Tough choices for enterprise device buyers

mobile_phone.gifShortly before 2009 came to a close, The Really Mobile Project posted an interesting article discussing the problems facing enterprises looking to buy new mobile phones, coming to the conclusion that "there are no good enterprise mobiles".

We have already discussed the various options for mobile device buyers, noting that enterprises face tough choices in order to minimise the number of different handsets supported while still meeting the often diverse needs of the employee base. Although certain platforms, such as Research In Motion's BlackBerry and Microsoft's Windows Mobile have gained favour among many corporates, these are not perfect -- for example, RIM has suffered from several service outages in North America recent weeks, damaging reliability credentials it has worked long and hard to acquire.

The fact remains that by-and-large, the mobile phone industry is consumer-centric, and the way in which it is developing is in many cases in conflict with the demands of enterprise customers. For example, the Google-backed Android platform is rapidly gaining ground, bringing with it the practise of issuing regular operating system upgrades which add features and address glitches. This contrasts with the enterprise requirement for platform consistency, to ensure that devices can be supported easily over their full economic life and new terminals can be deployed seamlessly, without the need to constantly ensure that handsets in the field are up-to-date and deal with multiple operating systems and release versions.

In addition, much of the vendor focus in the device space is on enhanced multimedia performance and improved social networking integration, which do not (necessarily) fit tightly with the needs of business users.

The post noted that while BlackBerry is a "no-brainer", the need for corporates to install the BlackBerry Enterprise Server means that it brings with it system and management overheads and additional costs when compared to rivals. While there are outsourced solutions to enable businesses to mitigate this, these are obviously not provided free.

Nokia's Eseries devices were criticised for their usability, because "users hate them. The complaints are consistent...the contacts and calendar apps are too basic, the menu system is a maze and the new devices are buggy". While these issues can be addressed through firmware updates and third-party applications, these again cost either financially or in terms of manpower, in order to deliver what should be an acceptable performance from core smartphone features.

Apple's iPhone was vetoed because of its battery life, and by being "a bit pricey" through the inclusion of advanced multimedia capabilities that are not required. Android was deemed "an immature solution", but deemed "possibly one to watch".

Finally, Windows Mobile was described as "the least immediately offensive choice", although "quality varies wildly, radio and battery performance is average and the turnover of devices by operators is alarmingly rapid". It was also suggested that it does not present "a range or a platform to commit long-term to".

While these opinions are based on a single buyer's analysis of the market, and there are likely to be many vocal backers of BlackBerry, Nokia's Eseries, Windows Mobile and even the iPhone for corporate use, it does indicate that in many cases vendors are not effectively addressing the needs of the lucrative business market. With consistency, and therefore loyalty, an important feature of this sector, this seems something of an oversight, especially in comparison with the amount of effort dedicated to meeting the demands of the extremely fickle consumer customer base.
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