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Issue of July 2006 

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Mobile Enterprise

EWA on the move

India Inc has realised the potential of mobile-enabling enterprise wide applications. By Shivani Shinde.

Among Indian enterprises, ERP has been adopted the most with other enterprise wide applications being restricted to specific verticals. For instance, CRM has been adopted by the banking and retail verticals, SCM finds favour with manufacturers, and SFA (sales force automation) has been widely used by FMCG, pharmaceutical and media companies. The only enterprise wide application that has truly gone mobile is SFA.

Says Nilay Sharma, Director, Base Information, “We have had a mobile solution ready for the last four years, but whenever we approached an organisation we encountered apprehension. However, since the last two years we have seen this come down considerably.”

The role of connectivity has been crucial. PDAs have been around for a long time, but what happened earlier was that though a person had a PDA he would need to synchronise the device to a landline or base station. “Thus, earlier, people were never mobile in the true sense. On that the sync was something like a flat file which needed to be merged with the application’s database,” recalls Sharma.

Arun Ramachandran

Arun Ramachandran, Head, Presales and Professional Service, Sybase India and SAARC, feels that the need for mobile applications stems from the need to enhance productivity and efficiency in the workplace.

Ravi Subramanyam

Indian enterprises are certainly not new to the concept of mobile applications. According to Ravi Subramanyam, Managing Director, Mobile One, 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.”

Enabling the sales force

Sumeet Gugnani, Business Group Lead, Mobility and Embedded Devices, Microsoft India, believes that the industry started by enabling the sales force to optimise and leverage it for business growth. It has now started to encapsulate other applications.

Smartphones have solved the connectivity and applications problem, kicking off adoption. The first thing that organisations did was to mobile-enable their SFA application. “Mobile applications are still developed as stand-alone products, which creates problems when integrating them with enterprise systems,” Sharma points out.

Most SFA systems are mobile-enabled via SMS. Apart from voice, SMS was the only ‘killer’ application on mobiles. Even today this is the most extensively used. Says Seshagiri A M, General Manager for Applications Sales at Oracle India, “Among other SMS-based applications which are becoming popular in business are the missed call service, banking queries, and simple financial transactions. Outside of SMS, corporate directories, location-based services, and e-mail on mobile devices are the other applications which have caught on in the enterprise space.” According to him, the biggest change coming up in the mobile applications space is integration of the mobile device with back-end ERP, SCM and CRM applications. Organisations have already begun to provide instant information on changes in the financial status of corporate bank accounts, inventory and stock supply situations, work order status, etc. Workflow-based approvals are becoming popular through mobile devices.

Although PDAs are well-suited for mobile-enabling EWA, smartphones can do that and handle voice, believes Seshagiri. Nowadays smartphones (essentially devices which are phones first with PDA features—like Blackberries and Motorola’s MotoQ) are gaining marketshare because of the enhanced business functions that are being loaded onto them.

Nilay Sharma

Sharma agrees. “When you look at devices you need to look at PDAs, smartphones and notebooks. Java has become more or less the default platform.” Gugnani feels the same: “Our applications are generally written on .Net and Java technologies, and then integrated with the main application such as SAP.”

Going beyond SFA

Yes, SFA has been widely used, but there are any number of cases wherein ERP, CRM and SCM are being used on mobile handsets. Some of the areas that are showing increased adoption are inspection, marketing applications, mobile tariff rate, and loan processing.

Gugnani gives the example of the State Electricity Board of UP, which had been having problems in getting transparency in meter reading. The board then provided its employees with handhelds with a built-in camera and a small printer too. When a meter is read the person takes a picture right in front of the owner and also provides a printout, which has helped the board in reducing corruption and increasing transparency.

ERP has already gone mobile, with sales order confirmation and workflow integration. Again in ERP it is the inventory module that has been mobile-enabled.

According to Seshagiri, customers are looking at field service, notifications and approvals, exception alerts in inventory management, distribution, asset management, expenses and SFA. He gives the instance of Oracle’s Mobile Supply Chain application that enables users to perform many common warehouse and shop-floor transactions through hand-held radio frequency devices, PDAs, and truck-mounted radio frequency scanners. Transactions can be carried out on these wireless devices at the point of use, offering real-time transaction processing, improved data accuracy, and increased mobility and convenience.

Apart from ERP and SFA, CRM initiatives in many verticals have also gone mobile. CRM to a large extent is the part of the SFA initiative. In the pharmaceutical and FMCG verticals, the reports that the field force send to the head-office is a part of CRM.

Organisations with assets distributed in different customer or geographical locations use field service applications for scheduling jobs and updating work completion reports. SFA has been the fore-runner of CRM applications, and is used by a large number of FMCG, retail, pharma and telecom companies.

For connectivity, GSM and CDMA are the most preferred, with GPRS and WAP features. Wi-Fi hot spots are another area for experimentation by many organisations, especially those that are trying to implement RFID, or in a retail outlet.

Wi-Fi can best be used in the mall concept. In a mall there are lots of shops that are branches of a particular brand, and these branches need to file reports of the purchases made every day. The agent in the shop, through a handset that has Wi-Fi connectivity, can easily file reports.

Mobile Applications: On the Ground
Integration of customer accounts with the mobile is already a reality. Customers query their accounts on the mobile, manage payments for utilities, carry out fund transfers, and get information about promotional offers, forex and interest rates. SBI’s mChq initiative with Airtel is one of the biggest steps towards integrating mobile applications on the handset.

Many options

Companies that have gone in for deploying mobile applications have either developed their own solutions or taken assistance from a third party.

Microsoft, with its various offerings in the applications segment, is working closely with ISVs to come up with solutions. One such partner is Mobile One. Then there is Sybase with its Anywhere suite. Similarly, Oracle is eyeing this market. The Oracle e-business suite enables wireless access for all desktop self-service HTML applications, store and forward access for service and sales applications, as well as PIM integration. Base Information Management has mobile-enabled the sales force of many a company.

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