Mobile operators are targeting enterprise users with end-to-end mobile telecom services, and could end up competing with established IT service providers for mobile networking contracts if current trends continue.
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Vodafone is the latest mobile operator to combine telecommunications and IT services, in a move to support the growing number of users that require mobile access to enterprise applications.
Vodafone has started to offer services that include mobilising desktop customer relationship management (CRM) applications for handheld devices. This could, for example, allow a salesman in the field using a Blackberry to send an electronic order form to the office for processing in-house.
Last month, Vodafone also launched its secure remote access software, which is designed to allow remote workers with laptops or desktop PCs to connect securely to their office computer systems. Offering security for remote workers is seen by Vodafone as a necessary step to establishing itself as a credible IT supplier to enterprise.
To support this move, in March the company launched Vodafone Applications Service, a consultancy and services division that offers advice to businesses on how they can take enterprise applications from the desktop onto wireless devices.
Vodafone is the latest to join the ranks of mobile operators looking to capitalise on the possibilities of mobile applications for enterprises.
Orange supplies to enterprise users including GSK, Visa and Cadburys Schweppes, and already offers a managed virtual private network (VPN) product, which allows businesses to extend office applications to a mobile workforce while still enforcing data and IT security policies.
However, the company has plans to expand the types of IT services it offers. “Orange is looking to support the broader telecommunications and IT needs of our business customers. The multinational arm of Orange Business Services [formerly known as Equant] already offers a range of managed services,” said Rob Turner at Orange Business Services.
T-Mobile is another operator targeting enterprises, and already supplies Virgin Media and Heineken. To support such users, it has teamed up with T-systems, the system integration arm of Deutsche Telekom. T-Mobile has also partnered with IT integrators such as Fujitsu.
While mobile operators have expertise with wireless technologies and connecting remote users, analysts argue they are not yet fully fledged IT service providers. Analyst firm Gartner predicts that it will take at least four years of development before IT directors are able to rely on them as their sole IT provider.
Rosie Secchi, research manager for European wireless mobility at IDC, said some users prefer to deal with mobile operators who work alongside traditional IT services companies. This allows the IT supplier to gain the wireless experience of the mobile operator, while offering its enterprise application expertise, she said.
According to Nick Jones, a research vice-president at Gartner, mobile operators are keen to address enterprise mobility and the IT services associated with it because mobility is becoming a larger part of firms’ IT budgets.
“Evidence from spending surveys indicates that IT spending on mobility will continue to grow. By 2009 we expect half of enterprise IT organisations to be spending more than 5% of their budgets on mobility,” he said.
But are business users satisfied with the quality of service they are receiving from IT and telecommunications companies?
Research from analyst firm Forrester has found that IT and telecommunications suppliers are struggling to provide global end-to-end service delivery of all the elements of IT and telecoms that users require to support their enterprise mobility strategy.
“In theory, employees can check e-mail from anywhere, at any time. In reality, however, users must
contend with a patchy multi-communications environment that cannot yet guarantee very high quality of service end-to-end globally,” said Rolf Schonhowd, senior analyst at Forrester.
But mobile operators say they are attempting to address the limitations of their services offerings.
David Hughes, head of enterprise mobility at Vodafone, said that being seen as a credible supplier to enterprise was a challenge the company intended to address by evolving its services over the next three years. Hughes said services would evolve to encompass access technologies, applications and managed services for mobility.
Staff at Vodafone’s new consultancy and services division include ex-IBM employees who bring IT consultancy expertise, and Vodafone says this has helped mobility deployments with clients including the Department of Health.
However, Vodafone admitted that it would face a wider challenge convincing users that its answer to mobilising applications did not always lie in it wanting to sell them “more GSM minutes”.
T-Mobile said, “We recognise our speciality is working with mobile technology, but also appreciate that our clients would prefer the presence of a traditional IT systems integrator in managing the deployment.”
Orange does not expect to offer complete IT services in the short term. Turner said, “It is fair to say that we will be taking a more measured approach than some of our competition.”