Is your next work phone a Lumia? Nokia on how Windows Phone means a second chance at the enterprise

Nokia's efforts to woo the business market with Symbian never took off. Will things be different now it has Microsoft on board?
Written by Jo Best, Contributor

Nokia has never been the platform of choice in the enterprise. While the company made occasional efforts to woo business users — first with the Communicator range and later with the E-Series — it never seemed interested in pursuing the market wholeheartedly.

But since Nokia's 2011 switch from Symbian to Windows Phone as its smartphone operating system of choice, the company seems to have gradually gained enthusiasm for the enterprise world — the odd enterprise contract win here, the occasional comment on going after BlackBerry's corporate user base there.

But how much has really changed?

With Microsoft still omnipresent in the enterprise, despite all the changes afoot in both the desktop and mobile computing markets, Nokia has effectively been given another entrée into the business world.

With no salesforce of its own and no plans to build one, Nokia is reliant on Microsoft and its partners — including the likes of TCS and Infosys — to get attention in the marketplace.

"Windows stands for business in different sizes of companies," says Niko Mykkänen, Nokia's global head of B2B sales. "That for me opens up different opportunities: opportunities to work with Microsoft, their partners, their salesforce.  We don't have that many sales guys — they do. And they have relationships, they have history, they have services, they have licences, even hardware in those companies — that's clearly opening up a big door for us to those enterprise customers."

Nokia is also exploring whether it needs to partner up with the likes of SAP and IBM to get its message — and its products — into the business market.

Windows Phone rollouts

Although Nokia has announced a few enterprise wins, including Coca Cola (its local salesforces in Vietnam and Cambodia will be using Office 365 on Lumias) and UK real-estate agent Foxtons, whose employees are being upgraded from E-Series device to the Lumia 820, the sense is that there are few large enterprise rollouts of Windows Phone to date.

Indeed, the largest rollout to date remains Nokia itself. The company has developed a few apps, including Socialcast (a Facebook-like internal communication app) and another that uses indoor positioning to help employees find meeting rooms inside Nokia HQ. It's also a user of external enterprise apps, including mobile SAP reporting tools (it's perhaps no surprise that SAP announced a slew of Windows 8 apps late last year, given Nokia's fondness for its products).

Businesses are moving more towards adopting such line-of-business apps on mobile platforms, Nokia reckons.

"We see that customers want to do more — it's not all about the basics, they want to do line-of-business applications. And that's why we're working with Microsoft and partners: we have an opportunity to build business-specific apps — salesforce automation, field force automation, the classics," Mykkänen says.

It's a familiar refrain — even as far back as almost 10 years ago when BlackBerry (then called RIM) was king of the enterprise hill, it was talking up the potential of line-of-business to be the next moneyspinner after mobile email. The enthusiasm of smartphone makers was not matched by business takeup, however.

Nokia's last dedicated business device, the E72
Nokia's last dedicated business device, the E72. Image: Nokia

Since then, devices have got bigger and touchscreens made them more responsive, and app stores have made mobile device management a lot easier for IT managers. The line-of-business market could be finally set to experience the boom that's been promised since the mid-2000s: a report from analyst firm IDC, for example, says the mobile enterprise application market will grow at a rate of 25 percent per year over the next few years.

BYOD on the horizon

Which is all well and good, but the devices that employees use to run those line-of-business apps may not necessarily be the company-supplied smartphone of old. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), although still a developing trend, is undeniably taking hold in the enterprise.

Depending on which end of the telescope you're looking through, BYOD is either a blessing or a curse for Nokia's enterprise ambitions: a blessing in that it frees users to make their own choice of device; a curse in that they largely still want an iPhone or an Android smartphone rather than a Lumia.

"This is a business device," Mykkänen says of his own Lumia. "I'm a businessman right now, but when I was walking here, I was a consumer listening to music. When I choose this phone, I need it to work with the Nokia infrastructure, but I also want to feel comfortable using it for other purposes.

"BYOD is cool. It's a trend that's growing — we see it in the US and certain other Western markets. Our colleagues that designed the Nokia-specific features on Lumia devices — like music, like location services — are making the device very attractive for people."

Mykkänen questions the idea that there's such a thing as a dedicated business device any more, and certainly believes there's no place for one in Nokia's portfolio.

"If I look at other side of equation — what are those things that a modern smartphone doesn't have that would make it more business? I haven't found a horizontal or vertical solution that's so unique it makes sense for me to go back to Jo [Harlow, Nokia's EVP of smart devices] and say 'please make an E [Series] something'. As long as we have apps, as long as we can develop the line of business, that's it."

Ruggedisation is one notable feature that still marks out a device as destined for business use, and which a company, rather than its employees, would pay for. However, Mykkänen says the pricing doesn't add up.

"I've been at Nokia 10 years and always basically been involved in something with business," he says. "We looked at the ruggedised opportunity; if you look at the warehouse environment, when you talk to those customers, they typically have specific vendor for a very specific device that typically costs more than a car.

"How do we make and simplify a smartphone that costs maybe $500 and still make it ruggedised and all that? It's hard to make a business case."

The 920 can be operated with gloves.

Nokia is hoping to infiltrate such businesses via the back door: the 820 and other Lumias are designed to work even if the user has gloves on, for example, which may serve warehouse workers well. Nokia is also hoping its solid build quality and a range of third-party accessories will appeal to those who need a tough device, but may not fancy paying ruggedised-level prices.

And what of tablets, which are gradually making their way into businesses, either through corporate or BYOD routes? It's been rumoured for some time that Nokia worked on, and then dropped, a Windows 8 tablet. Similarly, although speculation has a "phablet" in the works, no such device has been forthcoming so far.

Both devices would make sense in Nokia's portfolio — perhaps more on the consumer side than in the business world. However, the company maintains its "we're keeping our options open" stance when asked.

"The expectations customers have when we want to talk about mobility, they want to talk about 'do you have larger, do you have smaller', but for the moment we have we what we have," Mykkänen says.

"Talking to customers, I see they're thinking about having less devices — replacing one with the other. Is it the tablet or the phone, who knows? There are good Windows tablets out there from Microsoft and others that are telling the three-screen story, there's no problem in that — we have campaigns around the world where a Lumia phone is a companion device together with tablet selected by company X, Y or Z."

As well as keeping an eye on large enterprises and BYOD, Nokia is hoping to win over SMEs to Windows Phone.

"There's a lot of different market types. The US is a very specific market, there's a lot of enterprise focus — Microsoft's home turf and all that; then there's markets like Belgium where 93 percent of Vodafone customers are between one to four people. How do you reach those? You can't go to each one of them," Mykkänen says.

Touchscreen Ashas now have Exchange support
Touchscreen Ashas now have Exchange support. Image: Nokia

"It's more than cool to put press releases out with Coke and all the good brands, but the volumes — according to studies we've been reading and what we know — are in companies of 50 to 500. How do you reach those? It's hard work."

"We're going about it in a programmatic way with our partners. That takes a lot of time. Again, we're not having the largest market share so they might have a view that it's easier to sell something else — so we're incentivising them, training them, building programmes for them to familiarise them with our devices."

It's not just small businesses in more developed markets that appear to have caught Nokia's eye: the company recently announced the addition of Exchange support for several of its Asha phones, the  feature phones that run Series 40, bringing work email and calendaring to low-end devices.

Will we see more business features coming to Nokia's low-end platforms?

"What is business-specific, besides email, contact, calendar, PDF reader? Is it Lync and these kind of things?" Mykkänen asks. "Time will tell."

Editorial standards