Media Briefing on Broadband & Mobility

October 6, 2008

The PIA Factor in Mobile Devices Convergence

Filed under: Management issues,Uncategorized — Craig Settles @ 2:50 pm

Recently at CTIA, I moderated a panel of key players in Sony Ericson’s Xperia release. A frequent talking point was that the line between consumer mobile devices and business devices is pretty blurred since people gravitate between work and personal tasks constantly day and night.

Xperia X1

Xperia X1

Later came the announcement and marketing hype that T-mobile’s Google phone will rival the iPhone, extending the theme of convergence. But as one executive [not on the panel] at the Xperia event mentioned in a private aside, “do you think we’re overdoing this convergence thing a bit trying to put everything into one device? “

My take? Yep, you betcha. His follow-on comment was along the lines of, wouldn’t it be better to have a device on which the end-user could converge [my word] their own features?

Vendors are initially marketing converged device heavily to consumers. But if a key selling premise is that you also can use these devices for business tasks, journalists need to consider the business customer in their coverage. I for one believe device convergence, in and of itself, holds some serious PIA (pain-in-the-a**) potential for IT staffs. How much depends on each vendor.

1. Converged devices targeting consumers are getting into to enterprise through the back door with no central approval or purchase process, hit-or-miss adherence to enterprise-chosen standards and probably no tie-in to business strategy. Consumer-friendly features – and the lack of appropriate business features – produce tech support, security, device management, carrier management and other headaches.

What are vendors doing to keep PIA levels down until the next generation devices, or some third party, introduces features to make these devices more IT-friendly?

2. Mobile devices in the workplace should meet some demonstrable business need to justify their existence this environment. If they don’t, they’re just an executive toy.  Furthermore, some management folks assume a winning mobile strategy is to simply go out, buy a bunch of iPhones or iPhone killers and wait for the ROI. The devices may prove valuable to a point, but this value could be offset by IT headaches that lead to a high total cost of ownership (TCO). See point above.

If these devices turn out to meet just 10% or 20% of the true business needs of the users, what’s the cost for upgrades or new hardware to meet their greater need? Organizations should head off the marketing wave to meet these challenges before new devices become popular.

3. Convergence counters the proven value of simplicity, which could curb organization’s ROI. The BlackBerry became the CrackBerry because its original purpose was simply to send and receive e-mail. RIM eventually added phone capabilities. Then boom! Here came the iPhone to put marketing pressure on all device manufacturers.

As I learn about devices waiting in the wings wanting to add DVD playing, handwriting recognition, barcode reading and heaven knows what else, I have to ask, at what point does this feature set arms race produce diminishing returns? It’s 2008 and we still have executives who need someone to print out their e-mails before reading them. Doesn’t seem particularly effective to give these folks digital Swiss Army knives.

Coming back to the earlier comment about giving end users (or end user’s organizations) the ability to decide what they want converged on their device. Xperia has a feature called “panels.”

I was able to get a Sony exec to agree that panels are similar to the BlackBerry e-mail push feature, except panels push user-selected application data and dynamic Web content to the device screen.  Customizable data convergence, if you will.

Wouldn’t it be cool if a vendor group established a set of Needs/Convergence panels on a Web site where corporate and government buyers could select several panels that meet their organizations’ respective needs. The panel would pop up a device from the product line with the best set of converged hardware features and apps that would likely produce a strong ROI.

It might seem farfetched getting a vendor to do something like this, but I take heart from the fact that Vodafone UK has come up with software to help IT staff to secure information, devices and connectivity and enforce IT security policy. Vodafone’s approach reflects the fact that it’s in vendors’ interest to address the PIA factor in mobile technology.

Late this week I hope to have on my other blog (http://roisforyou.wordpress.com) some guidelines for end-user organizations on how to cope with the convergence PIA factor. Subscribe and be watching for that.

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