Taking the Enterprise Mobile: Developer Roundtable

n February, DevX Editorial Director Michael McCarthy and Editor-in-chief Lori Piquet sat down with four developers?two in the U.S. and two in Europe?to discuss the mobilization of the enterprise. Why don’t we have more choice in enterprise applications? Why is all the choice on the consumer side? Do the carriers have too much power? What’s holding us back? Device power, bandwidth, platform issues, or something else?

Think nobody knows the answers? These guys do.

Our panel:

  • Nadav Gur, Mobimate
  • Tapio Jokinen, Medixine
  • Craig Senick, Mobility Electronics
  • Glenn Bachmann, Bachmann Software

Nadav Gur,
Mobimate
Tapio Jokinen,
Medixine
Craig Senick,
Mobility Electronics
Glenn Bachmann,
Bachmann Software

DevX: There’s two basic sides of the mobile industry. One, obviously, is the consumer space. But it’s a lot harder to get good information about what’s going on in the enterprise?what the enterprise is likely to want, how that market’s likely to move, and how it differs from the consumer market. So today’s discussion will focus on the enterprise.

First, let me go around the group and ask each of you to tell us what your company does in the mobility space and who your primary markets are.

NADAV GUR: Mobimate is involved in packaged software applications for mobile devices. Our main product, especially for the Nokia platform, is World Mate, which is basically a suite of applications and online services for business travelers. We do sell some packed software to corporate, but most of this is to the end users. In a lot of cases, we end up selling to the corporation in the sense that these sales are expensable, but we do not sell to the corporation in the strict sense.

TAPIO JOKINEN: Medixine has two series of products. The first is directed toward consumers: wellness MIDlets for weight loss or fitness, that kind of thing. But we are in healthcare, so the corporation is a hospital or a healthcare center. For these customers we launched last December a mobile disease management solution where we use mobile phones as patient terminals in a centralized server-based system.

DevX: And is that sold as packaged or customized to each hospital?

JOKINEN: It is actually a package, but the integration to the local patient management or hospital information system always needs to be customized.

CRAIG SENICK: I work for Mobility Electronics. We developed the Quickoffice suite of applications for Palm as well as Symbian OS devices. We classify our market as what I like to term a ‘pro-sumer’ market. It’s similar to Nadav’s selling strategy where we sell applications to a mobile professional who is on the go and needs easy access to their PC-based applications such as a presentation application, word processing, and spreadsheet applications.

We primarily sell to those pro-sumers on an individual basis?though they do possibly expense those purchases?and we work in coordination with many of the large manufacturers to deliver our applications through carriers to the end user.

Our applications really are designed to extend the enterprise to wireless devices. Our software suite consists of Quickword, Quickpoint, and Quicksheet.

GLENN BACHMANN: My company is Bachmann Software. We provide file and printing software and applications for mobile devices, Palm, Pocket PC, and Symbian-based handhelds. Many of these devices are packaged as not much more than basic PDAs with calendaring and contacts. For those customers who are seeking to use their PDA as more of a mobile computer than a contact manager, there are a set of expectations, and those expectations include the ability to manage files, organize your applications and your files on your handheld, as well as to be able to perform printing of the contents, such as documents and spreadsheets from your handheld.

In terms of market and who we sell to, it is a mix. We do a brisk business selling direct to customers. In the enterprise space, they generally find us; we don’t have an enterprise sales force. It’s a challenge to reach the enterprise customer, especially if you’re talking about a large corporate buyer. The supply chain there is fairly deep, and your software really needs to start being carried by resellers and system integrators and folks along that food chain. We have been successful, though, with specific vertical market applications that absolutely must print, such as delivery trucks and warehousing-type applications.

Lowered Costs Leads to Real Enterprise Traction
DevX: So what is the state of development in the mobility space at the moment?

SENICK: I think we’re at the cusp of a tremendous growth curve in regards to the extension of the enterprise out to the mobile or extended work force. Moving forward, it’s the continuous productivity improvements from enhanced technologies that enable all this. All these applications and improved networks?lower pricing, more competition from a network provider?is the evolution that I personally see and I think we see at Mobility Electronics. This is the growth curve and it is really exciting.

With the converged devices that are coming out from a smart phone perspective, PDA perspective, it really empowers the user to take advantage of not only voice, but data applications that reside within the enterprise.

