Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/10/17/mobile_workshop_roundup/

The keys to mobile success

Pulling it all together

By David Perry and Dale Vile

Posted in Mobile, 17th October 2006 10:56 GMT

Mobile workshop roundup As many of you will have noticed, we have been running an online workshop on the site over the past month or so gathering reader views on the way things are unfolding in the mobile space.

As part of the exercise, we kicked off discussions in the following areas:

The depth and breadth of feedback we received was superb, and some good experiences and insights emerged – so thanks to all of those who contributed.

By way of a round up, here are some of the main points that came out of each theme:

Mobile email options and use

Our first article on mobile email kicked off a lively debate. Clearly, the viral spread of mobile email, led by RIM's BlackBerry, has produced some pretty strong opinions.

Readers' views crossed the spectrum from "can't live without it" to "it's just a play thing for the idle overpaid on the top floor". Here are a couple of example quotes from the workshop:

"Mobile email is the greatest thing since mobile phones were invented. My productivity has gone through the roof."

As an administrator of a BlackBerry Enterprise Server, all I can say is we have to subsidise the lifestyles of its users – people getting yet another freebie at the expense of their employers.

Either way, since the company generally supplies, or at least has to endorse and enable a mobile email device, it's in danger of becoming a status symbol like a company car, and therefore prone to all the same type of office politics. Nevertheless, 60 per cent of readers responding to our follow up mini-poll felt that mobile email is important to the business.

Many of the issues that people have with mobile email can be addressed if the employer has sensible policies: rolling it out where it helps the business, rather than just massaging egos, and dealing with some of the softer issues during deployment, like setting expectations for out of hours availability and maintenance of work/life balance.

From a technology perspective, BlackBerry is obviously in the lead, but the arrival of push email from Microsoft has catapulted the Redmond giant to an equal level of mindshare with RIM as a strategic supplier of mobile technology looking forward – something confirmed by our poll that put the two players neck and neck in the enterprise space.

It'll be interesting to see how things develop here. BlackBerry does more today, but Windows Mobile is often viewed as a more open and therefore potentially extensible platform for the future. The jury seems to be out on whether that flexibility will come at a cost in terms of security and stability, however.

As the market and solutions mature, it is clear that people are becoming more demanding. Apart from raising the above issues, many comments addressed the need for some very specific features and areas improvement, confirming that mobile email really is being used seriously out there.

Security and mobile working

Our second topic examined the security issues associated with mobile working.

What's clear from the feedback is that the weakest link in the mobile security chain is the user. As one reader put it:

"It's a user problem – no matter which way you want to slice it. We're all fallible and no doubt even the world's greatest security guru mislays his keys, PDA or whatever every now and again."

Much of the discussion was then about what could be done to deal with this. There was a general consensus that there are some technology related measures that can be put into place and comments such as "encrypt, encrypt, encrypt" and "good decisions up front are obviously critical", highlight a couple of the imperatives here.

But the results of a workshop poll really did underline where a lot of the work needs to be done. Only 20 per cent of respondents said their mobile users had a good attitude to security, with 45 per cent at the other extreme citing attitudes being poor. Yet only a third of organisations seem to be delivering any level of training or guidance of any kind on avoiding mobile data security exposure.

Some good news of a different kind emerged, however, in that there was very little response to a prompt for experiences with mobile malware. Perhaps the reason for this can be summed up in this reader comment:

"There's definitely a lot of talk about malware and viruses running through mobile devices, but there's an awful lot of market making in these statements. I've yet to witness anything of the sort and we have a lot of mobile users."

The bottom line on security seems to be that we need to move on from the traditional emphasis on whether the technology is secure per se and focus more on making sure the technology is deployed and used in a secure manner.

Evolution of mobile devices

When it comes to handsets, the range of views we received suggested the existence of many disjoints in the complicated mix of manufacturers, service providers, sales channels, and business needs.

Even the companies that have worked through this and have formed a mobile device strategy still say it's a challenge having to contend with rapidly evolving handsets and peripherals that are rarely backwards compatible, and which often seem to have been developed in a vacuum devoid of business user input. There's also the suspicion that features trumpeted by manufacturers are oversold, appealing to vanity rather than a business requirement.

This doesn't help companies that want to adopt a best practice approach to procurement. Some people are clearly happy with the BlackBerry's thumb keyboard and click wheel, and don't care that some of the other applications beyond email are not felt to be as good as those on a Windows Mobile PDA; others would like a workhorse handset like the Nokia 6110i to have mobile email support (there was significant support for this idea during a poll).

Because the expectation is that a mobile device is carried around all the time, businesses and suppliers need to come up with a balance of function and form that satisfies the business requirements but which doesn't embarrass the person carrying the device around.

There's clearly some work to done here, and it is still a challenge coming up with the right mix of devices for the workforce. Regardless of the outcome here, though, many will undoubtedly end up agreeing with the view of the reader that said:

"Yes, we will soon carry two devices. One for the boss and one for the rest of the world."

Fixed/mobile convergence

Our last topic was converged services, particularly those that are emerging as a way of bridging the gap between fixed and mobile access.

There was some interesting feedback both in the form of comments and poll votes that suggested cost savings and convenience of billing would be a driver for many. Comments such as this one sum up some of the issues here that convergence might address:

"Managing multiple bills and networks and suppliers is becoming one of the biggest pains in my life – and we're only a 50 man company. I must spend a month a year on this and it really is laughable."

Beyond cost and billing consolidation, quite a few others (over half in our poll) said converged services would need to deliver a more convenient and effective experience to be attractive, with coherent mechanisms of access across fixed and various forms of mobile for both telephony and data.

From the feedback received overall, it is clear there is a lot of interest in converged services, but the feeling by many is that things still need to settle down and become better defined before they will be ready to commit to converged offerings for serious business use.

Perhaps there is a call to action here for service providers to make sure propositions are clearly presented to the business audience so they understand the practicalities as well as the top line vision.

Conclusion

Mobile technologies are clearly moving forward at a rapid rate and the arrival of wireless email and data solutions for accessing other types of application is already adding real value to many businesses.

There are some challenges in moving forward with the technology, not least caused by the rapid development that is taking place in the industry, the disjoints that are resulting from this, and the fact that the channels often used for mobile delivery outside the largest enterprise accounts are not really skilled at selling mobile data solutions.

The issue of security remains a concern, but the emphasis seems to be shifting from the technology to the softer issues of user training and responsibility. This reflects a certain amount of maturing of attitudes that has come from early experiences over the past few years.

Against this background, it is clear that the same discipline and due diligence must be employed when rolling out mobile technology as we are used to with other IT solutions that are critical to the business. This includes business case development, informed and controlled selection of equipment and services, sound technical planning and proper user training.

According to our readers, these seem to be the keys to success – easy really! ®