For those of us who are selling, buying, or otherwise interested in mobile solutions, we go into each year wondering if the promise of mobility is going to be realized. Like many new technologies, those 'in the business' are always years ahead of the rest regarding expectations on adoption.
Certainly, e-mail and PIM (personal information management) solutions are widespread and they have reached the mass adoption stage, although there is still plenty of market left. However, mobile business applications (e.g. field force automation, sales force automation, mobile asset management) show success in targeted segments but not widespread adoption.
MOBILITY IS A BUSINESS CONCERN
I believe that 2007 is a pivotal year for mobility in business applications, and my evidence is clear. When our wireless consultants are talking to customers about mobile solutions, we are now talking to the business leaders more often than just the technology leaders. We are talking about business models rather than just the capabilities of the technology. Clearly, mobile solutions are not science projects anymore.
Not to say that putting in a new mobile solution is as easy as putting in a new accounting package (with all due respect to all the accounting package implementers), but four things have happened to take the focus off the technology and move it more to the business value to be achieved with the solution:
1. Handheld devices are now more functional and much more stable than they have been in the past. As the market has grown, more competitors have entered this space, and both incumbents and these new players are producing devices that are light years ahead of what we had to work with at the end of the millennium.
2. Wireless data networks have expanded, providing faster and more reliable service over better coverage areas. Software applications in the late '90s were written to minimize data transfer and to address the fact that the device would often be out of coverage. While these are still requirements for any mobility platform, they are not as high on the critical list as they used to be — functionality is now more important for customers selecting a solution.
3. The software applications that enterprises are deploying have matured significantly over the last few years. Evidence of this evolution is in the acquisitions that have happened and will continue to happen through the balance of 2007. With scale, the improvements that have been made in the stability and functionality of the software products will only be accelerated.
4. The last and perhaps most important reason for the change is the dropping price point for each of the components I've mentioned above. Prices have dropped across the board for devices, networks, and software. Companies can now deploy nonrugged Windows Mobile devices for less than $500 per device. Semi-rugged and rugged devices are also dropping in price and/or increasing significantly in functionality (i.e. embedded GPS [global positioning system], multiple wireless radios). With the cost of the overall solution dropping, it is much easier to make the business case for adoption.
So, mobile solutions aren't just for companies on the leading edge of technology. At the end of 2007, we will look back and notice that more and more companies have adopted mobile solutions, not because they are 'cool' or because someone wanted to play with new technology, but because the payback was truly there — generally through enhanced field productivity, increased revenue, and/or decreased cost. As mainstream managers begin to hear the success stories, mobility solutions will move into the mainstream, certainly where we all want them to be.