Vince Rogley, a manager at a chemical plant equipment maker, has just been upgraded. And he likes his new toy. Problems with the delivery of three dozen new mobile phones sent by Orange to Rogley and his colleagues has resulted in the mobile network service provider's customer service department offering the group top-of-the-line devices. Of course they get email, calendaring, to-do lists and a contacts database and, yes, a phone service too – but the device is also a 3 megapixel camera, a high-quality video recorder, a 50-track MP3 player, a voice recorder and a games console. The communications package makes it clear that the phone is ready to download music tracks and video clips, and soon streamed TV.
Asked to put a value on the functionality that is actually useful in his day-to-day job, Rogley estimates that only about £50 worth of his £500 Samsung D600 phone is useful. The rest is just fun – and a status symbol.
That account crystallises the position of the mobile phone within the enterprise. The mobile, which started life as a pure business device, has, during the past five years, morphed into a piece of high-value consumer electronics that many observers now say is wholly inappropriate for business use in terms of its cost, capabilities and manageability (or lack of it).
That is evident in the widespread absence of strategic thinking when it comes to corporate mobile phone policy. A recent survey of 6,000 business users around the world by independent research house Simpson Carpenter (sponsored by handset market leader Nokia) highlighted the disconnect between decision-makers and employees over the perceived use of mobile technology. The 2,700 decision-makers surveyed said that only 24% of their staff used mobile phones for business purposes; however, over 50% of the 3,000 employees surveyed said they regularly made use of mobiles for work. And of those 'informal' business phones, 70% were bought by employees themselves.
Handset manufacturers and mobile service providers have historically done little to help. Confident that the addition of new gadgetry and aspects such as photo messaging at a pound a time will drive greater revenue than any business-oriented service, the mobile phone industry has focused almost all of its energies on consumers, leaving corporate 'niches', such as email, to the likes of RIM with its BlackBerry device. But there are now signs of a fundamental shift in the industry: an acceptance that the consumer and corporate devices markets are about to go their separate ways.
Mobile turning point
The world's biggest handset maker has certainly been planning for this moment for some time. Late in 2005, Nokia started to roll out what many analysts believe to be its first line of 'serious business mobiles' – devices that are targeted at multiple levels across the corporation. The trio of 'E-series' devices – the first fruit of a two-year effort by Nokia's Enterprise Solutions group – may in some cases lack megapixel imaging and an MP3 player but they have been built with specific corporate appeal. All are designed to provide mobile email; they support fixed/mobile convergence by marrying the mobile to the corporate PBX, enabling users to leverage a single device inside and outside the office; and they boast integrated security and manageability, enabling IT administrators to use centralised systems management tools, such as IBM's Tivoli, to remotely configure devices based on the user's role or to lock or wipe a device in the field that has been lost or stolen (see box, Anatomy of a business mobile).
"The device needs to be business-oriented," says Mary McDowell, the head of Nokia's Enterprise Solutions unit who was recruited to add corporate punch in 2004 from Hewlett-Packard where she led strategy and corporate development. "This is not simply a matter of repurposing consumer devices for businesses. We are building a new competency for business users and the IT management that supports them."
Analysts do not doubt that this is a turning point. "There is definitely a sea change, without question," says Emma Mohr-McClune, enterprise mobility analyst with research group Current Analysis. Along with Nokia's moves, she points to UK operators O2, Orange and T-Mobile bringing out their first branded devices specifically for business users, while Vodafone has been the first operator to tackle businesses' device management challenges.
Device manufacturers other than Nokia are also releasing more business-ready mobiles, but analysts have viewed them as both late and merely responding to the runaway success of a single application – mobile email. "The popularity of RIM's BlackBerry PDA created a dilemma for users – although they were happy with the BlackBerry's hardware design and security features, they worried about its proprietary platform and small memory," analysts at IT industry research house, Gartner wrote last year. "This led many to wish for a BlackBerry-like PDA that would operate on a Microsoft platform… It's rare that so broad a customer demand has taken so long to fulfil." Not surprisingly, over 2005, RIM responded by making BlackBerry more of an email device/PDA hybrid.
As that underscores, email is still the 'killer app'. All three of Nokia's E-series can receive such 'push' email, even on a more standard 'candy-bar' form factor, and are set at a price point which allows a much wider deployment of mobile email, between e350 to e450 without subsidy.
"Email was the big story in 2005 and we see it being the big story for 2006 as well," says Mohr-McClune. "Traditionally it was always the executive class playing with the BlackBerry, but that is probably not the most adaptable or cheapest email device to be pushing further into middle management, where it is actually needed. Many companies only get productivity efficiencies when more people are using them."
