The Enterprise Mobile Experience


The recent MEX conference concentrated on the Mobile Experience where ‘experience’ was taken to mean everything that the user perceives rather than just the user interface. Discussion inevitably focused mainly on the consumer experience. However, more and more enterprises are using mobile devices to competitive advantage. 

Is there a problem with a similar product being targeted at both consumers and the enterprise? What are the key factors with respect to the enterprise mobile experience? To what degree are these factors catered for yet with current devices? 

The first thing to note is that the ‘experience’ is much more than the worker’s interaction with the phone. It also includes how the phones are allocated, secured, billed and otherwise managed. Hence there are two areas to consider: The Admin Experience and the Worker Experience…

The Admin Experience

In some respects, the admin experience is much more important than the worker experience. If key factors are not seen to be met in a simple, cost effective manner then the devices won’t even get sign off. These factors tend to revolve around security and device management…

  • Device Security

    What needs to be protected? As well as the value of the hardware and commercial information, protection is often mandatory to comply with regulations such as the EU Data Protection Directive and US Safe Harbour and GLBA.

    At the most basic level, device security is the ability to lock the keypad and device. On most devices this protection is weak and is really just a deterrent against non-professional theft. Microsoft has made specific improvements here in Windows Mobile and has strong password protection.

    A recent Microsoft conference I was told that a recent study showed that only a quarter of users lock their mobile devices. Although passwords degrade the immediacy of the user experience, there needs to be a way of enforcing enterprise password protection policies (see Configuration later).

    More advanced protection can involve encrypting data, especially that on removable memory cards. Both Microsoft (in Windows Mobile 5) and BlackBerry (Later devices) are certified to FIPS 140 for use on secure (US) Government projects. Alternatively, enterprises can purchase third party solutions such as Pointsec which works on Symbian and Windows Mobile devices. 

  • Configuration

    As mentioned previously, there needs to be a way of enforcing security (e.g. Password policies). Furthermore, there needs to be a way of setting up software on remote devices, applying later patches and performing inventory asset/version tracking. This is where Symbian and Microsoft/BlackBerry tend to diverge. Microsoft and BlackBerry have tried to supply the whole solution while Symbian has provided hooks in the current Series 80 OS (and forthcoming 9.1 OS for Series 60 and UIQ) to allow Nokia, IBM and others to communicate with devices via OMA client provisioning and device management standards.

    Microsoft currently provide something called the SMS 2003 Device Management Pack (DMFP) for SMS licensees that provides, software inventory, file collection, software distribution, script execution, settings management and password policy management. Note that this only currently works for Pocket PC and Pocket PC Phone devices and not Smartphones.

    Blackberry Enterprise Server
    similarly provides facilities to remotely load software and data and apply IT policies.

    Nokia currently recommend IBM Tivoli  for managing Series 80 devices. There will almost certainly be many more remote configuration tools available, from the likes of mFormation, after Symbian OS 9.1 devices ship.

  • Synchronisation

    Syncronisation of PIM data is more mature and there’s already a wealth of  third party solutions. Again, Microsoft makes things very easy (provided you use Exchange 2003). 

  • Anti-Virus and Anti-Trojan

    I believe this is actually a low risk area which has been over-hyped. Unlike PCs and servers, today’s devices have very few services (listening on ports) running and hence viruses have to be explicitly installed by users. Obviously, the major anti-virus vendors provide solutions and Microsoft even provides API hooks for them. The added Platform Security in Symbian 9.1 and Windows Mobile 5.0 should make viruses and trojans an even lower risk.

    Anti-virus products have the capability to degrade the user experience by consuming memory, slowing down devices and consequently consuming battery power. They can also be expensive for enterprise rollout. Hence, the use and effectiveness of anti-virus products should be carefully evaluated against the perceived threat which may actually change with time.

  • Network Security

    When data flows to and from a mobile device it usually goes over the operator’s GSM or 3G network, followed by the network operator’s PSS network, over the public Internet to a corporate server. Traditionally, VPNs are used on laptops to secure this route. Series 80 devices include a VPN client and there many VPN vendors for the various mobile platforms. However, VPN incurs a large overhead and can consume up to 20% of the bandwidth under GPRS thus degrading the speed and the user experience. Many large companies use a leased line connected direct to the 3G/GSM mobile network for increased security, speed and reliability. In this way data does not go over the public Internet. As an aside, BlackBerry uses Triple DES or AES (configurable) to encrypt messages and data.

The most important aspect is that all the above facilities are provided, where possible, without over burdening administrators or obstructing the mobile worker. These things should be provided automatically and transparently in order to get employee buy-in.  

The Worker Experience

In most ways, the worker mobile experience is very similar to that of a consumer user. Shared applications include email and contacts. Company specific applications include CRM, vertical Apps (e.g. man in a van type applications) and information (e.g. catalogues, guides, prices). The same user experience issues apply as were covered in the recent MEX Conference.

One area of difference is GPRS/3G coverage. A recent study by Infomill showed that only 100% GPRS coverage was acceptable to mobile engineers. It obviously depends on what the engineers were doing but not being able to get to or submit data can render a mobile application unusable. Some applications use local client caching to give the illusion of a continuous connection while others forego teleco access altogether and opt for commercial wireless (radio) services which can be much more expensive.

In summary, the enterprise mobile experience is a super-set of the consumer mobile experience. Hence, I don’t think there’s an anomaly in selling consumer devices to the enterprise provided the requisite features and services are supported in an non-obstructive manner. Microsoft and BlackBerry are currently slightly ahead of Symbian when it comes to providing the best enterprise mobile experience ‘out of the box’. However, it’s still early days in terms of rollout across most enterprises. As platforms and third party products evolve, any of these platforms or even an alternative platform could predominate in the enterprise in the near future.

About the Author

Simon Judge, a PMN Associate, is a freelance mobile consultant. Simon provides advice and development services for Symbian, J2ME and Microsoft Windows Mobile. Simon can be contacted via his web site at http://www.simonjudge.com.

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