ENTERPRISE MOBILE APPLICATION: SMS Rules the World Familiarity with SMS and low network speeds have made developers go slow on multimedia-based applications Saturday, March 05, 2005
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The Indian mobile device and applications market has been firing all cylinders since the last couple of years. Not only have the prices of handsets crashed, new companies and latest models have forayed onto the retail shelves. Perhaps the most remarkable launch of a mobile device in 2004 was that of BlackBerry. And in the applications arena, the media companies, especially the news channels, got the viewers to participate in contests and polls through the short code SMSs. But the market still waits for multimedia-rich applications that would transform the way we look at the wireless world. The applications market Today most of the mobile applications market is limited to retail customers. About 11±13 percent of the mobile revenue comes from value-added services (VAS) or non-voice services. And of this share, almost 80 percent is peer-to-peer messaging. Rest 20 percent comes from various third-party enterprise applications. In revenue terms this would be less than Rs 400 crore. However, both operators and application developers are betting on enterprise applications and expect it to jump to 30±35 percent of the VAS revenue. To pull it or to push it?: Mobile applications can be divided into two types: they would be either pushed to the users or be pulled by them. While SMS-based applications can be pulled or pushed, MMS are pull oriented. E.g., a video clip has to be requested for. Operators don't push it to handsets. In a business-to-consumer type of environment, most applications are pulled from the enterprise servers and only in the case of broadcast is the information pushed. E.g., lottery companies in the West Asia push the results to subscribers. In a business- to-business or business-to-employee environment it would depend on the company policy whether it wants to push the data on a regular basis or restrict it, to be pulled when required. SMS takes the day: The applications market today revolves around SMS-based applications. Be it ring tones, video clips, or any information, they can all be accessed and downloaded by sending SMSs. Enterprises, on their part, broadcast their offerings by pushing SMSs to users who in turn send another SMS to avail the service. After voice, SMS is the most widely used as primary application and has found favor with retail and business users. Operators are also happy as it uses less bandwidth and gives good revenue per message, ranging from Rs 6 to Rs 200. Developers use SMS as the base for other applications.
A hot SMS application in the market is short code. It is a four-digit number blocked with all operators. Users SMS to the short code the code of the application, access train reservation, airline schedules, video clips, pictures, ringtones, or company data sheets. Short codes are sold by the third-party application vendors and can also be had directly from the operators. But buying them from specific operators requires the same code being available with all the operators. And buying it from the operators can lead to major coordination and billing problems. Thus it makes sense to buy it from a single vendor who offers the code and the platform to access information. Media houses have successfully implemented the short code to feed news to subscribers. Similarly, banks and financial institutions use them to give out stock and transaction reports. SMS-based IVR: Recently, Bharti Tele-Ventures and Infosys broadcasted their quarterly results through an IVR-based application. Users could hear the results on their phone by sending an SMS. This application is particularly beneficial to call center and banks, where users wants to access a particular information while on the move. But these applications have to be made more interactive to reduce the monotony of speaking to a prerecorded voice. You cannot escape SFA: When the whole world is going for automation and is adopting wireless, it is a matter of time before Indian enterprises empower their sales force with data on their mobiles. Imagine the power of a marketing sales force that can check inventory in the Mumbai office while sitting in Imphal and simultaneously place order for the delivery, all from a single mobile device. Sales force automation (SFA) has caught the imagination of pharmaceutical and FMCG companies. Even paint and automobile companies are adopting SFA applications in some form. