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Wireless computing fuels biz app adoption

Three-quarters of all U.S. businesses have deployed at least one wireless data application. Mobile email still rules, but line-of-business apps, such as CRM, are set for big growth.

As businesses continue to adopt (and get comfortable with) wireless technology, more organizations will move beyond email and Web surfing and use wireless business applications, such as sales force automation. But adoption will not be without pitfalls, say experts.

Seventy-five percent of all U.S. businesses now use at least one wireless data application, according to researcher In-Stat. The finding represents a large jump from last year, said Bill Hughes, principal analyst at the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based firm.

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Last year just 65% of U.S. businesses were using a wireless data application. And 10 years ago, there were just 100,000 individual business users of such applications, Hughes said.

The In-Stat findings are based on a survey of 505 executives of companies in seven vertical markets.

According to IDC, the growth in mobile data applications is just getting started. The Framingham, Mass.-based research firm is predicting that the market for mobile enterprise data applications will nearly triple by the end of the decade, from $1.2 billion in 2005 to $3.5 billion in 2010.

Still, mobile email continues to be the most dominant data application used on wireless devices.

"The No. 1 wireless application is email, perhaps not surprisingly, and from there, Internet access and Web-based applications," Hughes said.

Eighty-four percent of companies that access data applications through wireless devices are using them to read and send email, and 83% say they use them to access the Internet and corporate intranets.

Line-of-business wireless applications all saw growth this year. Sales force automation grew from 29% in 2005 to 34% in 2006. Devices used for field services automation grew from 27% to 33%. And companies using their mobile devices for ERP grew from 21% to 24%.

Hughes said larger companies are becoming more comfortable with wireless data applications, and many have plans to move beyond email and Internet in 2007.

"They're starting to roll out more enterprise-oriented applications like sales force automation, customer relationship management systems or order entry on ERP systems on wireless technology," Hughes said.

Daniel Taylor, managing director of the Mobile Enterprise Alliance in Wakefield, Mass., said 2006 was a big year for deploying field services application on wireless devices. He said field sales applications will be a huge growth area for wireless applications in 2007.

But many companies are letting individual employees drive adoption. Hughes said only about half of companies are centrally buying the wireless devices and services their employees use to access mobile data applications.

"So you're leaving the price negotiations to individual employees and you're leaving security measures on wireless networks to individual employees," Hughes said.

Many companies are putting themselves unnecessarily at risk by leaving wireless data security outside their control.

Taylor said adoption of mobile data applications driven by employees can have pitfalls, such as impediments to policy management, device management and security. But top-down adoption has its own pitfalls, and user-driven adoption has its advantages.

"The zeal and enthusiasm of a group of workers is a business asset," Taylor said. "And if you look at the difficulties that some organizations have had [with mobile technology], it's been with getting individual users signed on. I think that individuals who say 'I want this device to do X, Y and Z,' they're providing inspiration for adoption, and in some cases, helping find the budget for that."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Writer

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