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Mobility: Channel boom – or doom?

Mobility is at the forefront of many CIOs minds when it comes to technology, according to a recent survey.

But does it offer big potential for the reseller channel? Heather Wright gets the views of some of those in the industry.

Gartner’s Geoff Johnson doesn’t paint a great picture when it comes to the reseller channel’s role in mobility going forward.

Johnson, Gartner research vice president for unified communications and network services, says while mobility is a promising market, it’s also a highly contested one and a market that may prove tough for resellers to score a large chunk of.

“It’s tricky for the channel. Service providers in our region and globally are focusing on mobility services and the environment that is emerging is more competitive.

“Where once they might have bundled things like a smartphone with airtime and data cap, now they’re adding things that once were exotic for them – such as mobile device management services for corporates. And they’re adding it at minimal cost [for the customer].

"It’s primitive now to just be offering the transport. They’re looking to provide mobile services that wrap around and provide a much more complete offering.

“Resellers run the risk of getting squeezed out unless they can provide apps and services of their own,” Johnson says.

He says being ‘just a reseller of other people’s tricks’ won’t cut it, and it’s crucial for resellers to find a point of differentiation to enable them to compete with the big guns who are increasingly playing in the mobile arena.

“You’ve got the likes of the Googles, Ciscos and Amazons deploying offerings. It’s a market that is being commoditised massively. You’ve got Microsoft with 365 for example, and Google with email. That trend is getting more severe.”

However, those offerings are also providing an opportunity for resellers to act as integrators, pulling together the various offerings into a manageable entity for customers.

“There is the opportunity to integrate and perhaps pull together their own mobile portals.”

As is so often heard in this industry, Johnson espouses the need for resellers to get to know their customer’s business intimately, understanding the business drivers and where they can offer value, and providing specific value add services.

“You’ve got to figure out how to wrap yourself around managed services, not just the infrastructure.”

Gartner’s 2012 CIO Agenda Survey saw mobile technologies take the top spot as the number one technology priority for the year for CIOs across Australia and New Zealand, outranking analytic and business intelligence and cloud computing, which were ranked second and third respectively. Virtualisation dropped back down to fifth position.

ANZ CIOs rate mobile more important than their international counterparts, with mobile technologies second on the global list, behind analytics and business intelligence.

Not just a pretty picture

Johnson says one current flaw with mobile offerings is that ‘the completeness of the user experience is not there’.

He says application developers need to ‘work backwards from the customer or user experience’, when developing mobile apps.

“For a sales rep in the field, using the smartphone may not be the best device because there can be issues in how data appears.

“And if we don’t see that total user experience, business will move away.”

That view is shared by Mark Sands, regional director of business intelligence company QlikTech, who says while historically the emphasis was on delivering static reports with very little interactivity, the days of that being acceptable are over.

“The concept of delivering information to business users and organisations in a mobile environment is by no means a new concept,” Sands says.

“What’s changing though is the technological shift in the last few years with the advent of smartphones and tablets and the explosion of popularity around them.”

He says users are demanding to have the exact same capabilities on their smartphones or tablets that they do on their work computer.

“That technology shift enabled that.

“Many are making things look good, but if all we are doing is making a pretty, static, view, we’re not delivering on a core need of users to have the ability to work with data wherever they are.”

Sands says that is driving ‘enormous’ demand to take business intelligence ‘places we had not thought of before’.

He cites the example of a captain on a fishing boat, using a mobile offering to interact with the company’s system to find the optimum location to land a catch.

“It’s an extremely rare conversation we have with business partners or customers which does not involve discussion on the potential for mobility.”

Nick Borth, mobility product manager for enterprise application company Infor, adds:

“We’ve started at the cosmetic level, but now it’s about finding a point of convergence between applications and the desktop.”

And Sands says resellers shouldn’t just be targeting the obvious suspects when it comes to selling mobility.

“Obviously there are industries with a mobile aspect to them, such as those with mobile sales forces, but mobility goes beyond that, it can be as obscure as things like gold mining in Australia, or the captain of the fishing boat.

“You’ve got to think outside the box a little bit to empower users on the edges of organisations and beyond.