Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/07/04/mobile_handset_selection/

Mobile handset selection

Function, features, features and functions

By Team Register

Posted in Workshop, 4th July 2007 15:13 GMT

Mobile Clinic Choosing mobile handsets that keep the increasingly pushy and tech savvy user base in the organisation happy – without destroying the hard work put in to keep networks and data secure – is one of the most emotive issues we've had to deal with in this month's Mobile Clinic.

Fortunately, we once again have the old industry sages to steer you in the right direction. Hopefully there's a good few pointers below on striking the right balance. Let us know if you've got any better ideas.

Question: How do we strike the right balance between functionality and features when it comes to device selection for our business users?

Dale Vile, Freeform Dynamics Ltd

Mobile devices, like company cars, can be an emotive topic. What both of these have in common is that while they (usually) fulfil a useful business function, they also have a personal dimension to them and are often regarded as making a statement about the individual they "belong to". You see this in business meetings all the time as people pull up a chair at the table, get their device out of their pocket, and lay it down in front of them. There is then the surreptitious checking out of what other people have – as thoughts like "I'll raise your Pearl with my 8800" or "Is that really a first generation Windows Smartphone that guy's still using?" go through the heads of those superior beings with the latest kit. Then there's the unconvincing "I'd hate to be a slave to mobile email" comment as the only one in the room without a power gadget lays their old-fashioned Nokia candy stick phone on the table.

The fact is that while the IT department is continuously striving to ensure that everything connecting to the network is secure and manageable, users, the professional ones in any case, generally want the latest and greatest toys and status symbols, and the more unique and personal, the better.

In our experience, unless you are a very small organisation where you can get away with offering complete freedom of choice to users, it is necessary to come to some kind of compromise between the two opposing pulls, and this generally translates to one of two strategies.

Both of these start with assessing user requirements and preferences at a generic level – typically taking representative user input. Based on this, a limited range of devices is selected that meet the most common needs and wants of users and fulfil the IT department's criteria for security, manageability, software compatibility and so on. Factors such a company policy in relation to camera and multi-media capability can also be taken into account.

The only difference between the two strategies is then that the first essentially "prescribes" the device a user will receive in a particular role, while the second allows the user to choose between, say, two or three specific models according to their personal preference – e.g. a SmartPhone versus PDA form factor, QWERTY keyboard versus touch screen, etc.

A far less common approach, but one that can work if the IT department is willing to accept the additional overhead, is to define a list of criteria for an acceptable device then tell users they can select anything they want provided it meets the spec. The problem is, though, that IT must validate each unique individual choice in some way, otherwise it ends up as the equivalent of device anarchy, which invariably leads to a support headache as well as security and manageability issues. The uncontrolled procurement of mobile devices also means more capital outlay than is necessary.

Finally, when talking about device selection, we must not forget the requirements of so-called "blue collar" workers, e.g. in the areas of logistics and field service delivery. Generally speaking, the requirement here is to constrain the functionality as much as possible, providing locked down devices and applications that do only what they need to in the context of the relevant workflow, and no more. Of course, there are situations in which more "open" capability is required, similar to professional users, but these are relatively rare. More commonly, the requirement is for attributes such as touch screen control with resilient screen construction to take the beating of repetitive signature capture, the ability to attach peripherals like bar code scanners and printers, or suitable fixings to allow for the mounting of devices in the cabs of trucks or vans.

Then we have the big debate over ruggedisation, and the argument that you can afford to trash two or more commodity devices before it becomes as expensive as a single ruggedised one. Our research, however, clearly shows that regardless of the economic theory, the jury is out on this one, and an equal number of field service organisations go for ruggedised and commodity kit.

As a final word of caution, while we are obviously advocating a good degree of IT control over device selection and deployment for professional as well as blue collar workers, it is absolutely critical to involve the user community in the selection process regardless of the context and application. One of the most common sources of failure of mobile investments is the rollout of kit that is not fit for purpose, which basically means it doesn't get used and, therefore, that the business objectives of deploying mobile technology in the first place are never met. Getting a few representative users in to provide feedback on applications and devices at the beginning of the project can avoid a lot of expensive rework or replacement of kit down the line.

Ed Moore, OpenWeb Product Manager, OpenWave

Where to begin?

For business users of mobile devices there are many aspects to consider when choosing devices, some of which are less obvious than others. An obvious one would be if they will be heavy email users or need custom applications, a less obvious one is do they have a car kit that will need upgrading if you change devices? There's no cost saving if a free upgrade will cost £500 per employee in car changes.

