Enterprise Mobility: Opportunity, yet Disconnect

Indian CIOs want to invest in mobility solutions. But channel partners say they aren’t really keen. What’s going on?

Aritra Sarkhel, Shantheri Mallaya Oct 16th 2012 A-A+

Mobility is a great concept and we are prepared to service enterprise demands. But, we can’t tell where the demand for mobility is headed. Even if CIOs are ready to buy into the concept, their CFOs might put a spoke in the wheel because of licensing and hardware inventory costs,” says Jiten Mehta, director of Mumbai’s Magnamious Systems, a well-heeled player with large enterprise players in its kitty.

If you get a sense of uncertainty in Mehta’s outlook for mobility, you aren’t imagining it. Plenty of enterprise channel partners are taking, let’s call it, a conservative approach to the potential of the mobile market.

At the same time, there are others who are more outspoken with their views. Take for example Subramaniam Madhira, founder and CEO of Chennai-based OmniNet Systems, which has been doing work in the mobility area, at the device and network level, for some years now, and has customers in logistics, microfinance, and insurance.

“Where is the ROI in a mobility solution? I will not waste my sales resources pitching mobility as a standalone piece, when I am fully aware it’s more of a creamy layer concept, one that is restricted to a company’s top and middle management,” he says, adding that until mobility trickles down to the masses of an organization, partners like himself aren’t going to see the returns they want. “I would much rather divert time, money, and effort to network audits, which are a larger concern.”

It’s hard not to be surprised by these opinions—especially if you know that Indian CIOs are extremely gung-ho about mobility and want to invest in it. According to CIO magazine’s Mid-Year Review Survey 2012 (See Mobility: The New Watch Word) mobility is the new hot area for Indian enterprises. (CIO is a sister publication to ChannelWorld). The survey of over 190 CIOs, reveals that Indian companies, immaterial of their size, are already investing in mobility—and will continue to do so.

The question now is: Why is there a disconnect between partners and CIOs? And is the mobile solutions market really worth an enterprise channel partner’s time?

Where are the Partners?

According to the Mid Year Review, 24 percent of IT decision makers at very large Indian enterprises (Rs 10,000 crore and above), say that the unavailability of good system integrators is one of their top three challenges, edging out more standard complaints like a lack of funding or having too many projects to implement. And, if you look at the numbers across company sizes, one in every 10 Indian CIO has the same complaint.

While CIOs feel a need for better system integrators for all projects—not just their mobility ones—the fact is a significant number of enterprise projects have something to do with mobility (if you study the number of CIOs saying they want to pursue or are pursuing mobility-based projects).

Take for example, Vilakshan Jakhu, CIO of Gurgaon-based real estate-developer BPTP. “Mobility is a much abused word. We need to understand whether it means the development of an application on a mobile device or MDM or just a mobile device. Many SIs do not have requisite experience in deploying BYOD systems.”

BPTP is an early adopter of mobile device management (MDM) through MobileIron. BPTP’s adoption of a Saas model for its MDM needs is a case in point of how Indian enterprises are exploring mobile options—without the intervention of partners.

Yedunandan S., principal consultant, Mobility at Cisco India, agrees that there is a shortage of partners with mobile know-how. “The dearth of skilled partners is true to an extent. If you look at the customization of certain apps for different business environments, you’ll see a lack of skill sets in India, as of now. It’s an emerging area in India and may not have extremely mature partners.”

Sumanth Tarigopula, director, Global Delivery-India, HP Enterprise Services, also agrees. “CIOs are still struggling to find true mobile partners. BFSI and e-commerce are areas where we are seeing a mobile explosion. However, the day is not too far, when stakeholders will see mobility as a differentiator, as well a value-added service.”

The challenge Tarigopula, points out, is that, “Most mobility partners have a one-sided perspective: Sell mobility as a me-too strategy. What enterprise CIOs need is a true mobility business partner who can enable enterprise-to-enterprise mobile solutions for business executives on the move, increase agility, and their ability to run business from anywhere.”

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The list of stakeholders who concur that there is a lack of mobility skills in the channel to service enterprise demands extends to the channel itself. “CIOs are in a fix because they are not confident of the big OEMs. The OEM might provide them with the software and hardware but when it comes to the integration part, there is a lack of skill sets present among partners,” says Sanjay Patodia, CEO of Mumbai-based Galaxy Automation.

One of the reasons Patodia puts forth for the lack of know-how is the complexity that comes with mobility. “In mobility, there are multiple technologies and product lines which need to be integrated. So there is a need to have multiple levels of investment across various technologies.”

Patodia sees the challenge as an opportunity. He says that in the last few months his company has begun to undertake an assessment of the market and is investing a little. But he says that there needs to be more support. “We need more support in terms of knowledge of vendor products, more whitepapers, and technology training all woven around mobility.”

Jayesh Shah, director at Mumbai’s Orient Technologies, agrees. “Not all applications are mobile ready. Also, many vendors are not being able to port legacy applications. Moreover, many solutions are still evolving in terms of security.”

Orient works with customers to understand their application requirements and infrastructure. Interestingly, the solution provider has gone ahead and invested in an application development unit which makes sure that applications are available on mobile devices based on customer need. “Currently, there are very few players who are working with the customers in this area. Not all of them are addressing all the issues,” says Shah.

