The pitch sounded impressive: all the benefits of the office, wherever your workers are. But so far, the mobile solution market has failed to live up to the hype. Mass-market use is still a couple of years away at best, but an industry upturn may be on the way. Datamonitor’s Richard Clifford explains why…
Wireless devices like mobile phones, PDAs and laptops are enabling the office worker – when out of the office or working from home – to gain access to emails, personal information like online calendars, task lists and address book services, and to access the corporate intranet and the web.
The financial services sector, in particular investment banking, is currently the largest sector of adoption in the mBusiness market. In the US, for example, applications such as access to real-time equity information for traders on the floor are driving mobile middleware vendors’ sales.
Professional services companies are also investing in mobile middleware as opportunity costs revolve around a connected remote workforce. In this sector, vendors are receiving most success in deploying applications such as mobile email and personal information management functions (PIM).
Meanwhile, manufacturing companies are deploying solutions to integrate their supply chains, in order to reduce cycle times and lower costs. The idea of mobilizing the field force is also receiving interest from the manufacturing and utilities sectors, particularly in the UK.
Sell, sell, sell!
In its mCommerce End-User survey: mCommerce trends in Europe 2001, Datamonitor asked 208 enterprises where mobile solutions were most likely to be used; 59% stated that the main users would be the salesforce.
The ability to take a customer order directly and immediately during customer meetings enables a salesperson to process transactions more quickly and efficiently. The salesperson’s ability to check inventory levels and guarantee product delivery to a customer is yet more compelling.
This will enhance immediate customer satisfaction and allow the enterprise to manage its inventory levels more efficiently, reducing the financial investment in inventory, which immediately drops to the bottom line. The enterprise will also be able to ship and then invoice the customer more quickly, which has an immediate and measurable impact on cash flow and the availability of capital.
The case for mobilizing field service employees is also very strong. There are considerable productivity and efficiency gains that can be generated by implementing a mobile field service solution, through improved schedule management and increased job efficiency.
The benefits of improving customer service are also clear, and field service solutions are becoming increasingly attractive to enterprises with large customer bases. As a result, Datamonitor estimates that global enterprise investment in mobile field service solutions will total $220 million by the end of 2002.
…but don’t forget the management
Although the current market for mobile solutions is heavily geared towards field service workers, vendors should not neglect the potential to equip other business users – in particular, senior managers.
Access to real-time wireless data can aid swift decision-making and with management often ‘on the road’, there is a need to equip them with devices that can be used to access the latest information such as emails, production and daily sales records.
It is easy to ignore the intangible benefits that IT solutions can bring. It has become more popular to focus on the tangibles as a sales-lead generator tool in the current economic climate, where CFOs will not countenance IT spend that does not make or save money.
However in the case of mobile technology, the intangible benefits are just as important as tangible ones.
ROI is not enough!
In the current economic climate, end-users have to justify IT expenditure more stringently than ever. As a result, vendors are approaching potential customers with a variety of different metrics aimed at proving their mobile field service solutions.
But many of the ROI studies that vendors use miss the mark; astute financial directors will not be impressed. Companies must focus on the efficiencies that can be made in internal business processes, not on the amount of time that can be saved per day, as time is not effectively captured or accounted for.
ROI, however, only forms part of the business case for mobile solutions. There are a number of intangible benefits that cannot accurately be calculated (such as improved brand image and competitive advantage). These must also be included in any business case and in many instances may be just as important as the tangible factors.
Another three bleak quarters
End-users’ perception of mobile business has not really moved on. There is still a great deal of misunderstanding and confusion even about crucial matters such as solution benefits, probable costs and likely delivery channels, to name a few.
Vendors have been offering mobile field service solutions for some time but they have not really been publicizing them to any great extent. Now, they must educate the market: only once potential customers are fully aware of the issues will uptake levels begin to increase.
At this stage, competitive advantage becomes an issue and end-users will feel it necessary to invest in mobile solutions simply to keep up with the Joneses.
This process takes time, though, and vendors wishing to make the most out of the mobile opportunity need to start conveying their message to the market now. However, improved uptake levels will not occur for some time; the smaller vendors must make sure that they have enough finance to survive for at least another six to nine months.
In a market that looks ripe for sustained M&A activity, smaller vendors should be making plans to weather the inevitable bleak period that lies ahead. The larger vendors, on the other hand, should be looking to take advantage of this, not on a technological level, but on a market-based level by concentrating on issues such as customer ownership.
Don’t tie yourself to your partners
In an early adopter market, most implementations have so far been bespoke, vertical-specific applications; mobile solutions have either been developed in-house or by a vertical provider. As a result, customer ownership was the preserve of the device manufacturer or the vertical solution provider (if they were different).
Although several partnerships have been announced, application vendors do not appear to have specific partnership strategies in mind. Customer ownership is the most important issue and this naturally varies according to the type and size of enterprise. However, customer ownership will also change with time as applications increase in functionality (and the simplest ones commodify) and channels to market develop.
Application vendors must form clear partnership strategies now to account for this, or they risk losing out to those competitors that do. At the same time, though, they must maintain the flexibility to change and develop partnering agreements over the medium term.
Related research: Datamonitor, Evolution of the mobile enterprise: Mobile field service (BFTC0748)