A survey by Morgan Stanley revealed that mobile and wireless systems are one of the top three priorities for business spending in 2004/2005.
Mobile solutions are providing businesses with real competitive advantages and are enabling them to deliver superior levels of customer service. The combined benefits of increased productivity and reduced costs have put mobility at the top of the agenda for organisations of all sizes.
Most large-scale companies have adopted a bespoke system in the belief that only this can match their business requirements. However, this type of solution is not without its pitfalls and is often not suitable for smaller companies with limited resources. It is now apparent that companies of all sizes will need to mobilise at least some part of their business, particularly as customers increasingly demand it.
A fully-integrated wireless mobile solution involves the integration of databases, communications and connectivity, each element of which will require ongoing support and upgrades. It could be argued that IT resources would be better spent on the core activities of procuring systems to meet customers' expectations, rather than on developing, and then sustaining, software for one-off applications.
Moreover, by its unique nature, bespoke connectivity often demands an extended development-to-deployment period. A bespoke system can be inflexible and may require multiple iterations to get right, which can usually only be provided by the initial developer, often at considerable on-going expense. The developer may also own the intellectual property rights for the system, unless specific measures are taken.
To bring a degree of reality to the market, several specialist mobile providers started to "productise" systems they had tailored for certain customers and sell them as off-the-shelf function-specific applications. This approach did indeed reduce costs but often left the user with a considerable back-office integration challenge.
Other back-office providers developed slave mobile applications bespoke to their products. These were good for discrete mobile operations such as warehousing or parking enforcement, but inherently inflexible and complex for dynamic organisations needing several mobile applications.
For organisations like this, certain providers offered a common mobile application gateway, providing ready integration into a range of back-office systems. However, application development still required significant expertise and resources, with costs to match.
Now a small number of companies that provide the best of both worlds have emerged: rapid application or form development combined with ready and open integration into multiple back-office systems, in a single toolset. There are, of course, differences between them: their approach to security, the remote management of deployed devices, and the range of complementary technology such as global positioning and digital imagery that can in effect be included out-of-the-box.
Users can now get bespoke systems effectively off the shelf, but in a way that provides an open gateway for future expansion that enables them to continue to tailor the solution at will in response to changing needs, which greatly adds to the potential benefits.
For some organisations, the slave system may continue to meet their needs, but more complex organisations will almost certainly require an open mobile platform that is easy to adapt and modify.
Smaller companies too want access to clever, flexible, rapidly deployed mobile data. These toolsets allow even complex systems to be created in less time than other options without having to resource additional expertise and knowledge. As a result, the lifetime costs of projects are greatly reduced.
Philip Neame is managing director at Integral Mobile Data
This was first published in June 2005