 million units (a 6.6% increase from the first quarter of 2005). And worldwide PDA shipments reached record levels in 2005. Gartner defines PDAs — which generally use an open market operating system supported by third party applications that can be added to the device by end users — as a data-centric handheld computer weighing less than one pound for use with both hands. It attributed the industry’s gro- wth rate mainly to sales of Research In Motion’s (RIM) devices from BlackBerry, a mobile e-mail platform which has recently been introduced to the Middle East. In March this year Gartner also released a report that documented a telling pattern: the decline in the growth of desk-based worldwide PC shipments, because of surging demand for mobile PCs. “We expect a steady decline in desk-based replacement activity over the next year,” says Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst for Gartner’s Client Platforms research. “The impact will be especially dramatic in mature markets where new desk-based penetration is also slowing and mobile-for-desk-based substitution is increasing,” Kitagawa adds. Demand from businesses in the Middle East to become mobility-capable is already growing. Last month, IDC released research showing that the Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA) PC market was being driven by buoyant notebook demand in the consumer and small-to-medium-sized business (SMB) space, the latter sector of which dominates much of the Middle East market. Total portable sales recorded over 30% growth, compared with desktop shipments of 7% growth. “Continued erosion of laptop prices coupled with aggressive marketing campaigns have contributed to maintaining unabated demand for portable systems in the consumer and SMB market,” says Karine Poli, research director for IDC’s EMEA PC Group. With voice now second nature to most of the population, never mind just businesses, that ‘unabated demand for portable systems’ is manifesting itself through a desire for mobile e-mail to become ingrained within corporate culture. An IDC survey of mobility among enterprises in the Middle East, and Central and Eastern Europe, released in March, showed that users in both regions now ranked access to e-mail as the number one requirement for its mobile employees. Mobile and remote access to desktop applications and internet access were also considered crucial. Recreating the desktop experience for mobile workers appears to be the crux of the matter. “Mobility for the enterprise is about providing the workforce with all their available tools in a mobile way,” says Ghazi Atallah, managing director of Global Emerging Markets for Cisco Systems. “The deployment of enterprise-wide mobile solutions is picking up steam,” agrees Harout Bedrossian, product marketing manager, Motorola MENA. “This is because more mobile technologies are maturing significantly and standards are being advanced and implemented. It’s no longer a matter of connecting islands of people or individuals to an organisation database and just sitting and watching. It’s much more than that,” he adds. “As mobile enterprise standards are being developed … solutions can now serve organisations in a more holistic way. They can also deliver positive results, where return on investment (ROI) can actually be measured. The trend is to go beyond just connecting an individual with end-to-end solutions that are aligned with the organisation’s strategies,” he adds. Most vendors identity three common drivers behind the rising boom in enterprise mobility. Firstly, mobile employees now have access to different types of mobile devices, whether its just a mobile phone for voice access or more advanced devices — smartphones or converged PDAs, for example — which give them access to data and other business applications. “The end result of this is that it is enabling those individuals to be more effective in their businesses and what they do,” says Motorola’s Bedrossian. “It adds to the employee’s effectiveness in winning new businesses, conducting deals, and accessing time-critical information they leads to key decisions being made,” he adds. This in turn helps to foster competition between employees. This will depend on whether the company provides the one particular device for its employees, subsidises a choice of devices from a set list, or whether the individual has to pay for their own and is free to choose a device on their own. In any case, workers are likely to want to extract as many business benefits from their chosen handheld solution in a bid to perform well. The next driver is on an organisational level. With some corporates frantically embracing mobile technologies in an attempt to streamline their business processes, either for tracking assets, monitoring equipment or providing employees with remote access to corporate data and information, those that aren’t tend to notice a competitive advantage being gained by their rivals. The last driver is technical. As companies set about integrating mobile enterprise solutions they are faced with a number of challenges. This is pushing them to roll out the mobile enterprise solutions with a weight of strategic planning and thinking behind the move: ensuring the solutions are in line with the businesses’ overall rules, corporate regulations, and security policies and procedures. The responsibility for deciding which devices should be acqui- red and how they are put to use has also completely shifted. ||**||Implementation|~|rogerhagebody.jpg|~|Roger Hage of Ericsson EMEA.