These days it's almost impossible to get a mobile device that won't make voice calls and as unlikely you'd ever want this scenario. Operator bundles rely on a given level of service charges to compensate for handset subsidies, so you may as well accept this precondition.

So now voice capability is out of the way (and text messaging likewise is universal) we can concentrate on data requirements. The two main needs here remain email access and browsing capabilities, with some custom applications a possibility. For custom applications you need an open OS such as Symbian or Windows, and remember to check compatibility with your chosen application. For email, access clients should be universal; either a standard client with POP3/IMPA4 support or a client/server solution from a commercial supplier. For browsers, stick to the built-in application but check capabilities; even the most sophisticated suffer drawbacks compared to desktop browsers, so try before you buy to ensure compatibility.

Ok, so voice and data are out the way; what else? Battery life is still important for heavy users or those away from the desk for long periods. Size may also matter for people, as well as the fundamental question of one device or two. Small voice phone and a large data device (which can be put away when not required) or a single device to keep down complexity? Two devices may require you to choose a mobile operator that can support multi-SIM (two SIM cards on one contract), which can restrict choice. The impact on roaming charges may also need to be considered in this.

Important decisions now out of the way, you come to the clash between vanity and standardisation. Many companies like to standardise on particular models or vendors of handset, but this is no good if models change every three months. You need to look at new devices or those slanted to business users with a long life. Car kits need to be universal and Bluetooth headset compatibility needs to be standard (for those long car journeys). Vanity though will lead to your employee asking for the latest and sexiest devices. Change devices frequently and get the latest possible devices with great new features please. If your company provides company cars, talk to the person in charge of these. They should have good ideas on how to keep these desires in place.

Good choosing!

Nick Horton, Head of Business Devices, Orange UK

Today's IT managers face a dizzying choice when it comes to mobile devices. Not only are vendors constantly expanding their ranges, but the lines are becoming increasingly blurred between "traditional" handsets, smartphones, and PDA-style devices. At the same time, job roles are also evolving, with increasing mobility and trends like flexible working eroding the traditional hierarchy of many organisations. Where once only senior executives could justifiably claim to warrant a BlackBerry, for example, these devices are now becoming more widespread.

Given these factors, it is hardly surprising that organisations express growing frustration when it comes to selecting and managing the right mobile fleets. However, by appreciating the device options available; gaining a closer understanding of different user needs; and deploying sensible device management policies that balance these requirements with other business priorities such as data security, companies can cut through this hype and find the ideal solution for their business.

It is firstly important to appreciate the sheer range of devices available today. For a certain type of user, simple, "talk and text" handsets will always suffice. Moving upmarket, more sophisticated smart devices - which allow email to be accessed in real time and documents edited on the move via high-speed data connections - offer clear productivity advantages for mobile workers and are increasingly appearing in price bands once occupied by more simplistic phones. Finally, powerful PDA-style devices, originally popularised by RIM's BlackBerry range, are now available from all the major device manufacturers.

Understanding user needs more fully, and segmenting these needs more effectively, remains a fundamental priority for mobile fleet managers. In today's shifting organisational landscape, it is no longer sufficient to classify users purely based on their relative seniority. Instead, companies should establish clear classes of user based on departmental and job responsibilities and use this information as the basis for their procurement decisions.

Lastly, establishing effective device management policies (see previous Mobile Clinic responses) will ensure that companies can enjoy the productivity benefits afforded by truly mobile workforces, while also minimising the attendant data security risks posed by rolling smarter devices out across their organisations.

On this final note, it is important to acknowledge that increasing employee access to the likes of mobile email/PIM and line of business applications offers clear business advantages, which outweigh the perceived risks. It is fair to say that, in the past, deployment of these services within organisations has been less than ideally controlled, leading to these fears being exaggerated. Here, a clear opportunity exists for both device manufacturers and mobile operators to engage more closely with their customers.

To summarise, it can be argued that the issue here does not necessarily lie with the increasingly complex device features and functionality, but with the need for greater understanding of users' contrasting needs. By paying closer attention to classes of user; balancing the resulting requirements with the correct choice of device through communication with their mobile operators; and establishing sensible device management policies; organisations can ensure that mobility remains a benefit rather than a headache for both individual users and device fleet managers. ®