To this end, Nokia in November 2005 acquired mobile email specialist Intellisync. "The average employee spends one to two hours a day away from their desk, and one to three hours per week away from the office," says McDowell. "Business life is going mobile and the opportunity is there to bring the essential pieces together. Secure connectivity, applications mobilisation, cost effectiveness, manageability: these all have to come together if we are to go far beyond the 8 million mobile email boxes that exist today."
One factor that has held that back has been a lack of standards throughout the mobile email market. BlackBerry's proprietary system has trouble dealing with large attachments, opening the door to smaller rivals such as Good Technology, Visto and Seven as well as Nokia and, now, Microsoft.
PDA maker Palm's decision to switch from PalmOS to Windows Mobile for the latest version of its Treo smartphone was a significant win for the software giant, which launches 'push' email in the first quarter of 2006 with a free service pack for Exchange Server 2003.
"The next year will be very interesting, with Microsoft, Nokia and RIM all battling fiercely for control of mobile email," says T-Mobile's UK sales director Simon Ainslie.
And there is a great deal at stake. Analysts at Gartner suggest that by 2008, 100 million to 200 million of the world's 650 million mobile phones will have mobile email.
But email is just the opening gambit. Once they get a set of devices that are more fit for purpose, organisations are looking to roll out a much wider line of applications to employees – from business performance monitors for senior executives to workforce self-services applications, such as expenses filing.
Of course, some sectors, such as pharmaceuticals, field service, retail, logistics and banking, have already developed their own specialised mobile applications – usually for so-called 'blue collar' workers. And Clive Richardson, head of product development at Orange, says that he is seeing a "huge upsurge" in field service mobility in small to medium enterprises (SME).
But it is in the white-collar, office arena that the business mobile is changing fast. At this point applications beyond email tend to be relatively simple with easily demonstrated value, such as calendar synchronisation, or the recording of time spent with clients for lawyers and other professional groups, says Quocirca analyst Rob Bamforth.
He says that blue-collar field service applications are usually structured processes and so offer more measurable benefits than enabling management to make decisions or communicate more quickly. As such, he says mobile email deployments are typically given longer ROI periods of up to 18 months to prove themselves.
Other new initiatives in enterprise mobility are often those which extend or increase the value of a previous investment, such as a CRM system. "It's an important way to think about it: there is no such thing as mobility or mobile working, there is just work," Bamforth says. "Aspects of work are done in different places and as people now need access to IT for every part of their work, that has to be extended."
The demand has prompted a rush by mobile systems makers to establish their offering as the application platform of choice. The new BlackBerry Enterprise Server version 4.1, due in early 2006, is the first to be web services-enabled, allowing drag-and-drop creation of applications and highlighting the growing role of the IT department in mobile deployments.
"There is a lot of buzz in terms of business mobiles but what I think is going on is the erroneous belief that functionality should exist in the device," says Rick Constanzo, RIM's VP of commercial operations in Europe. "When you do that you make mistakes in architecture: security and scalability are must-haves for the IT department." RIM's system allows over 160 policies to be set out of the box to manage deployment, such as automatic screen locks after a set time.
One service which has been crucial in convincing IT departments to manage mobiles themselves is the ability to lock lost or stolen devices. Now, patches and virus protection can be delivered 'over the air'. Nokia's E-Series phones, for example, support security updates from Symantec and Pointsec.
Real complexity comes when IT departments have to replicate changes to processes and applications out to mobile devices. Analysts estimate around 70% of handsets require re-configuration after their initial delivery. Vodafone plans to be the first operator to take advantage of this opportunity, selling device management capabilities at the same time as mobile applications. "Mobile device management will help deliver the peace of mind enterprises require to invest in mobile data solutions and devices," says Current Analysis's Mohr-McClune.
IT must also take control of the cost of mobile. Today, many employees simply expense their mobile phone bills and Current Analysis found that as a rule of thumb only 20% of enterprises and 40% of SMEs provide their employees with mobiles. As those percentages grow, organisations will need a whole raft of tools to check usage, to prevent illicit calls to high-tariff numbers, or to split bills between employer and employee.
Just as, eventually, IT took control of the desktop PC, defining and standardising its applications and interfaces, so too will it play the central role in corralling the business mobile, ending a short era in which employers found themselves providing consumer electronics simply as a side effect of mobile-enablement. This is the birth of the mobile phone as business asset.