Enterprise Mobile Helping Large Enterprises Hit the Road

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The Microsoft-backed systems integrator is plunging into the mobile apps market, pioneering a model of selecting, integrating and supporting mobile business applications for smartphones. Is this the next great channel opportunity?

A Microsoft-backed integrator Enterprise Mobile (http://www.enterprisemobile.com/) is capitalising on the fact that enabling business applications on mobile devices isn’t always easy, especially for large companies.

“We create services that enterprises need to help manage their mobile environment,” said Mort Rosenthal, chairman and CEO.

Mobile Enterprise helps mobile device users from soup to nuts in determining which application and devices they need to fulfill a business requirement, provide the provisioning services and provide ongoing support and service.

Mobile Enterprise focuses its services on the large enterprise – Fortune 500 and, in some cases, Fortune 10 companies. Currently, the company has “more than 50 but fewer than 100 customers,” with each deployment numbering in the thousands of seats, he said. “We have had customers who try to do it all themselves, but it can be overwhelming, especially with deployments that large. There are a lot of surprises and challenges.”

Mobile Enterprise was founded at the behest of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who was “lamenting about need for enterprise-oriented services in the mobile marketplace,” Rosenthal said. “He and Ray [Ozzie, chief software architect at Microsoft] wanted to take a consumer-oriented industry and make services that are enterprise-friendly, and so they asked me to head this company.” Ballmer formally launched the company in 2007, and Microsoft remains Mobile Enterprise’s primary investor.

It goes without saying, then, that Mobile Enterprise focuses almost exclusively on devices that run the Windows Mobile platform. And, Rosenthal said, its service is typically more than making phones available to executives.

“It’s more mission-critical, where doing something successfully has a meaningful ROI attached,” he said. In most instances, Mobile Enterprise is tapped to set up a company with mobile devices on which a mobile version of one or a line-of-business applications that are unique and necessary to that company.

Mobile Enterprise has formed a niche in being the trusted adviser for all things mobile and mobile-related. In addition to having a close relationship with Microsoft, the company also works closely with software vendors to create mobile of those mission-critical applications, offering its in-house expertise when necessary.

Such was the case when restaurant and bakery chain Au Bon Pain tapped Mobile Enterprise in 2007 to outfit its area directors with a mobility solution that included the company’s homegrown profit and loss reporting application. Au Bon Pain’s IT staff didn’t have experience developing for mobile devices, so Mobile Enterprise’s staff of application developers drove the development of Au Bon Pain’s mobile P&L report app and ensured it worked well with the devices the company decided to use. The result was a seamless migration to a mobile environment in which the area directors now spend more time on the café needs and less time on paperwork.

Rosenthal describes his company’s offerings as lifecycle management for mobility. “We can provide architectures for putting the app on a mobile device (such as in the Au Bon Pain case), but mostly we step in when the app is ready to be deployed,” he said. “Planning the deployment, selecting the devices and the device management security solution and so forth to deployment. Once it’s time to deploy, we will configure the devices, accessorise, put them in special boxes with manuals that we write and deploy them to the customer.”

Once the devices are deployed, Mobile Enterprise manages the service of the devices, including replacing failed units. “If it is a hardware problem, a new device is prepared in as close to the state of the old device. That replacement device will have the same data,” Rosenthal said.

Mobile Enterprise has a factory in Dallas that performs the configurations of all the devices, regardless of complexity. The company works on all mobile devices, from smartphones to PDAs to rugged devices specific to particular industries.

The company’s in-house expertise with sales, provisioning, maintenance and back-end service make it a cost-effective solution for large enterprises, Rosenthal said.

“We are the one throat to choke, so to speak. We have relationships with mobile operators and the OEMs and we can address [customers’ needs]. We have the factory where we custom configure the devices –those factors make us unique,” he said.

The company counts Palm, SAT and Lydondell Chemical among its customers and has relationships with myriad application vendors including Salesforce.com, DRS, CommonTime and ADC Technologies.

And, he said, potential customers are starting to understand the company’s value proposition. “We had to explain ourselves a lot when we first started out, but we’re having a much easier time now, he said. “We’re finding it’s a much easier path – it’s now much quicker to go from explaining to having a deal in place.”