Over the past few years smartphones have moved beyond the briefcases and boardrooms of the corporate world into the back pockets of teenagers and consumers. As they grow in popularity with non-business users and become ever more ubiquitous, an even greater range of businesses are turning to mobile devices in a bid to keep up with and push ahead of their competitors.
“Mobility and flexible working is now seen, by both employees and employers, as a basic requirement of any job and is beginning to define new working practices and policies in today’s enterprise,” says Irfan Ali, senior operator account manager, Nokia, Lower Gulf.
Enhanced Web browsing capacity, push email, simplified messaging and the capacity for endless customisation through downloaded applications means that much of the functionality of a desktop can be recreated on a pocket-sized device. Unlike feature phones that concentrate on one particular function, like a camera or a music player, smartphones, through their greater processing power and capable memory are mobile phones with muscle.
Ravi Mali, regional director of Juniper Networks Middle East and Africa’s Service Provider Business, says that any enterprise that has a large number of its workforce roaming or on the field can benefit from the smart integration of such mobile devices.
“There are immense productivity gains in empowering this workforce with connectivity while they are on the field,” he says. “The workforce spans sales staff, drivers with delivery vans, consultants, engineers on the job or just about any travelling executive.”
Khaled Kefel, general manager of Research In Motion (RIM) Middle East, agrees that the potential benefits of being always in touch apply to all sizes of enterprises, and are not restricted to just major international conglomerates.
“The key to success is the ability for small to medium enterprise employees to react promptly and operate effectively wherever they are – at home, in the office or travelling – safe in the knowledge that their communications are reliable and more importantly secure, without hindering the user experience or reducing productivity.”
Voice is the most basic – but essential – aspect of mobile connectivity, with advancements building on the basic functionality. For example, conferencing which allows users to come together for discussions regardless of their location, and fixed mobile convergence, which means users can be contacted via a single telephone number. But beyond voice, smartphones can allow for intranet portal access and specialised applications adapted for mobile devices, the most common being customer relationship management and corporate e-mail.
Nokia’s Irfan Ali says that some companies can leverage mobility on a large-scale basis, with one example being advanced business applications catering for a sales force out in the field logging customer activity every hour. Other companies might just use mobility for checking e-mail out of the office or away from the desk. “In either situation, each company benefits from the increased productivity and freedom that mobility enables,” he adds.
Farid Faraidooni, chief commercial officer at UAE operator Du, says the ideal scenario of integration is when a single mobile device is used by an employee both in the company premises and at home. However, as the ways that devices are used become more complex, integration with the enterprise can be challenging, to the extent that it can deter some businesses altogether, with the result that they miss out on the full range of functionality a smartphone can provide.
Abdulla Hashim, senior vice president of business solutions at UAE’s incumbent telecom operator Etisalat, says that compared to other parts of the world, the Middle East is advanced in terms of equipping employees with devices, but not when it comes to releasing the full range of “higher level” applications and the integration of them with the back end of companies.
“Sometimes the enterprise’s internal policies prevent them, and this can be one of the challenges,” he says. “Even today some enterprises have not mobilised e-mail for all employees. This is a policy matter, and this is a challenge.”
It is worth bearing in mind that employees are also consumers, and Nokia’s Irfan Ali says that just like in the early days of the PC, in the new wireless world, employees will find their own ways of getting the mobility they want. He says: “[Employees] buy their own devices and software, using them outside the management and control of the IT team, behind the firewall. While many of these uses will be approved by the IT team, many will not, putting these businesses at risk,” he says.
Businesses that want to harness the power of smart devices and reap the rewards of connectivity, while minimising the risks and potential pitfalls that come with it, would be wise to make sure they have the right policies in place to make sure that integration is consistent and uniform.
Despite this, Roger El Tawil, managing director for the Gulf and Pakistan at Avaya says that he has not seen many mobility-related policies implemented by organisations in the region. He singles out the tracking and management of devices, together with the problems associated with users loading certain applications, as two key areas for organisations that do draw up policies related to mobile device usage.
Juniper’s Mali agrees that it is vital for businesses to come up with a policy for integration. He says: “In most enterprises, the largest growth has been in employees moving to remote connectivity with laptops, and with Blackberry e-mail has moved to smartphones. It is extremely important to design a policy for remote wireless access using smartphones. Briefly it would cover connectivity, security of connection, security of application, identity of the user and his access rights.”
Sometimes, Mali says, an enterprise will make the mistake of attempting to take on the process of integration on their own, when a joint model with the operator would work better.
From an operator’s point of view the challenge is to integrate the enterprise application connectivity to the smartphone. From the enterprise side, the challenge is trust in the security of the connection offered by the operator.
The UAE’s second mobile operator, Du, has recently been attempting to push into the enterprise sector, with some high profile Blackberry promotions and business-focused tariffs. Du’s Faraidooni says that dealing with multiple devices is the most challenging aspect of integration.
“Unlike PCs and laptops where the OS is homogenous, namely Microsoft, there are a wide range of operating systems such as Symbian, Android, Windows Mobile, Linux and so on, together with a wide range of device form factors and options that one must deal with, which makes the integration more challenging.”
Doubts over security, installation and deployment, costs and manageability mean that many organisations are reluctant to grasp the competitive opportunity and challenge of greater mobility. According to Nokia’s Ali, deploying the means to secure and manage mobile devices gives control back to the IT administrator, and in doing so removes some of the hurdles to adoption.
