In the next 12 months, we expect operators to drive more mobile ICT solutions to small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Large enterprises have relied on mobility solutions that integrate with their IT and application environments for several years. Now operators and vendors are re-designing those solutions for SMEs. And those operators are also finding a need to rethink their sales channels as well, because SMEs have different purchasing, implementation and on-going support needs than large enterprises.
Trend 1: More mobile cloud applications, including mobile device management
Last year we predicted a growth in mobile apps and we expect that trend to continue in the next 12 months. We will continue to see more operators offering mobile-only and integrated PC-mobile apps. Most of these apps will be built by independent software vendors and, in many cases, co-branded with the operators. However, we expect cases in which operators choose to build their own apps and sell them to SMEs as value-added services.
We expect these apps to include various types of unified communication (UC), security and mobile device management (MDM) solutions. For many years, UC has continued to be a top seller to SMEs seeking to simplify their technology environment while adding some value-added services to their IT environment. MDM solutions have been aimed towards large enterprises for many years, but the surge in smartphone adoption--and the need to support multiple operating systems--is going to push MDM into the medium-sized business space this year. The consumerisation of IT--the relentless push of consumer-based technology into the enterprise IT environment--and the increasing penetration of tablets with 3G/4G connectivity will help to foster greater demand for MDM.
Trend 2: Fleet management for SMEs
No longer the sole domain of large enterprises, fleet-management solutions will come to the SME market. Providers have offered fleet management--one of the myriad applications in the machine-to-machine market--for more than 10 years and we will start to see these solutions productised, as operators become more focused on expanding their M2M businesses.
We expect European operators or other service providers to bring to market a fleet-management solution aimed specifically towards SMEs with smaller fleets of vehicles. We would expect operators to target their solutions towards retailers, wholesale/distribution companies and various trades (such as plumbing and electrical) with fleets of 15 or more vehicles. We anticipate a slimmed-down set of fleet-management features and a user interface that is simpler than those of enterprise fleet management solutions.
Trend 3: Increased reliance on indirect sales channels
The rise in mobile apps and the mobile-enablement of desktop-based applications for SMEs will necessitate greater reliance on indirect sales channels, especially on authorised agents, dealers and value-added resellers.
These indirect channels are critically important for two reasons. First, they allow a more consultative sales process than retail stores or telephone-based sales. Consultative sales are critical in a world in which communications and IT are converging. Since each new technology solution affects an existing SME technology, an involved selling partner is critical to keeping the SME technology environment working.
Second, indirect channels allow operators to pay according to the success of the channel, instead of having to pay their own employees. The new cloud-based services bundled by operators do not generally have profit margins as lucrative as their traditional communications services. Operators therefore need a way to profitably sell cloud-based services as value-added services to SMEs. Indirect channels provide such a vehicle to profitability.
Vodafone has been very vocal about its use of the indirect channel in selling One Net services to SMEs. We expect more European operators to do the same during 2012. Indirect channel partners--most of which are SMEs themselves--are successful in selling to SMEs for many reasons, not the least of which is that many SMEs like to deal with other SMEs for their technology needs.
Steve Hilton is the Principal Analyst of Analysys Mason's Enterprise research program which specializes in M2M, cloud and small enterprise strategies. His primary areas of specialisation include fixed and mobile communications services, M2M, cloud services, and sales channels. Steve has 18 years' experience in technology and communications marketing, is a frequent speaker at industry and client fora, and publishes monthly articles in several respected trade journals for the enterprise and channel partner community.