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Research Shows Mobile Enterprise Solutions to Create High Growth for IT
Research Shows Mobile Enterprise Solutions to Create High Growth for IT

Incucomm Consulting, located in Richardson, Texas, has recently completed comprehensive market research on mobile enterprise solutions. The results show that enterprise customers expect to greatly expand their spending for mobility, but want to see some very specific features as well as tangible, trackable financial benefits.

In contrast to general IT purchasing expectations, in which about 50% of firms report spending plans that will keep budgets flat, down from 2002­2003, mobility solutions showed growth in every area tested. Incucomm's market research shows that 83% of enterprise IT buyers plan deployment of mobile enterprise solutions for logistics, service, and sales.

The purpose of the research was to determine what a broad cross section of IT buyers identified as "mobile enterprise solutions" and to understand the operational needs that could be addressed by such solutions.

The research also sought to explore the expectations of a future state with improved productivity and cash flow, while at the same time seeking to understand perceived barriers to adoption of these solutions.

About 76% of respondents said they support mobile workers today, but general-purpose IT tools such as e-mail via dialup dominated this response. This is in contrast to the 83% who say they plan to support mobile workers, and a majority who predict their future state will involve focused solutions with wireless connections for supply-chain management, sales solutions, and service workers.

The results strongly indicate that the IT market is ready to adopt mobile enterprise solutions. Anecdotally, many companies also report that they want to address process changes to improve cash flow. One reason the market research was conducted stemmed from the observation that many companies have reevaluated businesses' operational models and are seeking creative new ways to generate more cash in the short term. Mobile enterprise solutions are perceived as a favored path.

Core operational areas are emerging as targets for improvement for several reasons. First, they are the central money-making processes for many businesses. Second, these areas deal with the execution of paperwork documenting service delivery or change of ownership. Third, these areas are largely untouched by IT solutions, in contrast to IT and productivity improvements on the campus of the enterprise.

About 8 million American supply-chain employees carry a clipboard, and phone a dispatcher every day. In most cases, the clipboards hold printouts generated by an IT system. When the call takes place, the person on the other end of the phone is usually looking at an IT system screen and communicating information from it, or typing into the system based on the conversation.

Whether this takes place on the phone, or when the clipboard returns to the enterprise, there is potential for confusion, delay in payment, and difficulty in paperwork reconciliation. This adds cost and delays cash flow. If mobile solutions directly address these matters, the return on investment is not difficult to estimate.

Perhaps this is why logistics and supply-chain management value propositions tested best for forecasted growth. While respondents reported expansion plans in every focused solution category, mobile supply-chain management tested at about 100% growth over the next 24 months ­ a clear winner.

However, the survey also shows that IT customers and firms offering mobility solutions do not agree on several points. Vendors were more likely than IT customers to believe that focused solutions were more valuable, and IT customers were more likely to value generic tools such as e-mail and Web browsing. The survey showed wide variation in the sophistication of potential IT customers, with some firms showing well-developed requirements and expectations, and other IT users reporting plans to expand mobile user support without well-developed rationale.

Proof of ROI Required
Proof of ROI was the highest ranked requirement to justify adoption. Buyers rated the need for this evidence as much more important than any other response. Surprisingly, the need for other enterprises adopting and showing ROI was ranked very low. Less than 10% agreed that "more firms need to adopt it and prove the value." This seems to indicate that buyers are prepared to accept proof as it applies to their own business, as opposed to proof from deployments in other organizations.

We also found that "weak IT budgets" and "weak economy" were not significant issues, which is a very striking contrast to the responses when general IT purchases are tested.

A Pragmatic Market
We believe the importance of proving business value to customers might have ranked high on the list of barriers to adoption two years ago. However, in today's market, the overwhelming survey results highlight a very pragmatic market environment.

The need to enable enterprise agility and responsiveness was the need most often identified by respondents. Lowering supply-chain operational costs was the second most identified "pain."

Technology barriers most often mentioned were security and network access. Ensuring data and systems security and overcoming perceived spotty wireless coverage were the highest ranked technology barriers to adoption.

Figure 1 captures the cross-tabulation results between business and technology barriers to adoption. Emphasis is on a pragmatic view of value provided by mobile enterprise solutions.

Market expectations for adopting mobile enterprise were surprisingly positive. A majority of IT buyers said they felt mobile enterprise solutions were important. Among this group, more than one third said that supply-chain management solutions would provide value. Ranking even higher was support of mobile service workers.

Interestingly, few respondents were neutral on the importance of mobile solutions. Even those who were negative gave high rankings to mobile supply-chain management and mobility solutions for field service. This seems to be good news for those seeking to sell such solutions. Those who are already convinced, as well as the skeptical, seem to agree on which solutions benefit their businesses.

Weak Brand Perception Noted
The research also tested brand perceptions, and found that in this emerging market, such perceptions are relatively weak. Overall "no leader" or "other" tested best in most propositions offered in the poll. In user devices, the Compaq brand tested best. In PDAs, the Palm brand tested best. Microsoft tested best in terms of current penetration everywhere but PDA operating systems, and Microsoft tested best in PDAs "likely to get mobile IT support." IBM tested best among unaided brands mentioned.

Cross-tabulation of barriers to adoption (both technology and business barriers), versus enterprise software solutions by name, showed interesting opportunities for all major software providers, with perceptions varying depending on which enterprise solutions suite the respondents reported.

Another striking finding was a significant difference in perceptions of valuable functions between those who are suppliers of mobility solutions and the rest of the respondents. We tested these differences in a number of ways, and found this to be a very consistent pattern. We believe this represents a significant risk to solution providers. As a group, their expectations are not aligned with their potential customers.

Associated with these differences are definition issues. These pose a risk to the emerging mobile enterprise market. Specifically, we found that many respondents had trouble differentiating "practical mobility" (Incucomm's nomenclature for mobile enterprise solutions focused on "blue collar" processes) from more general e-mail and Web browsing "mobile enterprise" solutions. Although the technology infrastructure might be similar, the value added and solution applications are significantly different.

We found a few startling conclusions in analyzing the mobile enterprise survey. First, customers have a clear idea about the problems that can be solved using "practical mobility" solutions, but customers are looking for technology providers to assist in defining the business value.

Second, technology providers need to architect solutions that provide a high level of data security while ensuring ease of use and providing a simple/reliable customer experience in nonperfect wireless coverage environments.

Third, these findings illustrate that market awareness of "practical mobility" solutions is growing, but is still in the early stages of adoption, and the awareness of enterprise "pain points" that came out in the survey indicates that 2003 will be a year when a number of customer success stories will accelerate further adoption.

About Dean Frew
Dean Frew is managing director of mobility solutions at Incucomm Consulting,
Richardson, Texas. He is recognized as a leader in the mobile enterprise space, where he has combined wireless technologies, application software, and innovative business models
with deep subject matter expertise to assist enterprises in generating rapid returns on investment.

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