Wireless, software vendors must cooperate: study

The wireless enterprise market will stagnate unless cellular operators and software vendors align their interests to develop strategies that would help organizations provide remote access of corporate data and applications to their mobile workers, according to U.K.-based research and consulting firm Ovum Ltd.

Neil Ward Dutton, research director, e-infrastructure, at Ovum, said recently that the conflicting interests of suppliers in both the mobile computing and cellular data services markets are jeopardizing what is potentially a US$29 billion global market in 2006.

According to Ovum, the Asia-Pacific region will account for more than 20 per cent of the global figure for network services, software, and related integration services.

Even in this uncertain economic climate, much of the convergence taking place is driven by enterprises that recognize the value of wireless technologies as an intrinsic part of their e-business strategies.

“Business customers are different from the consumers,” said Dutton. “Owning the customer (as a strategy) is a bad idea, as businesses are interested in IT solutions, and are concerned with the kinds of services they will get, their risks as well as costs.”

“They think of manageability and return on investment. To them, brand, quality and trust matter. But many are confused by the contradictory messages they are hearing,” he said.

“The operators are saying to them that it’s the network that is important. The application providers are saying that it’s the software. Good software makes everything work. And on top of that, the ASPs (application service providers) are telling them not to worry about the network or the software. Just pay them and they will handle everything.”

He urged both wireless operators and software vendors to approach the market with an open mind, to forgo old assumptions and rules, and collaborate in creating “customer-facing” services that would enable enterprises assemble their own solutions in a flexible manner.

“Companies we spoke to say 30 to 40 per cent of their people are not tethered to their desks,” said Dutton. “Many are interested in providing remote access to corporate applications for their mobile employees to help them become more productive.”

While standardization of the process – by combining network devices, applications and devices – will help suppliers deliver a seamless solution, they should not assume uniformity of solutions is what customers want.

“All businesses have unique requirements. They won’t likely be purchasing wireless solutions off-the-shelf,” he said.

“Businesses want two types of applications. One is the communication-centric application, which is about connecting people and things, such as e-mail, instant messaging. And the other is the process-centric application, which is about making the interaction as sophisticated as possible for the user.”

Dutton believes that customers will not be looking to spend time with different classes of suppliers. “If anything, players such as systems integrators, and service providers, such as wireless ASPs, have the upper hand, as they are able to form close relationships with businesses, and as such they are likely to ‘control’ these -customers.”

The potential opportunities for product-service collaboration are great, he said.

For instance, operators can collaborate with system integrators (SI) to deliver network-based service offerings, such as location information, security and device provisioning. “SIs are the best fit for process-centric applications, which require a high-level of customization.

Because they understand business problems and the existing tech environment, system integrators will know how to integrate and tailor products to fit business requirements,” said Dutton.

“Wireless ASPs, on the other hand, are ideally placed to provide communication-centric applications because they can deliver economies of scale by offering it cheaply to companies,” he added.

“And it is these kinds of joint ventures that will galvanize the wireless enterprise market,” Dutton noted.