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CIOs hit roadblocks in deploying mobile applications

Deploying mobile applications beyond the standard isn't getting any easier. The problem, say experts, is that mobile software developers need to work more directly with the businesses.

CIOs face too many challenges when they try to deploy robust mobile applications to users, and experts say vendors are missing out on a potentially huge opportunity.

Bringing mobile email to employees with a device like BlackBerry isn't so tough. The consensus from users is that BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. provides good end-to-end email solutions for businesses.

But when CIOs try to deploy more core business applications to mobile devices, they run into trouble.

"There is a notable lack of end-to-end solutions in the market," said Ellen Daley, vice president and research director at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. "What is needed next is a focus on applications beyond wireless email."

When a CIO wants to deploy mobile applications for sales force automation, customer relationship management or field service applications, he must often gather together software components from several vendors, Gartner Inc. principal analyst Todd Kort said.

"Why HP, Dell, Nokia, Motorola, Palm, etc., have taken so long to create solutions that might strongly compete with RIM is difficult to comprehend," Kort said. "RIM has had a big target on their back for several years, and everyone seems to keep finding ways of missing."

There is certainly a market for mobile enterprise solutions, Daley said. In a report published last year, Daley wrote that the utility, telecommunications, retail, media and health care industries are looking to implement business applications on mobile devices.

One reason for the dearth of mobile applications for business is that the industry has focused more on consumers.

"The device manufacturers and wireless operators can't seem to decide whether they even care about the enterprise market," said Daniel Taylor, managing director of The Mobile Enterprise Alliance Inc., a Wakefield, Mass.-based global advocacy group that promotes the business benefits of workforce mobility. He said mobile vendors are drawn to video downloads and mobile gaming "like bugs to light."

This trend prompted Brad Boston, CIO of San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems Inc., to fire a broadside at the mobile device industry at last month's 3GSM World Conference in Barcelona, Spain.

Citing the industry's emphasis on consumers, Boston complained, "There's a lack of focus on what we need."

In his speech, Boston said he was frustrated that Cisco had to gather software from various vendors to build a mobile solution. He said his peers tell him they have had the same experiences.

Gary Warren, CEO of AppForge Inc., an Atlanta-based firm that builds mobile application development platforms, said his company was focused on the consumer market when he joined it two and a half years ago. He said the consumer market offers sales volume that is hard to resist. Since he took over, AppForge has shifted its focus to the business market.

"If you're an IT person and you have to deploy to mobile, it is terribly frustrating," he said.

Warren said the key to opening up the mobile business application market is to develop software that can be deployed on any mobile device. Many developers write software that is proprietary to one device or carrier.

Many companies need flexibility. Warren pointed to one of his company's clients, Thomson Healthcare.

"Thomson Medical deploys 100,000 mobile applications to doctors. You can't tell those doctors to standardize on a single device," he said.

What is needed next is a focus on applications beyond wireless email.

Ellen Daley, vice president and research director, Forrester Research Inc.

Taylor of The Mobile Enterprise Alliance said there are hundreds of software developers focused exclusively on mobile business applications, but there is a disconnect that prevents them from effectively serving the market.

"Where things have fallen short is in the channel. There isn't yet a developed sales channel for mobility," Taylor said.

Taylor said developers need to be connected directly to businesses through the sales channel. Instead they're relying on the consumer model, whereby carriers of mobile services deliver software products. But mobile business applications aren't like ringtones and games. A CIO doesn't want to go through a carrier to get them.

"There's a matter of application development, integration, device selection and ongoing management," he said. "And carriers just aren't the best place to start for many of those IT-centric questions."

Michael Pate, director of IT at Complete Production Services Inc., a Houston oil field service company, agrees that there is room for improvement in the industry, but it depends on one's perspective.

Pate said he has had a good experience with deploying mobile devices by keeping it simple. His employees are using BlackBerrys, which were simple to integrate into his company's email system.

Pate said he considered using Palm's Treo, but he was wary of using a third party for integration software. His company also tried using Microsoft's Smartphone technology, but the "level of effort" to get them to work was too high.

Daley, of Forrester, said she sees a concerted effort by mobile carriers and vendors to shift more focus to the mobile enterprise.

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