JOKINEN: From Medixine’s point of view, the problem has been how to extend disease management to large groups of patients. The cost has been too high before. But now we have mobile phones that are powerful enough. We can program patient terminals inside mobile phones. So the cost to the patient for entering this type of program is for the first time really low enough to make it clearly profitable.

A bigger healthcare provider has, say, 50,000 to 100,000 patients. So just handling installations and support has been expensive. But now we have systems to distribute Java software to mobile phones over the air. We take care of software updates in the same way. So all the technology pieces are in place, and now we can provide real world solutions in this area.

GUR: Like with any other new technology, the first things done are basically an extension of things that are already done on other media on other technologies. Now, the second stage is things that really utilize capabilities of the new technology. One medical research system that we built here for an American customer actually reminds the users two times during the day and at random times to measure the level of some parameter and enter it into the system. You could not have done that with any other technology because even if you had a PC to enter the information into later on, even if you had pen and paper to take the readings and so forth, we’ve never had a device that can decide for you when to take the readings and remind you. This is a new capability of the new technology.

What we’re trying to do with World Mate nowadays is really to solve all your information problems while you’re traveling without encumbering you. For instance, the device knows your itinerary, so we can find out automatically that your flight is delayed and that you might be missing a connection, and then we can propose a solution automatically. This is possible because the technology now brings the computing capability to wherever you need it. That’s something that was never available before.

I think in the long term we will see the mobile devices replacing anything else that people use to carry information, whether it’s your wallet, whether it’s some other booklet, or any other kind of contraption or item that you use to carry information with you. All of that will be made redundant by the mobile devices.

DevX: Do you get questions from enterprise customers indicating that they’re curious about how to extend the enterprise? Have you seen any signs from inside the enterprise that they’re trying to improve mobility?

BACHMANN: Absolutely. In many cases they’re either extending an existing application or they’ve got a very strong process in place for doing something, but it’s today a combination of back office computing, and in the mobile environment it’s a paper-based process. So out in the field it has yet actually even to be turned into a computing solution.

So they are curious about what’s possible in the field, and we can see before our eyes that they are learning what can be done, what’s available, and how to adapt their existing processes to an actual mobile computing device vs. paper.

We see over and over again that’s actually one of their biggest challenges. Most of these large corporations are very process-driven, and they’re trying to figure out how to adapt their processes so everything can move very smoothly. They’re not necessarily inventing a whole lot of new groundbreaking applications in-house. It’s more of an adaptation-type process.

DevX: But they’re still in Stage 1. You extend what you know out into the new environment.

SENICK: Absolutely. They’re not waking up the next day saying, ‘We have a dream where all of our sales folks will be doing these new things: X, Y, and Z.’ Those sales folks are already doing those things, but this is a way to make it much more efficient.

Carriers: Helpers or Hurdles?
DevX: For the solutions that you guys are working on, to what degree is it important that you work with carriers? Do any of you have products that you need the cooperation of the carrier?as with BREW applications, for example?where they’re only delivered through carriers?

GUR: We are actually working with a few carriers and talking to quite a few more. We’ve done that both for our existing products as well as the enterprise solutions that we have been building. Now, the carriers’ position and capabilities are undecided as yet. And they also vary from carrier to carrier, from market to market. Some carriers see themselves ultimately becoming dumb pipes just like ISPs. Most of them want to have some kind of control over those traffic-producing applications.

However, since there are such a variety of applications, especially in the solutions marketplace, they simply can’t get a grasp of the market, and ultimately if they do not provide the development services, then sooner or later they find themselves at a loss.

So sometimes they just become a player interested in helping other players?sort of doing some matchmaking between the solution and the customers. Sometimes they actually damage the process because they want to be involved but they don’t understand enough about it.

DevX: They want a piece of the action.

GUR: Yes, they want a piece of the action, but the action is too complex for them to handle, and they can’t really build internal divisions that would understand all the different IT systems. It’s just like it was with the Internet providers: Seven, eight years ago, all of them wanted to be a portal. All of them wanted to supply all the services. Most of them wanted to be involved in enterprise use as well as consumer use of the Internet. Now most of them have backed out of that.

