Most experts believe business users will be the first to widely adopt mobile data applications. But many operators remain narrowly focused on the consumer marketplace, leaving enterprises searching in the dark for wireless data solutions.
After deciding to invest in going mobile, many corporations dont know where to find the best applications. They can try to build solutions internally, examine the countless companies that offer apps or consult with their wireless service providers.
In many cases, however, an enterprise uses a number of different operators and often doesnt have a strong relationship with any of them. Wireless Knowledge has noticed that the chief information officers and chief technical officers of its potential enterprise customers have established relationships with a variety of vendors, ranging from Cisco Systems, Lotus and Microsoft to their broadband connectivity providers.
"Over and over, we find the one relationship they dont have at all is with their wireless provider," says Jeff Ross, Wireless Knowledges director of business development.
Even when an enterprise does have a relationship with an operator, the company may not have much luck working with the operator on data solutions. "Operators are generally more consumer-oriented. Value-added services and integration to enterprise applications is not something they focus on," says David Coelho, CEO and president of MobileSys, which offers wireless integration to enterprise applications. He founded the company because he has observed how difficult it can be for enterprises to find and deploy wireless data solutions.
MobileSys has relationships with most wireless operators and has integrated its product with more than 100 enterprise applications from vendors such as IBM, Oracle, Siebel Systems and Sybase. "What that means for the enterprise is it can literally be an instant-on," Coelho says.
The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority signed on with MobileSys to give its highly mobile workers the ability to send and receive information from a central source. Workers use a variety of pagers, mobile phones and personal digital assistants. Ben Graham, MARTAs manager of network engineering, found that operators and product vendors had solutions that would only work with their own products. "From the view of a manager, I was trying to trim down and not have a lot of different applications to manage and troubleshoot," he says.
He found MobileSys at a wireless data conference. The MobileSys solution MARTA uses works with Hewlett-Packards HP OpenView and lets an administrator send messages out to many devices from the single source.
Wireless operators are, however, beginning to pay attention to enterprise users — especially large corporations — and are building relationships with applications providers. "A lot of carriers dont have a data solution for enterprises. Thats where the big scramble in the market is," says John Diack, vice president of channels and alliances of Infowave Software.
Wireless Knowledge has deals with several operators, including Verizon Wireless and Sprint PCS. Nextel Communications has partnerships with 17 application providers.
Cingular Wireless has relationships with applications providers including Infowave, Oracle and Siebel. Many of the enterprise users of Cingulars networks want to extend existing apps to mobile workers, says Tom Langan, Cingulars executive director of partner alliance management. And, enterprises are more often looking for platforms that can support a number of different applications. Instead of deploying one app for field technicians and another for mobile executives, enterprises want to be able to support both using the same solution, he says.
Most of Cingulars mobile data customers are large corporations, but small and midsize companies do contact Cingulars sales force looking for data solutions. For those companies, the sales process is more reactive then proactive, Langan says.
Infowave partners with operators interested in pursuing the enterprise user and considers operators to be "opportunity engines," Diack says. "The key play here is that most carriers have access to Fortune 500 customers." Infowave helps train operator salespeople to recognize opportunities at the enterprise so they can connect enterprises with Infowave. Sprint PCS and Canadian operators Rogers AT&T Wireless and Telus Mobility all are Infowave partners.
The most challenging path an enterprise can choose is building a solution internally. Several MobileSys customers tried to do so before turning to MobileSys. "Youd be confronted with a difficult uphill battle and it could take months or years to put it in place," Coelho says.