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Thinking mobility? Then think tactical

Analysis: Too few companies are taking advantage of the benefits of mobility, but those that do find that thinking small at the start is the best bet, says Gartner
Written by Andrew Donoghue, Contributor on

Rather than going for a huge up-front investment in mobile technology, businesses should look to implement a few small tactical projects to begin with and then build on from those initial successes, according to analyst Gartner.

Speaking on the final day of the Gartner Midsize Enterprise Summit in Paris, Gartner research vice president Monica Basso told an audience of IT professionals that the number of companies taking advantage of mobile technology is still relatively small.

"Mobility deployments are limited at the moment. For example only two percent of desktops worldwide are using mobile email — only about 10 million worldwide," Basso said. However the group estimates that by 2009, wireless applications will be improving mobile user productivity by 20 percent.

The main issues preventing more companies from developing their mobile strategy is the speed of change in the sector according to Basso. "Mobile technologies are volatile and the pace of change is accelerating — the time it takes for new software and devices to emerge is six months, and new networks emerge every two years. You need to make choices today on something that will change rapidly tomorrow," she said.

However, if your company doesn’t have a mobile strategy at the moment then now is a good time to implement one, even though technologies such as HSDPA are just arriving.

The best approach is to go with a limited project to begin with and if that proves successful, build out from there, said Basso. "Mobile and wireless are evolving rapidly so it’s not possible to do long term investments, it’s better to do short-term tactical projects and keep extending the initial projections with an iterative approach. But need to have a long term goal in terms of what kind of mobile company you want to be," she explained. 

Mobile technology brings a number of risks so companies should take an approach that is line with the kind of business they are; Gartner puts companies into one of three groups: aggressive, adaptive or cautious.

Up till now, rollouts of mobile email, such as the popular BlackBerry device from RIM, had mainly been deployed by companies that fall into the aggressive category, said Basso. But as the success story for BlackBerry and other mobile email applications becomes widely recognised, a wider variety of companies are beginning to adopt the technology.

The simplest mobile projects to begin with fall into the area Gartner terms 'connectivity applications' such as mobile email and wireless data cards for laptops. These technologies are relatively easy to implement as they don’t have a major impact on the company but don’t bring huge benefits to the company. "These kinds of projects are a good starting point for companies that don’t want to take too much risk," Basso told an audience of IT professionals.

Measuring returns on investment (ROI) in mobile technology can be difficult according to Gartner. Basso said companies are often looking for quick returns on investment but the tangible costs and benefits that are needed to calculate ROI are not easy to find. If an application doesn’t relate to a particular business unit — for example mobile email — it is very hard to measure tangible benefits. "Extend your horizons beyond what is measurable and tangible to what is intangible and will bring value to the business long term," she said.

When it comes to costs, companies often look at price of software licenses or wireless connectivity or devices but in reality there are more things that should be measured. "Provisioning, maintaining, training end-users;  enterprises should take overall view of total cost of ownership when looking into mobile costs," said Basso.

Companies should also be careful when selecting pricing plans from network providers, the analyst group claimed. For example, unlimited download contracts are available for the BlackBerry which looks like a good deal — every month there is set fee of £20 — but Basso warned that the BlackBerry is optimised to be very efficient and may only use two to three megabytes of data a month. "If you are paying for 100MB a month you could save a lot of money by negotiating a contract with network provider," she said.

Justifying the costs of mobile projects to the board can also be a major hurdle depending on who the technology is being rolled out to. "Mobility deployments that relate to top executives don’t require any real justification – they want it tomorrow. Part of the success of BlackBerry is that it is being aimed at this type of user: ‘We want 50 BlackBerrys for our execs’ and they are there. But further into the enterprise, then you are talking thousands of clients, then cost becomes more important," Basso said.

The best approach to getting funding for a mobile project is to begin with a vertical application that has distinct and measurable benefits. "If you begin with a horizontal application then you will have problems justifying it as it’s harder to calculate ROI. Begin with a vertical app, you can then look into horizontal applications like mobile mail as your next step as you will have done some of the work to get there already in terms of the infrastructure," said Basso.

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