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Marshalling the troops

01 Oct 09

Like a soldier into battle, who goes armed with sword, shield and dagger, the modern road warrior must be armed with the latest technology. Our rapidly evolving work habits and the matching strides in mobility technology make kitting out the out-of-office worker an increasingly attractive possibility

Who is the road warrior today?
The term ‘road warrior’ has been around for over a decade, but what does it really mean these days? Originally  mobility was something really special, but now almost everyone has the capability to behave in a road warrior-like manner if they so choose, and some of the technology has become fairly ubiquitous. HP’s Market Development  Manager for Business Notebooks Simon Molloy agrees, saying: “Now mobile use is so varied, and there’s so many  different ways people use the tools in work, I think it is hard to actually pigeonhole it and give a precise definition of a road warrior.”

While the definition of road warrior has not perhaps changed over the years, its application has broadened as mobility  became more streamlined. It has also become somewhat amorphous, allowing for executives who travel for business or  those who work from home part-time to be included in the category. These days, as Toshiba’s Product Marketing  Manager for Australia and New Zealand Matthew Tuminello puts it, “it’s more of a usage pattern”. Indeed, Molloy of HP points out that two people could do much the same job, but one could take “a road warrior approach” while the  other is more passive in their technology usage. He says: “There are certainly people who use the technology very effectively and get a huge return on it, I think. But even when you have companies that try and enforce the road warrior ethos it’s quite difficult to get adoption across an organisation.”

Luigi Cappel, Sales and Marketing Manager of Geosmart and author of e-book Unleashing the Road Warrior,  describes a road warrior as someone who can work from anywhere. “They would be well organised and wherever  possible dealing with a staff of one. They obviously use very little paper and make the best use of technology, staying  up with the play because they appreciate that effi ciency saves money and increases their productivity and profit,” he  adds. Examples of the road-warrior type include anyone from a business executive to a jobbing tradesman, health  workers and small business owners where the person visiting clients is also the principal of the company. A typical road  warrior is interested in any technology that can improve speed and streamline the process of collecting data that is critical to a business’s function.

The reseller armoury
Mobility these days is much more than a notebook and smartphone. The warrior’s rudimentary sword and shield have  been replaced with a battery of high-tech gadgets to accomplish the mission with maximum efficiency and minimum  cost. 

Eric Ryder, Senior Business Manager for Vantex, a division of Ingram Micro, sees two kinds of reseller in the mobility  space: those that are currently active and those that want to get into it. The opportunities for those of you in the first  group exist in expanding what it is your customers do with mobile computing, while the second group may have a  chance to get involved because of a customer that has a large mobile base. And as the mobility options increase, HP’s  Molloy says the real challenge for customers is the raft of choices they now have, and that they “rely on channel  partners to offer great advice”.

Sophisticated weaponry
As mobility evolved, the glut of devices caused mobile workers to be weighed down by hardware to armour  themselves for their jobs. More recently there has been a consolidation of devices, so now smartphones do push email  and much more, and notebooks are beginning to be embedded with 3G devices as another connectivity option. Michael Powrie, Sales Manager ANZ for GN Netcom, which makes the Jabra brand of headsets, says: “The beauty  of what’s happening these days is that consolidation is a huge factor in all technology – probably in business in general  – but it’s consolidating multiple functions into a single or a number of small devices.”

Consolidation aside, Toshiba and HP underline the importance of having the right notebook. You should consider what  the user needs to do with it and what their work habits are. Perhaps a tablet notebook might suit them better;  they might need more than one mode of connectivity, a large screen for easier content creation, extra USB ports or a  notebook with a trans-reflective screen for working in sunny places. Another consideration is SSD technology, which  has “next to no failures”, according to Tuminello. A business person will likely want a notebook with a fairly large widescreen display (17-inch at least), lots of memory, webcam, wi-fi and bluetooth capabilities, slots for SD cards and  other things, a modem, and Microsoft Office with all the applications. Tuminello says: “The right
notebook is the difference between having a good experience and a poor experience, so they [resellers] need to  understand the range and understand the usage pattern of the customer.”

Of course, netbooks are also establishing a big niche in the market and HP’s Molloy says there are increasing business  opportunities appearing for netbooks. “I think you can still be very innovative with netbooks; we always try to establish  what the customer needs when we sell netbooks because they are a ‘utility’ device,” he says. By this he  means that netbooks are not necessarily the best platform on which to create content, but you can browse and respond  to email very easily on them. He says HP is seeing a lot of road warriors seriously considering purchasing a netbook, in particular as a second notebook. There’s “quite a developing trend” for this, he says.

Although netbooks have a small screen size, Vantex’s Ryder says he has seen an increase in requests for devices (not  just netbooks) with larger screens. What he questions, however, is who it is that’s driving this requirement trend. “I  think the reason that we’re being asked for more large-screen devices is because software developers are looking at the device rather than the users that are going to use it,” he explains. It’s important that you consult not just the IT procurement specialist, but the people who will actually be using the mobile device when selling or designing an  application. “Actually challenge the need to have it put on a larger screen, because that will get in the way of mobile workers,” advises Ryder.

Handheld devices
Of course, not everyone will need a notebook – meter readers, jobbing tradesmen and a host of other professions will  require devices such as PDAs or handheld PCs. Vantex’s Ryder says they need to be able to capture data, safely store  it, then have a method of communicating with the office – “typically through a 3G network”. He says a large  number of mobile workers will need a PDA or handheld device rather than a notebook: “The thing to remember is,  these people typically are very active [...] they are using their hands all the time. Something like a laptop will get in their  way and will impede their ability to do their job.” Your objective is to find a device that will enhance your customer’s  task execution, not impede it or just allow them to continue as productively as before – only then will your client get  company-wide adoption of the new technology. 

