Mobile Enterprise Applications - a market waiting to happen?

Von Andrew Tanner-Smith
You are a service engineer sent to a remote branch of a national bank to fix a malfunctioning ventilation system. You have the spares and tools that you think you need given the diagnosis, but upon examination you need other spares which are not on your truck. You take out your PDA, look up the part numbers, and have them dispatched to you to arrive within the hour. Meanwhile, from your PDA your order has reached the back office, and updated the inventory system, which logs that the parts need to be replenished in the warehouse. This is just as well because five minutes later that part is requested by another service engineer attending another customer.

This scenario is not particularly far-fetched, although the service engineer’s ability to fix the problem and update his company’s back office systems at the same time might appear to be. One of the key applications that make such a real-time response possible is field service automation. Field service automation along with field force management and sales force automation are among a crop of applications that take advantage of mobile networks to allow field workers to update the back office in real time on the road. It is a very promising market – not only for vendors of these particular applications, but also mobile operators, W-LAN and other mobile network technologies.

Despite the obvious customer responsiveness’ advantages of mobile applications there are still considerable barriers to making the scenario above a commonplace event. The main barriers according to Frost & Sullivan research revolve around the business justification. For many vertical markets the level of ‘real-time’ customer service is just not required. For organisations in other vertical markets the scenario above aptly describes the immediate relationship they have with their customers, but the return on investment case is not clear. Mobile applications require the end user organisation make considerable investments not only in on-going software licences and network costs, but for those that have not outsourced them entirely, in hiring and retaining specific mobile skills.

The boom of mobile applications

Despite these barriers consultants at Frost & Sullivan believe that an increasing number of organisations will find the case for mobile applications irresistible. In the vertical markets where customer response times do make sense, and good examples of these are utilities and pharmaceutical sales, the competitive advantages offered by mobile applications are obvious. In the longer term, as the end user costs of mobile data fall in real terms and the skills required to implement and run mobile applications become more commonplace, the market will grow further as new industries that at present doubt the business case become customers.

In terms of the market over all, Frost & Sullivan believes that currently the market for mobile application software is less than €100 million in Western Europe but this will rise to well over a €1.3 billion by 2008. Currently there are in the region of 300.000 users of mobile applications estimated in Europe. This is will rise to nearly seven million by 2008.

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