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Issue of July 2006 

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Mobile Enterprise

The dawn of the mobile enterprise

Mobile access to enterprise applications is now part and parcel of life in the corporate fast lane. Shivani Shinde reports

Mobility has different connotations for different segments in a corporate set up. For a CEO/CIO mobility means accessing corporate data on his mobile phone or notebook. For a sales person-on-the-field mobility means the ability to file reports on the move. Enterprise-wide applications (EWA) can be accessed by mobile phones, PDAs and smartphones.

Mobile access to EWA is becoming popular because of two reasons—mobile handsets are costing less and connectivity has become cheaper and easier to access. Service providers are ready to work with enterprises in porting applications to handsets—be it the Hutch Nokia offering for corporate e-mail on mobile phones or Reliance’s R World initiative for advertising.

Along with service providers, vendors are ready with their application offerings. However, to-date with regard to mobile applications, organisations prefer to develop their own software to run applications rather than use a packaged version. Java is a popular platform when it comes to applications on handhelds, though players like Reliance (service providers) and LG and Samsung use Brew.

The Beginning

Mobile applications is still at a nascent stage. Deployment and use of mobile devices for accessing EWA is highest when it comes to sales force automation.

Earlier mobile applications worked one way, next two-way communication came along wherein reporting and alerts were both invoked. SMS remains the preferred mode of communication. Now organisations are looking at encompassing increasingly complex systems by integrating with ERP and other applications.

The verticals that took the first step in the usage of mobile applications are the traditional adopters namely BFSI, pharmaceuticals and FMCG. Among the pharma companies the first application that went mobile has been sales force automation, in BFSI, the customer relationship initiatives went mobile and among FMCGs it was a combination of sales force automation and supply chain management.

The 'Now Mobile' in Apps
  • Secure Internet browsing
  • Corporate e-mail
  • Messaging with broadcast
  • Voice mail and voice conferences
  • Personal information solutions—calendar, organiser, chat, contact lists and so on
  • Video conferencing
  • Soft phones (phones with Wi-Fi that reduce calling costs for travellers)
  • View/edit documents of Microsoft Office, PDF, ZIP, and e-book readers
  • Enterprise information solutions (customer data, corporate information alerts, financial snapshot, sales snapshot, budget and projections snapshot)
  • Location-based services (GPS/maps)
  • Field force automation (product & pricing data, inventory & stock data, order management, view/update work orders, update corporate data)

Source: Pricewaterhouse Coopers

Chakrapani G K

Chakrapani G K, Country General Manager, Nokia Enterprise Solutions (India) says, “The early adopters of handheld devices for accessing enterprise-wide applications in India have definitely been distribution companies that are looking at sales force and field force automation. Basically any organisation with a long supply chain is looking at the use of handhelds. This is because it makes life much easier for the person at one end-point to transmit information to another.”

However, the first visible mobility application was corporates accessing their e-mail from corporate servers on their handsets—a Blackberry or a smartphone. The first applications on the handsets were also of similar nature such as calendar and appointment manager.

Ajay Vaishnavi

Ajay Vaishnavi, VP and Head, Business Operations, CellNext Solutions is of the opinion that the services industry has been in the forefront when it comes to adoption of mobile applications. “These devices and applications have traditionally been seen as aiding organisations to function better. Most solutions are bought as products and then used internally. This is also one of the reasons for the slow growth in its market.”


Naveen Chopra, Chief Marketing Officer, Hutchison Essar explains, “Enterprises around the world including those in India are aware of the benefits of enterprise mobility. They understand the value of anytime, anywhere access to corporate data from any location and its competitive advantage.” He gives the instance of how Indian corporates are accessing e-mail on mobile phones.

He also notes that with remote intranet access, mobile VPN access, remote data gathering and collation on central servers, access of applications like CRM, ERP and SFA is also picking up.

Get connected

Chopra points out that with connectivity options proliferating, acceptance of mobile applications has risen. With issues such as lack of enterprise backends, standardisation of devices, speed of connectivity, transfer rates and security getting resolved, there is growth in adoption of mobile apps.

“The key to adoption of mobile apps is the readiness of enterprise back-end systems. It started about five to six years back with simple SMS-based applications talking to enterprise-wide applications and their use to disseminate information. Since then, the use of SMS as a medium for enterprise mobile applications has been adopted for data gathering, tracking, remote monitoring, business communication to customers and business partners,” says Chopra.

Anil Pande, Head, Product Development, Applications and Solutions Group, Reliance Communications, Reliance Infocomm explains, “Services like e-mail on the move or a browser experience along with directory services are horizontal in nature. In terms of vertical applications, it is the sales force automation that showcased the power of automation.” He is quick to add that transactional applications and customer queries on handsets are some of the applications which the BFSI segment has been using.

“Hardware pricing has become economical but along with that one device gives access to voice and data at economical rates, which has led to mass adoption of the services,” adds Chopra.