With business solutions I think they can play a much more important role. There, since they hold the relationships with the customers, they already have a billing relationship and a sales and marketing relationship with them, it makes sense for them to be involved in those capacities as channels, as resellers, as billing agents and so forth.

What’s happened over the last couple of years is that some carriers have had limited success, especially with games, and whether it’s enterprise applications or games, it’s all crammed into one category. They call this content. And they’ve built a content division that is in charge of promoting these products. The original or early success was mostly with this kind of entertainment and games. These content divisions are very geared with billing and promoting games, and the same people, you just can’t expect them to sell serious business-type applications. So this is impeding the progress of the market.

DevX: And these are horizontal products that are in high volume, and the more complex the sale becomes and the more particular the segments are, the more difficult it becomes.

SENICK: I concur. I mean, the carriers have a stronghold on the distribution channel, especially here in the U.S. But their primary focus is adding new lines or selling lines, and anything that is remotely complex, that takes up more engineering resources or any customization on their behalf really becomes too complex.

When the carriers start to evolve their process to grow revenues with their existing customers vs. new additions, I think that’s when we, as a software company, will definitely begin to see more acceptance from the carriers.

Expanding the Customers, Not the Services
DevX: Do you find that having to work through carriers limits your ability to expand your product line into other types of corporate desktop applications? Do you get pigeonholed working through the carrier model?

SENICK: No. I don’t know if we get pigeonholed. We try to keep an open distribution model. The market’s not yet developed enough for that to be happening.

I think we’re still on that growth curve. I think this year and next year is where we’ll see selected carriers around the world begin to adopt our software. A lot of it is just dependent upon the devices. Our application is pretty large, and requires a SmartPhone for processing as well as memory. As that horizontal push for SmartPhones begins to grow, we will see the carriers gain more interest when they see that customers have the devices to offer our software on.

DevX: Would you say that the company?your company, Craig?is expending more energy in trying to expand your existing product line on more devices as opposed to trying to develop new applications?

SENICK: Yes. At this time we are focusing on getting on more devices vs. more applications.

DevX: Glenn, you’re in the same kind of space with file and printing

BACHMANN: Yes, we are in the same space, and I think we’re in a mix. We aggressively seek new ways to get our software in the hands of customers with device licenses, getting our products bundled with other hardware, other software, the handhelds themselves, and things of that nature. At the same time, we’re always looking for extensions to our existing applications as well as new applications, which makes sense for the customer and the carrier and the handheld manufacturer.

Going back to your earlier question: ‘Is the carrier an impediment for us or a value to us?’ At this point the real tipping point, for us in file and print services, is customers who have in their hands a device that’s capable of supporting things like documents and e-mail with attachments and editing and a keyboard. Those things are just coming to market in terms of the phone space. They’re already there in general PDAs.

But once those devices are in customers’ hands and they have great applications like Craig’s Quick Office, the need for file and print services becomes obvious. For us to raise our arms and scream and make a lot of noise, ‘everybody needs file and printing,’ the immediate question back is, ‘What am I printing?’ And the inevitable answer back to your average handheld user is going to be documents, PowerPoints, spreadsheets, e-mail.

I think the carriers can play an important role in terms of making the applications visible?making sure that their customers are aware that these capabilities are there. But it’s really just getting the customers used to using their handheld for more than a phone, their calendar, and a little bit of e-mail. Once they start making more robust use of all the capabilities that are on the PC, then we really see a big success story on our side.

DevX: Then they start looking around for more stuff once they begin to realize the possibilities.

BACHMANN: And that, of course triggers: ‘OK, now that they’re doing that, what else can provide to them?’ We’ve reached a certain point in the maturity of our applications where it’s not that existing customers need our applications to be more functional. It’s that there needs to be a base usage of them in the first place.

DevX: That’s where we’re starting to see the volumes take off for this year and next year. So it truly is at the uptick of the growth curve. We’re excited about the marketplace.

BACHMANN: As are we.

DevX: That’s good because I hear that the games guys are all talking about having had a good year. So it’s nice to see it’s shifting into other areas of software.

More Devices = More Innovation
DevX: It seems that device proliferation?the number of devices and the continuing innovation that’s going on in hardware and form factors?makes it really challenging for the enterprise to even think about doing the kinds of things that you guys are doing on their own. Is the ability to create an application and distribute a version of it for all kinds of devices where you add value?

