The mobile opportunity appears to be approaching a tipping point where adoption accelerates - particularly around apps for the newer mobile devices.
Keith Robinson, EMEA product business group director at distributor Avnet Technology Solutions, agrees. He indicates that it is about integrating mobility with the standard IT infrastructure.
Partners need to have a good understanding of how they can be integrated with the needs of an individual business, and back it up with demonstrable Return on Investment.
"That is more and more relevant," he says. "Historically, it used to be about a device with a particular solution for a particular application. But end users are being much more cognizant of costs. So you're really now looking at multiple apps being used on these devices."
Multiple apps will of course need to work happily together, but there is little standardisation in the market. Vendors may vet a list of interoperable and compatible apps that a customer can pick from, or apps can be developed together, or simply added piecemeal while hoping for the best. Either way, customers will need assistance.
"But the end user will no longer wish to use very many bespoke apps," Robinson warns.
He says that historically, solutions around mobility have often been about protecting the main IT infrastructure from being infiltrated by the mobile device and its payload of applications. But now the stakes are higher because organisations increasingly want their employees to make full use of their mobile devices, which means they must not be walled off, but fully and securely integrated into the corporate network.
Vendors are taking note, and apps are being developed faster than ever, although the approach most are taking is developing a trusted platform for specific hardware. Robinson points at products such as Juniper's networking OS for routing, switching and security, Junos, which allows the provision of a secure yet mobile solution around mainstream IT.
"And our solution partners particularly need to have a good understanding of how the integration works," he says.
However, this all gets even more tricky when you want to have seamless mobility and data integration over GPRS as well as Wi-Fi, Robinson notes. And organisations are starting to look at hybrid cloud architectures as well "although it is very early days yet".
Increased mobility opportunities
Paul Bolt, marketing and partner management director of VAR Insight UK, says his firm is already enjoying increased mobility opportunities. Following the release of new devices such as RIM's PlayBook, he expects them to expand even further and faster.
"We think there will be significant uptake in two kinds of verticals, around the apps and product development for these verticals," he says.
The NHS will be one, Bolt explains, with opportunities appearing for the building and provisioning of mobile apps. An example is the recently announced app that works in conjunction with medical scans to deliver 3D imagery over the PlayBook.
"And we also see a great opportunity in Rekoop, a time and billing application specifically designed for smartphones and tablets," he adds. "And also 'panic button' apps for social workers."
Meanwhile, analyst firm IDC announced that its research was showing that applications that enable mobile working, referring to mobile printing in particular, were going to become highly desirable in organisations.
IDC defines mobile applications as software that runs on mobile installations of high-level operating systems.
"As the mobile workforce expands and the lines between the office and the outside world become more transparent, the demands and expectations of mobile workers will increase as well," stated the analyst as recently as 31 May.
As a result, mobile print applications geared towards enterprise user needs are going to become better sales opportunities as users indicate they wish to print documents whether they are in or out of the office at the time - with smartphone users especially wanting to print more and more.
For IDC, the rapidly expanding mobile worker population, coupled with the proliferation of supporting hardware platforms such as smartphones and media tablets and an explosion of mobile apps will keep driving increased demand for mobile printing for the next five to ten years.
"A print solution will be a 'must have' for mobile users expecting the ability to print from their handheld devices," confirmed IDC's hardcopy peripherals software and services research director, Holly Muscolino. "But the market is young and the plethora and variety of solutions has been very confusing to both hardcopy device vendors and end users, with no clear-cut standards emerging."
Vendors must remain nimble to take advantage of this opportunity, Muscolino concluded.
IDC also found that mobile printing benefits both the professional travelling around as well as workers who need to print at different locations in the organisation's own facilities. The move is being driven primarily by the consumer market, with the emphasis on enterprise needs growing as the years proceed. And mobile printing can represent a new revenue stream for businesses that serve workers on the go - such as hotels, airport lounges, cafes, or even libraries.
IDC's new study, The Mobile Business Printing Landscape: Assessing the Opportunity, looks at the mobile business printing opportunity in more depth.
A perfect storm situation?
Tom Cahill, EMEA sales vice president at business intelligence (BI) apps company Jaspersoft, agrees the time is right for mobile apps. A perfect storm situation may be forming, where resource, competitive and compliance pressures converge to encourage more and more organisations to seek out and deploy mobile solutions that cover the whole gamut of organisational software - from communications to business intelligence (BI) apps.
"It's happening, right now, and heralds the rise of the channel player who is a BI builder," says Cahill. "It will enable customers to deliver access to data via mobile for decision-making - including CRM, ERP, logistics, and other analytics."
This can be over any device, facilitated by cloud. And it will help organisations finally integrate all their data so they can make truly informed decisions that boost efficiency, productivity and profits, he notes.
Integrators and VARs with around 40 full-time staff are the right size to take advantage by partnering with ISVs or vendors such as Jaspersoft, many of which may be small themselves or not have many UK staff, Cahill says. Margins may be low but the realisation of the asset value of the information involved for customers is becoming more important, with more firms seeking it out, he adds.
Western European consumers also appear to be, to some degree, ditching their laptops for media tablets such as the iPad. According to IDC's ConsumerScape 360° poll performed in January, indicated a "drastic decrease" in interest in purchasing laptops despite about half of those surveyed currently owning one. This correlated with an increasing interest in buying a media tablet instead when the time came to buy a new device.
"Western Europeans spend an average of three hours a day online, with search and email being the main activities they devote to during this time, regardless of the type of device used (smartphone or computer)," the firm says. "Wireless broadband availability is making portable devices more attractive for the consumer market."
The poll fielded answers from 11,000 respondents across France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and the UK. It is clear that the mobile opportunity is not going away.
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