“Mobile solutions are becoming economically viable for more businesses"
Mohan Verma, Associate Director, PwC shares his perspective on adoption of mobile applications in the Indian enterprise

Some of the major business drivers for enterprise mobility are reduction in operational costs, faster turnaround time, and no more missed revenue opportunities. With these applications reducing the number of devices per employee (easier management) is possible.

Other benefits include improving customer service along with increasing accessibility and productivity of employees. Improving work/life balance among employees is also possible through the use of mobile applications.

On the technological side several factors are driving the growth of mobile solutions. The constant decline in hardware pricing has been a major factor. Increasing capabilities of handheld devices (processing power and storage) have also been instrumental in driving adoption.

Compared to the rest of the world, data access charges are among the lowest in India. High data access speeds and convergence are facilitating communication between various devices. Today an improved roaming experience is available. The emergence of multi-purpose devices have also made it possible to use one device for both voice and data access at an affordable pricing, increasing convenience.

However, there are some concerns. Security threats like device theft and data interception can endanger the integrity of corporate networks. Anti-virus protection, user authentication and data encryption technologies should also be implemented.

Quality of service issues can also be of concern. Effective mobile usage for enterprise applications demands a minimum level of network performance and coverage. Only recently high-speed wireless connectivity (EDGE and CDMA2000 1x) has been made available for Indian networks. But teledensity (11.2) still remains an area of concern for India on the question of network coverage.

Pande believes that organisations are experiencing the need for automation, especially among the employees at the lower level so as to reduce the turnaround time and achieve effective management and that has boosted adoption.

In 2004 people were not aware of the concept of mobile applications, while 2005 was the year that saw investments in pilot projects across verticals, and 2006 will see some of these pilots moving into the mainstream

Chakrapani explains, “Initially, a handheld was essentially a data device for thin clients. But today, the trend is moving to a more converged device. Voice cannot be ignored because it is the predominant use (about 70 percent) that handhelds are put to. But then, data in the form of instant messaging, SMS and browsing is equally important. So convergence is the key. As of now, the most common applications in use and demand are sales and field force automation, e-mail, instant messaging and calendar sync.”

Most organisations find SMS to be the best option as service providers have covered almost all parts of India with GSM and CDMA and it is faster. However the framework of mobility depends on the type of applications and data to be transferred back and forth. The platforms used are SMS, WAP, EDGE with GPRS and CDMA.

Among Indian enterprises, SMS rules as almost even the simplest handset supports this technology. Everybody who owns a handset knows how to message, which rules out extensive training. Moreover, only the field force needs to send daily reports which can be done using handhelds to send SMS.

SMS has its limitations. Pande agrees but adds, “The person using SMS is not expected to send big replies.” Everybody accepts that to ensure feature-rich information and inclusion of more data in a report, technologies like GPRS, CDMA and 3G are needed.

Vaishnavi feels that EDGE and WAP would allow faster connectivity and enrichment of applications. He believes that SMS is most effective for alerts, events and campaigns.

Standardising on devices

SMS is considered the best option as service providers have covered almost all parts of India with GSM and CDMA and it is faster. However the choice depends on application types and data to be transferred back and forth. Typical platforms used are SMS, WAP, EDGE with GPRS and CDMA

The handsets in vogue are basic mobile phones followed by PDAs and then smartphones, because of the cost involved. A good PDA costs Rs 15,000 whereas a smartphone comes at Rs 23,000 upwards.

Chopra remarks, “One of the key decisions that enterprises have to make is to standardise devices based upon the requirements of the individual using the application.” If the primary requirement is that of information dissemination/information gathering then SMS-based applications will do for which any low-end mobile phone suffices.

For data synchronisation, a larger screen and easier input necessitates the use of specialised devices with GPRS/EDGE support. For accessing corporate e-mail, devices that support attachments such as the Nokia Communicator series, Pocket PC devices, and Sony Ericsson P900 series are preferred.

There are other options too. For instance, Reliance Infocomm provides a complete package to its customers. Its R World facility gives vendors a platform to conduct marketing initiatives, take out advertisements and so on. The company’s team of developers helps in customising applications and also provides handsets (phones and PDAs) to the organisations. “The PDAs that we provide cost anything from Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000 whereas in the market the price for PDAs starts from Rs 6,000 to Rs 7,000,” says Pande.

Why Mobile Apps
  • Availability of variety of devices at attractive prices
  • Readiness of enterprise back-end systems to talk to mobile applications
  • Security concerns taken care of with facilities such as remote management of device, anti-virus software and so on
  • Need to reduce turnaround time

Need and trends

Organisations going in for mobile applications should conduct a reality check on the systems that they have. They need to ensure that the applications can talk to their back-end applications. There should be a clear roadmap on the standardisation of hardware.

Wireless e-mail and access to the Internet and intranets are the first horizontal applications which have been adopted across an enterprise. Chopra is of the view that enterprises are now in the process of adding applications and moving towards an advanced mobile strategy of fully integrating the mobile workforce with various back-end systems.

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Indian Express - Business Publications Division

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