BACHMANN: From our perspective it is a bit of a challenge. Now we have three major platforms for our software where we need to maintain a good level of functionality and quality and do all the business stuff. But the diversity of handhelds and types and form factors, I think that’s a good thing. It reflects the handheld manufacturers’ desire to create devices that are uniquely attuned to specific types of customers. Some are much more entertainment oriented, some are much more business enterprise oriented, and everything in between. They come in all sizes and shapes.

You could say that’s confusing, but if you look at it from the other end of the telescope, you could say that it’s an attempt to put products that make sense to much more specific customers rather than a one size fits all. But I think it creates opportunity rather than a challenge from our perspective. It is a little bit of effort to stay on top of all of them, but I think it encourages you to make use of the devices’ specificity. A PC is a PC. Handhelds are much more specific to what you want to use them for, whether it is for communications or entertainment or calendaring or what have you.

DevX: So the platforms and the screen sizes are not a huge hindrance to you.

BACHMANN: I put it in the category of an annoyance rather than a real hindrance.

JOKINEN: For us also the variety of different terminals is more an opportunity than a challenge because we can select the best terminal for a specific job. So if there’s a group of professionals performing a certain procedure and they need a certain type of support, then we can select the terminal that would best suit their need.

And anyway the prices?the terminal prices when we are talking about vertical solutions?are so low compared to what a customer’s terminal used to cost.

SENICK: I think the healthy competition between the OSs and the ability to innovate only aids what we’re trying to accomplish from a software development perspective. It just creates more and more awareness of what is out in the market.

DevX: So the annoyance is more than offset by the fact that we’re still in the evolution stage. It’s still creating excitement. It’s still creating new opportunities. It’s still creating new markets. It’s still creating customer excitement.

So the Series 60 UI standardization that Nokia’s promoting to its partners to try to standardize some of the aspects of the UI, that’s not the enormous advantage that I would have thought? It’s just a convenience?

SENICK: It helps, and it’s convenient. It reduces our costs in developing, but it’s not going to really make or break our business decisions regarding the platform. It’s nice to see them do it.

Choosing a Platform Proves Tricky
DevX: Speaking of platforms, do you guys have preferences as to developing directly to Symbian, C ++, Java, or Microsoft’s platform tools?

GUR: The usability is critical. On normal devices, if the application is not highly usable?unless somebody forces you to use it, which can only happen in a corporate setting?you simply will not use it. Therefore we need to utilize the device’s capability as best as we can, and that’s why we go for Symbian at this state.

We do believe that in the next phase, all mobile devices are going to become more powerful, more integrated with the devices, and more flexible. There’s a very good chance that three or four years from now Java becomes the one platform we develop on.

DevX: So once they resolve the problem of giving Java access to more capabilities of the device?

GUR: It’s mostly that, yes.

JOKINEN: We chose Java because it’s easier to support many different phone models using Java. Also in the easy way of handling installations and updates to a large number of client terminals, Java is a plus. I think now the situation is getting quite good. MIDP 1.0 was very limited. There were many things you were not able to do with Java. But with version 2 I think we have much of what we need.

SENICK: We develop our applications in C + + and directly work with the Symbian OS. Java in its current format, MIDP 1.0, doesn’t allow us to do what we need from a functionality perspective. Now, MIDP 2.0 will get us there, but we will probably continue to develop applications in C + +.

BACHMANN: Our printing application is arguably an operating system-level capability. It really belongs at that level, and it’s designed and programmed for high performance, accessing all the communications capabilities. We really had no choice: We needed to write right to the OS. That said, for other applications I think the option of Java is a tremendous plus. It’s not a very good fit for where we are.

Moving Away from ‘Dumb Voice Terminals’
JOKINEN: I was interested in asking the others how important mobile phone terminals are because it seems to me in the U.S. Palm and Pocket PCs are more important than mobile phones.

SENICK: We see a lot of Palm phones out there, and then, of course, the Pocket PC. But a lot of the devices that we have in the U.S. market today I would classify strictly as voice terminals, if you will. The Series 60 is hitting the market much bigger this year.

