Wireless applications face slow take-up in Asia

An IDC study of over 2,000 firms finds Wi-Fi penetration up, but most businesses have no plans to deploy wireless applications including mobile e-mail, in the near future.

SINGAPORE--Recent studies show that businesses in the Asia-Pacific region are starting to embrace mobility, but demand for wireless applications remains low.

A July study on wireless deployment by research firm IDC, which covered over 2,000 companies in the region, found that 21.4 percent have enabled Wi-Fi (Wireless Fidelity) access for their employees, up from 7.4 percent last year.

Ten percent of respondents indicated the availability of mobile e-mail, while 4 percent had enabled wireless access of enterprise applications such as CRM (customer relationship management). Mobile applications designed for vertical industries and instant messaging stood at 3 percent each.

However, a significant number of businesses indicated that they had no plans to deploy wireless applications in the next two years. Over 80 percent said they did not plan to implement mobile enterprise and vertical applications, as well as mobile instant messaging within the next two years. About 76 percent also had no plans for mobile e-mail.

Sandra Ng, IDC's Asia-Pacific vice president for communications, peripherals and vertical research, explained that these market segment are still new in terms of user adoption. "A lot of people are either not aware, or are aware but don't know why they should deploy it," she told ZDNet Asia in a phone interview.

But while companies are not yet setting aside money for a mobility strategy, a separate survey commissioned by networking company Avaya showed that most are convinced of the benefits of having a mobile workforce. The study was conducted in the first half of this year.

The survey, comprising over 2,000 senior decision makers from multinational companies and large local organizations across the Asia-Pacific region, found that 61 percent of respondents agreed that telecommuting would improve employee productivity.

In a recent media briefing here, Tom Cheong, Avaya's ASEAN managing director, said the decision makers perceived better customer service, reduction in the time employees spend at their desks and the ability to capitalize on new business deals, as key benefits of having a mobile workforce.

Mathia Nalappan, vice-president for enterprise solutions at Nokia Asia-Pacific, noted that enterprise mobility would allow employees, armed with mobile devices such as personal digital assistants and cellphones, to access a wide range of business applications such as human resource-related forms, instant messaging, e-mail and calendaring.

"The ability to synchronize calendaring seamlessly with their office applications (while on the move) is a big productivity gain for companies," he added.

IDC's Ng estimates that about one-third of the Asian workforce today is mobile. She added that both the mobile e-mail and enterprise application markets are expected to see strong growth, with substantial user adoption to take place by 2007.

Security remains a challenge
According to Ng, CIOs and IT directors worldwide have cited security as one of the greatest inhibitors to the deployment of mobile and wireless devices. They indicated a preference to wait until better security measures were in place before introducing smart phones and other mobile devices into their corporate networks.

Concerns over security, the analyst pointed out, are not unfounded but companies should not just "sit there and wait". Businesses stand to gain competitive advantage by adopting mobile enterprise applications while this market is at a relatively new stage, she said.

"Security will always be a problem…so what companies need to do is manage expectations, understand the limitations and work around that," she explained.

To overcome security concerns, Ng advised businesses to take precautionary steps such as protecting devices with passwords and remote locking, guarding against malicious codes, implementing network authentication, maintaining proper documentation and performing security audits.

Nokia's Nalappan noted that CIOs should never allow mobile devices to be connected to their corporate networks if they cannot mange and secure these systems. It is important that enterprises are able look at and manage all devices from a single location to harness productivity gains.

For example, IT managers should be able to stop laptop computers from connecting to their corporate network if the systems have not been updated with the latest security patches, he explained.