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Mobile Workshop As part of our series of articles on mobile email, this week we’re tackling the subject of the mobile devices themselves. As the actual user interface of a mobile email solution, as well as a potential replacement or substitute of (for some at least) a very personal item, a number of interesting discussion points are raised. We’d like to get your comments and later in the week we’ll do a wrap up and run a mini-survey to close.

Hardware platform

With the exception of the BlackBerry, mobile email has largely piggybacked on the back of two existing classes of devices: mobile phones and PDA’s.

As a result, the mobile email handhelds have been subject to the general market forces of this prosumer market segment. This has created a series of problems for ISVs and application developers due to a rapidly changing plethora of form factors, processing power and screen specifications. Is this holding back in-house or external application development in your experience? Do mobile operators have a part to play in managing the suppliers through their superior purchasing power?

Operating systems evolution

Over the past few years, in response to the success of the BlackBerry, arguably a “killer app”, rivals have been rapidly developing alternative solutions that aim to reassert their dominance over the upstart. This has resulted in a rapid evolution of client and server-side software. It’s one thing to force a hardware or software change at the centre, but quite another to change all the end devices themselves. There really isn’t a tradition of operating systems upgrades on mobile devices in the same way as desktop PCs.

Both these factors have been reflected in the feedback that we have received to previous articles. Some have been critical of RIM for unimaginative product development and a relatively closed environment, yet it is a fact that a two or three year old Blackberry still works acceptably, whereas it is less likely that the same could be said of a Symbian or WM handset of similar vintage. It’s one thing to get people used to mobile applications, but quite another to have to tell them that the application is going away after they have got used to it as one of our readers using the Palm OS was forced to do.

Making Choices

When you add the above factors to the sometimes iconic fashion nature of personal mobile devices, you’ve created a real challenge to device standardisation in an organisation. It’s similar in some ways to the old system of establishing a company car policy (before the tax system made it far better to run your own), but different in one crucial respect in that there’s no real justification for giving a CEO a better device than a road warrior. Service providers face similar challenges: coming up with a range of devices that will satisfy a range of potential customers, but which can be managed within a target SLA envelope.

We’d be interested to hear from any of you that attempted to come up with an approved devices list, and the issues you had to deal with during rollout and over time as the environments evolved.

Budgets

Once the selection and software development process is finished, how do you actually pay for the devices? It’s been about 20 years since the process of cost-justifying mobile phones for sale people happened, and the mechanisms for signing up contracts are established. Mobile data handsets are considerably more expensive than the basic telephone handsets that are usually given free with a corporate contract, so any large-scale migration to mobile data/phone devices will require goodwill (and common sense) on the part of both the service provider and procurement. How long should the expected lifetime of the device be, when the culture for many users today is to change handsets every year to get the latest camera etc.

This is another valuable area for reader feedback. How do you think your staff and suppliers performed in the selection and delivery of mobile email solutions? Did both sides show flexibility, or was it a frustrating process for all?

Training and support

Another cost item is training and support for the new system, including the opportunity cost of sales time. Not everyone is a touch typist, or used to using predictive texting applications. How much of a frustration will some of the keyboard solutions be for users?

What’s next?

With all the jockeying for position going on, Microsoft’s entry into the field of push email and alternative solutions being tried and adopted by some of you, what are your tips for the next stage in the evolution of mobile devices? Do you think that the hardware manufacturers and developers are involved in a sensible dialogue with you, their customers, about your business requirements as they look to the next generation of mobile solutions?

It seems to us that unless the process is properly managed, and supported by senior management, that the experience of rolling out a mobile email platform could be quite painful, again we’d like to thank you in advance for your feedback and any war stories of successful (or not) deployments and your thoughts and plans for the future.®

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