Effective device management for mobile devices can provide capabilities like inventory reporting, device backup and restoration, security and policy management, diagnostic and repair services, distribution of applications and patches, and remote device lock and wipe.
“The only way integration can be performed smoothly and for mutual benefit will be through the service provider,” says Mali. “Service providers take ownership of offering a secured and easy connection using a remote access technology. On the other side, enterprises can move their applications to Web 2.0 so they can be accessed remotely using a browser. This will kill the need for enterprises to build their own networks but instead use the operator’s broadband network to connect to their applications.”
Industry figures across a spectrum of ICT companies agree that compromised security is the biggest threat to businesses that fail to properly integrate mobile devices. Some company’s data are more commercially sensitive than others, but it is fair to say that all businesses will suffer if sensitive information falls into the wrong hands, either as a result of falling foul of privacy and data protection laws, or through a rival gaining a competitive advantage. Before a business decides to equip its workers with smartphones or other mobile devices, it needs to thoroughly evaluate where the risks may lie. Laptops and mobiles are routinely lost or stolen, but when this does occur unencrypted data can be lost too. And the more portable devices that a business connects to its network, the greater the risk.
“It’s proven in other regions that security is the most important aspect of integration in the beginning,” says du’s Faraidooni. “Changing from personally liable device type to corporate liable device type, chief information officers are concerned about corporate security initially, such as being able to remotely reset and wipe out a stolen or lost corporate device.”
A remote connection technology like SSL VPN for the mobile handset would allow the enterprise to virtualise their application connection over the Internet with control on security, says Juniper’s Mali. “This means personal information and applications is under the control of the enterprise, while the operator helps in ensuring that the connection is secured.”
RIM’s Kefel adds: “Companies need to remember that when planning and establishing a corporate network, it is vital to set security policies to protect the network components, which may have many different connections to the Internet and to external systems, as well as network clients.”
He says that the Blackberry Enterprise solution provides “comprehensive security features”, that are built on end-to-end encryption, and that as a result it is the most widely accredited mobile solution currently available on the market.
“It offers both a fully secured wireless infrastructure to which easy-to-use Blackberry smartphones can be connected. Meanwhile, comprehensive IT management controls are also built into the solution to ensure the security of corporate data, and that resources beyond the firewall is not compromised. Similarly, data on smartphones can be protected using mandatory password authentication and local encryption of any data on the smartphone.”
Using this approach, lost or stolen devices can be either locked or wiped remotely by administrators. Once the device and the information contained on it is secure, users can then be re-provisioned with a new device.
“IT security is an area of crucial importance to organisations across the world and the rapidly evolving nature of the field poses significant challenges to those charged with addressing security issues,” Kefel says. “However, it is down to the discretion of organisations to decide the security policies that determine how company smartphones are used and to balance this with employees’ expectations for personal use.”
Smartphone sales up in MEA
The number of smartphones being used in the Middle East and Africa is on the rise, according to statistics released by research firm Gartner last month (May). It found that across the world smartphones accounted for 17% of all mobile handset sales in the first quarter of 2010, up from 13.6% in the same period last year, while in the Middle East and Africa there was a 26% growth in sales of smartphones. In this region, Nokia has control of the vast majority of the market, with rival manufacturers RIM and HTC among the region’s other leading brands.
Finland-based handset manufacturer Nokia has 87.6% of the MEA smartphone market share, while Blackberry manufacturer RIM claims a 4.3% share, and HTC 2.8%. Apple’s iPhone has a 2.6% portion of the market.
Although it is playing catch up with the likes of RIM and Nokia in the enterprise space,
with the launch of the 3G version of its iconic touchscreen device, Apple significantly increased its enterprise credentials. The latest incarnation of the handset can now be synched with Microsoft Exchange, the de facto e-mail, contacts and tasks server of most businesses around the world. And the next upgrade to its operating system will see multitasking, so users will be able to switch between apps and leave them running in the background.
But it is the breadth of applications available from its app store that is helping to give it the extra boost it needs to take market share from its well-established competitors.
The top paid business application in the enterprise section of its app store is ‘Documents to Go’. For $14.99 users can download a programme that allows them to view, edit and create Microsoft Word documents. Also in its top ten paid apps is a VoIP program, voice to text email software and a business card reader.
Of the free apps, Nuance Communications-developed ‘Dragon Dictation’ was number one. The voice recognition app allows users to speak text or e-mail messages.
‘DaVinci for iPad’, which is described as “the first field app for appraisers on the iPad”, can be used by estate agents assessing the condition of recently vacated apartments.
Apple’s efforts to enhance the iPhone’s enterprise credentials appears to be paying off; last month (May) Standard Chartered announced that its staff members equipped with Blackberry devices could choose an iPhone instead.
Battle of the operating systems
The competition for control of the operating systems used on handsets is intensifying, with the Google-led Android, Symbian (used by Nokia) Microsoft’s Windows Mobile, the operating systems of Apple’s iPhone and RIM’s Blackberry devices battling it out.
According to Gartner, Android and Apple had the most successful first quarter of the year, with Android moving to the Number four position, displacing Microsoft’s Windows Mobile for the first time.
Both Google and Apple were the only two OS vendors among the top five to increase market share year-on-year. Symbian remained in the top spot, but it continued to lose share as Nokia faces increasing competition at the high end of its device portfolio.
As of the first quarter of 2010, Symbian had a 44% share of the market, while RIM had 19%, Apple 15%. Android, the newest of the operating systems, has some 10%, according to the Gartner figures.