HP to challenge RIM over mobility management

SHANGHAI — In the mobile world, IT managers are starting seeing a move away from point products toward application suites, as enterprises look to simplify security and management of multiple mobile devices.

“Mobile devices are only as cool as they work,” said Gene Wang, vice-president of marketing for the Handheld Business Unit with HP’s Personal Systems Group, during the HP Mobility Summit in Shanghai last month. “Problems can start as soon as you take a new phone out of the box.”

Mobile security is a big pain point for enterprises, he said, which is why the company has rolled out HP Enterprise Mobility Suite, designed to reduce IT support costs, protect corporate data and improve workforce productivity through a self-serve Web portal.

This is the first mobile device management suite introduced since HP’s acquisition of Bitfone last December, which pioneered over-the-air device management for wireless devices (Wang is the former chief executive of Bitfone). HP’s suite includes over-the-air software updates, device configuration, diagnostics and device security.

Enterprise mobility brings up a lot of IT issues, and it’s more than just locking down devices. “A lot of corporations haven’t even started managing devices,” said Dave Rothschild, vice-president of the Handheld Business Unit with HP’s Personal Systems Group. Eventually, people will use their handhelds for a lot more than just checking e-mail. As computing on mobile devices becomes more prevalent, organizations are left grappling with management issues: Should they standardize? Should they issue devices? Or should they reimburse employees for their personal devices?

RIM has also recognized the evolving nature of the mobile market. Shortly after its BlackBerry network outage that affected users across North America, the company announced plans to expand its support for Windows Mobile-based devices via a software application suite that allows third-party manufacturers to tap into BlackBerry software applications and services. This suite will be available on select devices later this year.

These devices will connect using the BlackBerry Enterprise Server or BlackBerry Internet Service, and the BlackBerry application suite will appear as an icon on the Windows Mobile-based device (users can toggle between the two).

Organizations are looking to add mobility to existing infrastructure, while requiring as little retraining and interruption to existing infrastructure as possible, said Carmi Levy, senior research analyst with Info-Tech Research Group.

The HP suite addresses one of the last remaining obstacles to mobile adoption, which is security. “A lot of organizations have been put off implementing mobile solutions out of concern for data loss,” he said. “So this address that by boxing into one comprehensive solution pretty much everything that an enterprise would need to safely deploy mobility.”

HP’s technology is based on Windows Mobile — Microsoft’s “pocket” operating system — and the vast majority of enterprises already use Exchange as their corporate messaging solution. And it’s easier to sell a native choice to the IT administrator than something that is not native.

“RIM’s solution really was to make a non-Microsoft mobile messaging solution more palatable to the IT administrator,” said Levy. “HP’s advantage is that it’s using something that enterprises are already familiar with. RIM is fighting a bit of an uphill battle in the data centre space.” However, RIM has done well with the BlackBerry Enterprise Server, which is essentially a turnkey box that you drop into your data centre to seamlessly route traffic to mobile devices.

“Administrators are demanding a consistent administrative experience – they don’t want to have additional administrative tools to care and feed,” said Levy. “If you look at HP’s offering and RIM’s offering, they’re all aiming at that sweet spot.”

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