Embellishing the armour
Accessories are another branch of hardware that is required in the road warrior package. As discussed last month, this  can range from external mice and keyboards to desktop cradles, carry cases and headsets. GN Netcom’s Powrie  says: “From a reseller’s point of view, the margins on headsets seem to be the last bastion of high margin in the  hardware world. Software/hardware mixes and ongoing maintenance is the biggest area for revenue.”

Geosmart’s Cappel says currently the biggest opportunity in mobility is “November 1, when you won’t be able to use  the handheld mobile [when driving] anymore”. Others disagree, however, saying that headsets are fairly generic,  off-the-shelf products these days. Molloy of HP says: “There’s certainly an add-on value there, but I doubt whether it’s  a huge opportunity for business resellers.” Similarly, Vantex’s Ryder explains “the thing to remember is that with a road warrior the primary application is not voice, it’s data capture”, so unless they are texting while driving, which they  shouldn’t be doing anyway, it will likely have a fairly small impact on their work practices, especially since a lot of the  PDAs have voice input options built into the circuitry. One area Ryder did see as being a possibility is that headsets can  be used as a marketing tool, in a bundle and will “become the USB stick or the conference bag of the future”.

Another opportunity is to sell headsets with a Unified Communications product, as they can help to increase  productivity and avoid any run-ins with OSH. Powrie says safety is a huge factor in headsets now, with all government departments incorporating acoustic protection into their tenders. He also referenced third- party studies showing that  use of hard phones is on the decline and the use of softphones and mobiles is on the increase.

One interesting point made by Powrie was the increase of customisation within the headset world, to suit different  personality types and usage patterns. More and more the users are driving the order, not the CEO, so talk to the end users about what they want.

Software in your sights
The software that runs on the mobile devices is equally important, and the ability to send and receive email is of primary  importance in the road warrior arsenal. This has been possible for a long time now, and is well on the way to  becoming ubiquitous. Other areas include access to databases, such as CRM software, but Cappel of Geosmart says  most companies just “pay lip service” to CRM. “That’s one of the things that defines the road warrior from the rest: the  road warrior understands the importance of having access to everything that is being discussed and is able to  actually access that while they are with the customer.” Nevertheless, there has been a great deal of movement within  the mobile applications space recently, and Ryder of Vantex sees great scope for the future. From a road warrior’s  perspective, he highlights the use of GPS technology on a hand-held data terminal and sees RFID as a “sexy”  technology with huge potential. Another exciting development is the recent launch of real-time in-car navigational alerts,  which will prevent workers from becoming entangled in a traffic snarl. It will also plot the most time- efficient   out to visit a sequence of clients.

In terms of back-office applications, HP’s Molloy says that collaboration tools become increasingly important in  providing face-to-face meetings with colleagues for road warriors who, thanks to new mobile technology, virtually  never need to come back to the office. This also extends to Unified Communications tools.

The comms division
Adequate connectivity is the crux of a mobile solution and, although 3G is the hot topic at present, you shouldn’t rule  out secure wireless connections or WiMAX, according to Geosmart’s Cappel. “It has the potential, and I think  ultimately that wi-fi and later on WiMAX are going to be a standard way of communicating, over and above the 3G environment,” he says. Others may not necessarily agree; however, it will likely be difficult for resellers to sell 3G plans.  Ryder of Vantex says, “telcos are probably going to be very cagey about who is going to share in that data pie”.  Despite this, the real opportunity is what 3G enables in the field: the opportunity to build more feature-rich  applications that are able to cope with more data. “Just remember that the more data you send, the more it costs, so  you have to weigh that balance against the user’s need for that data,” says Ryder. 

Even if you can’t sell the 3G plans, a predicted drop in the cost of the embedded 3G modules over the next 12 months  will certainly make 3G a more readily available option. “It’s sort of where wireless networking was five or so years ago  [...] but I think 3G will become very pervasive over the next three years,” says HP’s Molloy.

Indeed, Toshiba’s Tuminello says he has already noticed people increase their notebook refresh rate to take advantage  of embedded 3G, rather than use the 3G dongle, which can have a lower signal strength and is less  convenient. Nonetheless, Geosmart’s Cappel says 3G is never going to be as fast as a wired connection, so you’ll want  to provide the road warrior with both options where possible. He also says: “Resellers should always be looking  at ways of streamlining data transfer, so that it uses a minimum amount of data traffic.” You can use the solution sale  that puts in place service automation, email to your phone and other services.

Military consultants
The consultancy and services side of the business is, of course, where you will make the greatest margin – it’s your  biggest weapon in your armoury. Cappel says you “need to sell solutions, not boxes”, because as long as you are  selling boxes you are only competing on price. If you are selling solutions, then you are offering a more valuable  product specific to your company and you can charge a lot more. He suggests that you partner with telcos when selling  into the mobility space because they “are always keen to send a specialist along with you to talk to potential clients”,  and it’s an area in which they’ll probably know more than you. Although you wouldn’t share any margin that the telco  gained you’d probably, firstly, make the sale and, secondly, make a better sale – and on top of that, you can charge for  the consultancy services.

Part of this consultancy could, for example, include implementing a security solution. There is no point sending a  customer’s troops out into the wide world without providing adequate cover. Notebooks and other mobile devices  come with a great number of security features and often the customer will require you to set them all up correctly. You  could even take the conversation further and turn it into a discussion about data leakage prevention.

Smart companies get ahead
Geosmart’s Cappel sees the current recession as a great opportunity for smart companies to get prepared to be the big  household names of the future. “I think it’s a brilliant opportunity; the technology is there now, it is a good enabler,  but the opportunity for resellers is the majority of clients don’t understand the technology, don’t understand how it  works and they need to be spoon-fed.”

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