Let's face it: the wireless data "tsunami" of the past three years has been principally a consumer phenomenon. The leading applications in Apple's "app store" are primarily consumer-oriented, and even the enterprise apps have been of a B2C nature.
What about the enterprise?
The three "home runs" in the enterprise to date have been voice, mobile e-mail, and mobile broadband. Efforts to develop new, scalable, horizontal or vertical markets for enterprise mobile, such as field sales or field service, have been "base hits," at best.
The market has been relatively risk-averse in the enterprise--in part because investors were burned by the "mobile middleware" disaster of the 1999-2002 era that consumed 75+ companies with little to show for the $2 billion+ of capital that was invested in the space. Among the major handset OEMs, Research in Motion's push into the consumer and international markets didn't come at the expense of the enterprise, but it has diluted efforts to develop monetizeable extensions to its wildly successful e-mail service. The other "shoulda," Microsoft, has failed to parlay its huge enterprise business into mobile, along several fronts. Other enterprise heavyweights, such as Oracle, IBM, and HP, have yet to stake out a leadership position in truly "mobilizing" the enterprise.
I think this is about to change. In the same way that the stars aligned to propel the consumer market for wireless data, I think we will see a more vibrant, and distinct, enterprise market for mobile over the next couple of years, driven by the following factors:
- Consolidation of operating systems. It is becoming clear that the smartphone market will revolve around Blackberry, Android, and Apple. And CIOs are starting to seriously consider adding support to the latter two. Microsoft remains a wildcard.
- Standardization of development toolkits. The consolidation around, essentially four, Web development toolkits (i.e. Webkit, Pocket IE) will harmonize the development community, decrease the time, resources and cost to develop enterprise apps or plug-ins.
- Evolution of mobile browsers and cloud services. Continued improvement in mobile browsers (including a hybrid model employing a thick-ish client and a server component) and maturation of transcoders means that the mobile web opens up to a much larger universe of organizations than the select few with the resources to "optimize" for mobile. Additionally, cloud services for mobile are being developed with the enterprise in mind.
- More flexible pricing plans. In addition to lower entry prices for data plans, there will be greater flexibility to share data plans among multiple devices and between groups.
- 4G. The combination of 4G network performance/economics and the development of cloud services means the operators can deliver a more compelling "mobile broadband" experience to enterprises.
Even with the building blocks falling into place, a number of things need to happen to get the enterprise to the next stage. First, we need more serious app development in the enterprise arena. One example in my neck of the woods is Apperian, which is developing "connectors" to the leading enterprise platforms. Think about what these changes might mean for a leading enterprise heavyweight such as Salesforce.com. Yes, the opportunity is more diffuse but tools are more standardized and costs lower than they have historically been.
Second, we need to think about developing multiple profiles on the same device. The fact that more execs are carrying both an iPhone and a Blackberry tells me that they use their devices quite differently for work and play. Why not try to integrate this need on one device? The "professional" profile is oriented around corporate mailboxes, enterprise social networks, contacts, and business-y applications. The "personal" profile is for applications oriented toward entertainment, consumer social networks and family.
Third, in terms of horizontal applications, we could use a "refresh" in the concept of enterprise messaging. This means better integration of "professional" social networks such as LinkedIn and Twitter for enterprise users such as we have seen on the consumer side. CIOs are also becoming more accepting of browser-based mail, but the experience (speed, PIM integration, security) has not caught up yet. And all the effort going into integrating location into consumer apps and social networks (such as FourSquare) could take on an enterprise bent, too.
Fourth, security is going to become a more important consideration. Today, the security market is hugely disaggregated, with separate solutions for device management, encryption, anti-virus, and so on. Operators could play a more important role here, integrating the multiple aspects of an enterprise's security requirements under one umbrella, for a modest monthly subscriber charge. Also expect to see more outsourced, "hosted" enterprise solutions, such as that provided by Enterprise Mobile.
We can see the ecosystem starting to build. Apple, Google, and Microsoft are evolving their personal productivity applications to work more effectively on mobile devices and are incorporating more enterprise capabilities in their SDKs. Earlier this week, AT&T announced Advanced Enterprise Mobility Solutions, as a complement to its Emerging Devices Organization. RIM, in an effort to maintain share in North America, is re-energizing its efforts in the enterprise with a series of enterprise-oriented "super-apps." And I believe HP, in acquiring Palm, could leverage WebOS across multiple device platforms with a decidedly enterprise flavor. SAP's recent acquisition of Sybase (and its significant mobile messaging business) is another validation of potential in the enterprise market. In terms of verticals, I think the healthcare and government sectors are going to be especially exciting over the next couple of years.
Mark Lowenstein, a leading industry analyst, consultant, and commentator, is Managing Director of Mobile Ecosystem. Click here to subscribe to his free Lens on Wireless monthly newsletter, or follow him on Twitter.