In the larger SI space, companies like TCS and other service providers are building many mobility solutions for the enterprise, with a focus on certain verticals including insurance, banking and retail. Most of them have coverage in three or four industries and also have an adequate workforce in place to develop mobility solutions for their clients.

At the same time, they are partners with some technology solution vendors, who help them develop device management capabilities and application development platform capabilities. “These service providers offer a one stop-shop solution wherein, they will help you build your mobility strategy in a strategic partnership with platform providers or device management providers,” says Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst, Gartner. “I think, these companies are the best to look at when one is about to develop a mobile strategy unless, an enterprise has its own workforce that can develop applications.”

There are more restrained voices. Sunil Lalvani, director, Enterprise Sales, RIM India says, “The market is still evolving as we speak. Today, there is an entire ecosystem of telecom service providers, device and platform OEMs, application developers, and value-added resellers—and all of them are focusing on enterprise mobility solutions, each with its own skill sets. The key is in leveraging the core strengths of these players to deliver a seamless user experience for the enterprise.”


Hidden Costs?

Amidst the fact that most technology vendors assert that they have specialized mobility VAR partners, some others suspect that the main roadblock to the widespread adoption of enterprise mobility solutions is neither the lack of partners nor the lack of CIO inclination, but the fact that there are costs that need explaining to a discerning management.

In other words, there’s a reason, channel partners aren’t diving headlong into the mobility market: It isn’t the rich feeding ground everyone’s making it to be.

That’s a feeling one can’t help but get from Mehta at Magnamious Solutions. “We have the know-how to sell—and service—mobile solutions, but how are we going to convince the customer about the huge bill of material for bulk licensing and hardware inventory, thanks to vendors such as Microsoft?”

He adds that vendors such as such as Citrix are aware of these issues, and he believes that they ought to take it up with Microsoft and maybe discuss royalties with them in order to take the mobility discussion with large enterprises to the next level.

Another challenge for an SI or a vendor is the hesitancy among enterprises to start investing in mobility. But what about all those CIOs who said they were interested in mobility? Here’s what CIOs quickly find out about mobility: It’s an ongoing investment—not a one-time deal. Once CIOs get wind of that, their drive for mobility begins to cool, because it becomes harder to figure out ROI, and on-going investments increase TCO.

“It is a debatable point. In case of BYOD, the company doesn’t have to pay for Microsoft desktop licenses, year after year. While the amount we have to pay for an MDM solution is significantly less. So, cost wise, we save a lot. And since, we are using a software-as-a-service model, if we don’t like a particular solution from a vendor, we can use it from a different vendor. So, there is no lock-in,” says Jakhu at BPTP.

It is common knowledge that mobility is not a one-time investment—it’s an ongoing continuous process, wherein CIOs have to constantly develop applications keeping in mind the changing dynamics of the market and the needs of their customers, whether they are internal or external. According to Gupta at Gartner the window of development is about three years. “It is not really a hidden cost,” he adds, “but these things need to be factored in while building a mobility strategy. One needs to look at certain key customers or segments with such a strategy and not target all customers of different verticals at one go.”

Further, enterprises and their IT leaders are advised to analyze how mobile technology can generate business value for their organizations and view investment and project decisions from the perspective of how users will interact with mobile devices. Also, they are told that they should build out a TCO model and a governance framework around the BYOD model and the associated privacy, regulations and legal issues. All of which create stumbling blocks for a mobility project from a CIO perspective.

Jayesh Shah, director of Mumbai-based Orient Technologies, is confident that it’s only a matter of time before mobility projects will increase, given the ability of mobiles to bump up productivity. “The cost is a reality if you want to implement and manage these solutions. But at the end of the day, it’s about business demand. With the help of mobile devices, you can do your office work, anytime and from anywhere. So, there is robust need for such applications and for the sake of apps, customers are willing to give access to their users.”

“By embracing the BYOD phenomenon and re-designing their infrastructure to leverage it, CEOs can confidently open their networks to employees and interested third-parties without the concern of exposing themselves to risk. This enables the enterprise to remain open to gains in both productivity and operational efficiency and savings in opex,” says Dhawan of Juniper Networks.

Siddharth Garg, founder and CTO of New Delhi’s Quytech, an application development company, believes that working with players like Apple—who have a closed ecosystem—could help lower some hidden costs. “When you work in closed ecosystems like Apple, developers find it easier to develop applications, and then support and maintain them,” he says. “When you are talking about Open Source devices, like Android, a company may pitch a device, on which an application may not work, which in turn increases maintenance costs.”

That sentiment is something that big players like Microsoft know and are using to their benefit. “Partners of Microsoft have the option of building applications across platforms. This is what developers want, and we are well aware and are acting upon it,” says Srikanth Karnakota, director Server and Cloud Business, Microsoft. He asserts that Windows Server 2012 could well be the panacea for enterprises that want to push the envelope on cloud and mobility.

Yedunandan at Cisco says, “There are two features for mobility solutions—one is the infrastructure part—to enable solutions like wireless connectivity or BYOD. Infrastructure is a one-time investment. And more than TCO, it’s about ROI. If enterprises deploy more and more mobility, it will increase productivity. It’s about accessing business information from a device.”

For some others, it is not only about ROI. (See Mobility is Here to Stay) “Our pitch to the customers is to look at the total value of ownership rather than TCO,” says Goradia at Citrix.