|~|The decision of purchasing mobile devices has moved now within enterprises from the people that usually take the decision about office equipment, and so on, to be an IT strategic decision,” observes Eric Anderbjork, head of Enterprise Solutions for Nokia. “And the IT guys that usually take the decisions about servers and infrastructure have totally different questions from the office equipment guys,” he notes. Indeed, the path to creating a secure and efficient, cost-effective mobile enterprise represents challenges for CIOs and IT managers — how many people in the company need complete mobility and is it really a critical solution? Avaya claims that a recent survey and analysis it did found that of individuals within enterprises, less than 20% are desk-bound (at their desk) and less than 30% of the enterprise are on the road all the time (never or rarely in the office). It believes that more common or typical are the other 50-60% in between, who are semi-mobile. According to Avaya, a typical example would be for a worker to start off the day at home, go into the office, get to the desk to do work, go out to meetings, roaming through campuses, then either return home or fly to a conference somewhere. To address this transient pattern, Avaya has brought to the market a convergence solution called one-X Mobile Edition, which is compatible with Nokia S60 phones. It equips Nokia S60 enterprise smartphones with access to Avaya’s Communication Manager software, allowing users to be accessible via one business number and use a single voicemail system whether they are in the office or mobile.  And irrespective of their work locations, users have access to the same enterprise communication capabilities found in the office such as call conferencing, transfer, call recording, abbreviated dialling, while leveraging the corporate IP (internet protocol) network. “This gives the end-user one experience on any device; the ability to stay connected through one number anywhere at any time and through any device,” claims Avaya’s El-Tawil. “So your mobile phone today becomes your desk or your office in your pocket. It’s a voice and data solution,” he adds. Applications like Avaya’s are becoming more common, especially as they allow users to switch between personal and business calls so as to avoid the need for businesses to manually separate different calls for billing purposes. Most vendors forcefully insist this is a critical function for enterprises that can ultimately reduce costs. Ericsson’s One Phone solution also engages in the same space. “It is a concept that is very much phone-centric, but it also integrates wireless computing. In the past we used to have laptops and desktops, especially those who were mobile, and consolidation between the two happened very fast,” claims Roger Hage, director of Enterprise Solutions for Ericsson EMEA. “The same type of consolidation between the desktop phone and the mobile phone is the next phase which we see happening now,” he adds. Cisco talks at length about the benefits of convergence between fixed and mobile voice solutions, with the lines between GSM phonecalls over a mobile network and landline calls over a public branch exchange (PBX) blurring into one. “Our solutions allow you to route your calls towards any of the various telephone numbers that you have into one handset, whether it’s a GSM call coming in or a call coming into your [landline] extension - both will ring your handset when you are in the office. It will ring as a PBX call versus a GSM call,” explains Cisco’s Ghazi Atallah. “And when you make your calls to the outside world while you are in the building, it will be made via your fixed line internet protocol (IP) PBX. So this fixed mobile conversion allows you to have one handset that has the ability to provide you with a single number and while you are in the office with their mobile and fixed line,” he adds. Reduced costs, convenience, and increased productivity are the upshot benefits, according to Atallah. “Add on top of that WiFi and you also have access to all of your corporate applications via the PDA handset,” he claims. Cisco has also inserted its virtual private network (VPN) client into Nokia’s recently unveiled E-series along with an IP telephony client. So when a ‘mobile’ employee is outside a building he or she has the ability to log on via a VPN client on the phone — over general packet radio services (GPRS) or enhanced data GSM environment (EDGE) — and access e-mail and other corporate applications, just as you would on a laptop PC. ||**||Mobilising the ME |~|Bedrossianbody.jpg|~|Motorola’s Harout Bedrossian.|~|Integrating the entire mobile solutions seamlessly into the existing IT infrastructure and applications of any organisation is perhaps the hardest task of all. “Any deployment mistakes will make it more difficult for employees to do their job and hence that will decrease the rate of adoption,” insists Motorola’s Bedroussian. “These systems need to be carefully tested, carefully monitored, so they work like clockwork and don’t miss a beat. No glitches from the beginning, there is no point saying we can fix this or that as we go along. That will not work; productivity and the adoption rate will fall,” he adds. Dubai-based handheld vendor i-mate, has released software which directly addresses the various integration challenges posed. The i-mate ‘Suite’ solution, which runs on PDAs and smartphone devices carrying Microsoft’s Windows Mobile operating system, is described by the firm as the most comprehensive enterprise mobility offering now available, designed to ena- ble simple company-wide management, security and backup of mobile devices thus extending corporate networks beyond the office. It consists of three modules: i-mate Control, 1-View, and Backup, which together allow business users to browse files from anywhere, share data between specified group members, and accessing a PC or other device from their handset — and vice versa — with the ability to remotely erase data if a device is ever lost or stolen. “This gives the IT manager control over the device just like he has control over the desktop,” said Jim Morrison, CEO and founder of i-mate, affectionally describing IT managers as ‘control freaks’. “He or she can set qualities, IT systems, what is