Despite the obvious synergy potential between mobile and the enterprise (BlackBerry being the obvious entry-level example), 3G has been primarily a consumer play, But that's changing as enterprises learn to embrace mobile more fully into their IT strategies - which should be a wake-up call to operators.
Even in the face of challenges such as small IT teams with limited knowledge of mobile system capabilities, 2008 was a banner year for mobile enterprise app take-up in Asia, according to Norm Lo, VP of Asia Pacific at Research In Motion, as more and more enterprises in the region invested in mobile apps to enhance productivity and efficiency, as well as reducing business costs. Forget sending emails via smartphones - Lo says that businesses now allow executives to access confidential corporate information and a range of business applications behind the firewall as enterprise application providers develop mobile strategies and proactively promote their apps to mobile platforms.
'For example, SAP and RIM have joined forces to enable mobile access to SAP enterprise applications through the BlackBerry platform,' says Lo.
Business apps like sales force automation (SFA), field-force automation (FFA), inventory management, location-based tools, and CRM are increasingly going mobile across Asia as a result, Lo says. As an example, Canon Hong Kong has deployed a CRM system that runs on over 100 BlackBerry smartphones utilized by field engineers.
The other good news is that despite the expected budget belt-tightening among enterprises in 2009, mobile enterprise apps will continue to grow, with many corporations still planning to go ahead with mobility projects in order to improve productivity, reduce costs or to bring services closer to the customer.
Robin Simpson, research director at Gartner, says some enterprises will seek cost savings by abandoning desk phones in favor of a dual-mode cellular/Wi-Fi mobile phone that can be integrated with the PBX via Unified Communications.
Meanwhile, the arrival of smartphones like the iPhone and Blackberry Storm will see many enterprises focus on Web-based delivery of applications, content and services rather than having to write custom code for each different brand of phone, said Simpson. For instance, many banks have introduced modified versions of their Internet banking applications to suit the iPhone.
Location-based services such as maps and navigation, as well as social networking, messaging and collaboration tools will also become much more popular in the enterprise, Simpson says.
Gary Chow, managing director of PCCW Commercial Group, says that 'device management and mobile marketing are two other growing areas for enterprise mobile applications in the nearest future.'
Data plans revisited
RIM's Norm Lo gives cellcos at least some of the credit for the up-surge in enterprise mobility, which he says was fuelled in part by improved coverage and capacity, as well as expanded Wi-Fi coverage in markets like Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore in the past year. Lo adds that new 3G networks in China will further spur mobile usage in the region.
That said, for cellcos to really capitalize on enterprise mobility, they'll need to rethink their data plans, says Gartner's Simpson.
'There will be increasing pressure on mobile operators to offer reasonably priced unlimited data plans or larger download caps on existing plans,' Simpson says.