Four ways vendors hinder enterprise mobility

A big problem for enterprises looking to deploy mobile devices across their organizations is that the main mobile device vendors—the carriers and device makers—are focused solely on the consumer market. But what works for consumers can quickly become unwieldy in a corporate environment. Here are four key ways vendors hinder enterprise mobile deployment:

A big problem for enterprises looking to deploy mobile devices is that many mobile device vendors are focused solely on the consumer market. But what works for consumers can quickly become unwieldy in a corporate environment. Here are four key ways vendors hinder enterprise mobile deployment:

1. Bizarre billing. Most carriers treat each employee as a separate consumer, leaving enterprises to wade through pages and pages of paper bills. "It's basically the 500-page stack of bills analogous to what you receive at home – each number has a bill associated with it," says Stephen Stryker, a vice president at the Carlyle Group in Washington, D.C. 

Todd Frantz, associate CTO at Florida Hospital concurs. "You should see the phone bills we get, it's incredible. We end up with a box of paper that's a foot high. From one of our carriers, our phone bill takes up two boxes." 

A more helpful system would let enterprises customize bills so that employees can be placed in meaningful buckets (like accounting or sales). Another way to ease the problem is flat-rate pricing, where some carriers let all employees share a pre-determined number of minutes. "That way, if one user goes over, there are probably minutes available from others who are under, and that saves costs," Frantz says. 

The key is to negotiate says David Reckles, CTO at Todobebe. "The carriers won't come after you to help save you money," he says. "They only work with you when you call to say you're disconnecting the service because it's too expensive. You have to be proactive." 

2. Frequent fingerpointing. With mobile devices, enterprises need to deal with several vendors at once — the carrier, the device maker, the OS maker, the application maker — in order to get things to work properly. "There's the whole complexity of dealing with different OEMs, operating systems, carriers, application providers, and they don't all play together perfectly," says Mort Rosenthal, CEO of Enterprise Mobile. "It would be nice if enterprises could get that one throat to choke, but that's not how things are set up." 

He advises users to contract with a consulting firm to handle the middle-man problems. "The situation is bad for enterprises looking to roll out mobiles, but it's good news for us, because you really need that middleman to solve the problems." 

3. Constant change. Carriers are constantly changing the devices they support and the network itself, leaving many enterprises struggling to support multiple devices and feature sets. "I can go to an AT&T store every month and buy the same device, but I can virtually guarantee you that the builds of those three devices will be different," Rosenthal says. "In most instances, that doesn't matter at all. It may be a change to the radio stack or to Bluetooth. But every once in a while, it causes a problem, and you have no way of tracking it." 

He says his firm standardized on a Windows Mobile build, only to find that a key application stopped working one day. Rosenthal tracked the problem to an upgrade the carrier made to the network. "At first, the carrier denied it was them, but eventually, they admitted it, because it was a big problem. But it took a while," he says. 

4. Crazy contracts. Typical consumer contracts run for two years and usually come with a hefty subsidy for the mobile device. While that serves to lock consumers in while keeping them happy via the latest and greatest devices, it's not what enterprises need. Users say that rather than going with lengthier contracts to get less-expensive devices, enterprises should purchase the devices outright and then negotiate for the best contract deals they can get. 

"If you do the math, you're probably ahead that way because you have other benefits and can negotiate a better price for the service if you're not asking for a subsidy," Rosenthal says. "But today, it's hard work for enterprises." 

Todobebe's Reckles agrees. "You should never sign a deal for more than a year, even if they offer you larger discounts," he says. "Because technology changes too quickly and it's most likely the cost will go down, not up. Moore's Law holds true and you can always do more for less."

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