The M-Business Evolution
Wireless Application Service Provider Platforms
The next generation of wireless Internet data services provided by the wireless carriers has started to focus on the enterprise. One of the major trends has been for the wireless carriers to provide wireless application service provider (or WASP) services to enterprise customers. This gives an enterprise wireless access to a variety of applications and content. In 2001, almost every major wireless carrier in the United States announced plans to provide these WASP services to the enterprise by teaming with systems integrators and software companies.
It should be noted that prior to the wireless carriers entering the market, many wireless software vendors had been providing their technology as a hosted service to the enterprise; this had initially created the wireless application service provider market. Such companies included 2Roam, Aether Systems, Air2Web, and JP Mobile.
Many business challenges still exist for the carrier versions of these wireless application service providers to become a hit with the enterprise. Their go-to-market strategy has to make sense for the enterprise buyer from both a business and technology standpoint. The business buyer needs to feel assured that the wireless application service provider understands their business and has a solution that can add real value. Business buyers may feel a little uncomfortable buying services from a wireless carrier who is unfamiliar with their industry and business processes. IT buyers need to feel assured that the offering provides all the required levels of security, performance, reliability, and scalability, in addition to contract flexibility and the breadth of the service and support offerings. When faced with selecting a single wireless carrier for wireless access to enterprise applications, the issue of coverage will also be very important.
Finally, the wireless application service provider will need to have smoothed out all the internal partnerships that need to occur to provide an end-to-end service offering for the enterprise. This will typically include relationships with systems integrators and a number of software vendors. One of the fundamental challenges is that wireless carriers do not typically understand enterprise needs in terms of application solutions. If wireless carriers can successfully cross over this hurdle, they will be well on the way to becoming valuable service providers for the enterprise and will have successfully broadened their data services from a consumer focus to an enterprise focus.
As we have discussed in Chapter 1, the IT department is also changing rapidly. Why are changes to the IT department important to an executive considering his or her business strategy for mobile customers, partners, or employees? By understanding the dynamics occurring within these departments, the business executive can have a better set of expectations around what can be delivered, how quickly, and how the progress of an initiative can be tracked and measured.
IT was under an increasing amount of scrutiny from the business side during the slowdown in the economy in mid- to late-2000. At the same time, IT departments were becoming increasingly complex in terms of application portfolio, technical architectures, hardware and software configurations, departmental skill sets, best practices, methodologies, standards and guidelines, and development lifecycles. The ratio of boxes (servers) to IT staff has been increasing and many enterprises and service providers have evolved to the "thousand server environment"where literally thousands of computer servers are required to run the business.
Why was IT never scrutinized over the past couple of years? Mostly because the economy had been so strong that IT spending was questioned, but not scrutinized. The downturn in the economy in late 2000 and early 2001 caused IT business management practices to be improved and IT expenditures to be more justified. The total cost of computing and return on investment is being more accurately tracked, reported, and articulated to the business.
It is important to note that if we look at the changes within the IT department on a longer time scale (that is, in terms of decades), we find that this scrutiny in terms of costs and justification for projects is actually a return to normalcy. In fact, the anomaly was the couple of years during the Internet and E-Business era of the mid to late 90s, where spending was increased and the race was to capture the market and stay ahead of the competition.
These forces of increasing scrutiny from the business side, together with increasing complexity and the evolution of IT from a cost center to a strategic partner, have meant that mobile business initiatives and other initiatives are now becoming more carefully designed, developed, and deployed. Moreover, IT is now equipped with additional, if perhaps rudimentary, tools for the calculation of total cost of computing and the return on investment for IT initiatives.
IT has also shifted some of its focus from revenue generation activities and applications toward applications that can help to improve productivity and reduce costs for the enterprise. It is here that M-Business initiatives can have their first impact upon the enterprise. Later, as the technologies mature and consumer acceptance and penetration increases, M-Business initiatives can play an equal role as a source of revenue generation.
When looking at the relationship between IT and the business side, it is worth noting the top ten problems that customers have reported with their IT organizations. The following top ten list is taken from a report by the Giga Information Group:
- The value of IT is not understood
- Projects are not executed properly
- Project selection is wrong
- IT means business prevention
- IT cannot maintain a robust infrastructure
- IT leadership does not contain costs
- IT is not business savvy
- IT does not establish and maintain an effective dialog with the rest of the business
- Results need to be reported better
- IT people are not customer oriented
The takeaway for the business executive considering the potential of mobile business for his or her employees, customers, suppliers, and business partners, is to ensure a strong dialog and relationship with IT. The dialog should be built around the goal of creating enterprise value through the leverage of IT resources.
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