and is not allowed to be loaded on the device, basically all you can do to get the data secured. There’s not much that the IT manager cannot do with these mobile devices now that he can do with his desktop machines. It [the mobile device] is now as important to you as your laptop,” he claims. The adoption rate of enterprise mobility in the Middle East is slowly gathering pace but does not correlate with the sophistication of the technology now available, vendors agree. “With most of the enterprises we work with, I am seeing the shift. A lot of them are now putting up tenders for mobility,” reckons Samir Al Schamma, general manager GCC, Intel. “In this region specifically, the consumer has picked up on notebooks first, but the enterprise has pretty much caught up. 50% of PC shipments of notebooks in the GCC/ Europe have all been notebooks and a lot of the new tenders are for notebooks.” Al Schamma believes that the notebook can open up the enterprise environment once customers realise that security is available and, more importantly, that the notebook can be secured even if it leaves the premises. Yet some industry sectors are still not convinced. “Some banks hesitate to do this,” he claims. Ericsson’s Hage reckons that the Middle East lags behind Europe, in terms of enterprise mobility, for two reasons. “The companies are not as proactive, in that they don’t always pay the mobile phone bills of the users and they are distributed to a large number of employees, they are restricted to upper management,” he says. “Secondly, the operators don’t offer flat rates for mobile VPN’s or free internal calls between phones, so that might be a hurdle for companies,” though he adds that take-up in the region is “picking up very fast.” Some industry watchers have warned that telecom operators in the Middle East are not provi- ding enough mobility solutions. IDC’s report on mobility, released in March, found that as businesses move to mobilise enterprise applications other than e-mail, the primary external supplier that enterprises would prefer to partner with varies significantly by country, by business size, and by vertical sector. In the Middle East, it found that the mobile operator is not viewed favourably as a solutions provider. “The lack of confidence in the mobile operator seen in the Middle East is a wake up call to these operators: either they improve their product portfolio and brand image as a mobility partner or they lose out in the lucrative enterprise market as large enterprises resort to software, device, or IT services vendors for their mobility needs, reducing the role of the mobile operator to a mere data-pipe provider,” says John Gole, programme manager, Communications, IDC CEMA. He points out that compared to their counterparts in the Middle East, mobile operators in Central and Eastern European countries are viewed more positively as partners in mobilising enterprise applications other than e-mail. However, a host of new and enhanced solutions are now being rapidly being brought to market. This month, UAE incumbent operator Etisalat and Research In Motion (RIM) launched the BlackBerry mobile e-mail service for corporate users, insisting the move will redefine business mobility in the UAE and beyond. Etisalat said it has fought for over two years to bring the wireless platform to the region and is the first operator to deliver the service to the Gulf. BlackBerry has over five million subscribers worldwide, mainly in Europe and the US, and its devices are mainly used to keep in constant touch with e-mails. The devices also support phone, SMS, internet, organiser and corporate data applications. Etisalat is proactively targeting 10,000 corporate subscribers, or 5 to 10% of the corporate market, and already counts the National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD), Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), and Emirates Airline as customers. “We are confident the solution will be embraced by the corporate and technology markets,” claims Essa Al Haddad, Etisalat’s chief marketing officer. “Etisalat will address the serious business needs of the UAE’s high powered, and very mobile corporate workforce,” he adds. Nokia is also investing in the same space. It is rolling out the E-Series devices, which the Finnish phone giant claims bring PC management strategies to smartphones. It identifies a growing use of PDAs and phones for enterprise applications, which it claims has been identified by corporate buyers. Following the industry consensus, Nokia believes that PDA and handset manufacturers should look to the controlled enterprise PC environment to increase mobility capabilities acro- ss the workforce. BenQ-Siemens has also just announced plans to expand its presence in the Middle East’s ‘rapidly expanding’ mobility market with new products and what it claims to be the world’s first mobile supporting High Speed Download Packet Access (HSDPA) technology. “Mobile communications devices have become essential tools for every business, and the Middle East region has been one of the leading zones to embrace all that the mobile phones industry has to offer,” says Najeeb Kazi, vice president of Sales and Marketing, BenQ-Siemens. “The regional markets have consistently outperformed global growth averages,” he claims. That claim is indicative of the bravado from the vendors, telecom operators and businesses in the Middle East on to the benefits of weaving enterprise mobility into the IT infrastructure. Although a number of obstacles stand in the way — a shortage of wireless broadband networks, an entrenched fear of security risks, a muddied view of the integration process it appears these hurdles are being negotiated successfully. It means that today’s mobile workforce is capable of quickly and confidently interacting will colleagues and clients — wherever they are. ||**||

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