BACHMANN: It is about volume, and in the U.S., specifically, it is a bit early. We have great expectations for the conversion of the millions of?as Craig put it?the dumb voice terminals that people are kind of carrying around in their pockets over to a smarter phone-oriented platform. Whether that’s a Symbian phone, a Palm phone, or a Pocket PC phone, I think the market will decide. But we know it’s going to happen.

The Treo 600, which I’m actually on this call on, is a great device as are many of the new phones. It’s just a matter that these things need to penetrate the market. They need to come down a little bit in price. But I think the carriers have a big part to play there.

We expect to see the same thing happen in SmartPhones. You’ll always be able to buy a top of the line thing that does everything and it’s just beautiful and awesome, but the price point should be pushed down to where it’s more common to find that your average cell phone is equivalent to a PDA.

GUR: I wouldn’t say that we see it as phones vs. PDAs. We definitely see it as operating systems. Symbian is much stronger in Europe than it is in the U.S. at this stage.

However, to some extent I would say that we do see more sales into the phone market into the U.S. as well with the advent of SmartPhone, Pocket PC, or Palm-based in the U.S., and we do hope that Symbian, especially through Nokia, would make some progress [in the U.S.] this year.

BACHMANN: I think there needs to be a lot of education to the marketplace, to the consumer, and to the enterprise of what these devices can do. I mean, it’s not a phone?it’s information management, e-mail, it’s browsing the Web. It’s providing true mobility on a wireless device. That’s going to take some education by the carriers, by the manufacturers, and a general acceptance by the consumer.

Support is a major concern. Certainly right now we stand tall behind our products and provide great support for our customers. But the enterprise folks don’t know that; they don’t know about Bachmann Software or Mobility Electronics or anybody else on this call. They tend not to buy our solutions directly from us, and they don’t really want to piece together things from 15 different vendors. Those are all relationships they have to manage. They have to deal with support issues and upgrade the maintenance and worry whether the solution is going to be around for a very long time. I think that’s a major problem.

Part of it is visibility in the first place to the buyer at the enterprise level, but also can the supply chain and the intermediaries bring together our various pieces and present them to the enterprise buyer as a well supported, well integrated, overall solution.

The Next Big Thing
DevX: So what’s the next big thing?

GUR: What we hope to do this year is bring together desktop and mobile computing to a larger extent. Whether you consume [the application] on your desktop because you’re now at your desk or you consume it at your mobile because you’re out of the office traveling, we want you to have a very unified experience. Information should be available in both places. You should be able to communicate from a mobile device to the desktop device and vice versa. I think this multi-modality is one of the things that this market needs in order to continue growing.

JOKINEN: Our next opportunity is when Nokia’s 90 series phones are available?really available. Then we will have a phone that is good enough to offer anything we have in the PC-based Internet service in a mobile terminal. A good browser, a larger screen, and with EDGE we have bandwidth.

Then we won’t have to think about mobile applications or desktop applications. We’ll have one set of services available regardless of the terminal, regardless of where we are. Today, we still have to do subsets for the mobile terminal.

SENICK: As far as our next big thing, we are going to provide a rich user experience for mobile devices specifically within the Symbian OS. Users will have a similar experience on a wireless device for creating, editing, saving, modifying your standard PC-based documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. That’s a great opportunity for the world to have a mini-substitute, if you will, of what they have on their tethered PC or laptop, and we’re pretty excited about it.

BACHMANN: Our vision where all this stuff is going is that these devices will eventually become?some are now?but more will eventually become really first-class computing citizens both on a wide area network as well as integrated into your office and home networks. There’s nothing preventing these devices from working within those environments as well as, if not better, than your laptop does, and that means network connectivity. That means file and print services. That means office capabilities. That means e-mail.

It’s a small form factor, and certainly there are different approaches to how to solve these problems that need to be taken into account. You certainly just can’t fold up your laptop and cram it into a SmartPhone. But there’s nothing like being on the road and needing to do something on a daily basis and you’ve got this SmartPhone in your hand, and you realize just because you don’t have the right software or connectivity that you can’t do it.

This week we introduced the new version of our FilePoint file manager application that will have the ability to access and copy directly off Windows-based networks file servers and that means browsing network shares. Basically you’re looking at something akin to Windows Explorer on your handheld, and we think it’s a great leap forward for knocking down those barriers.

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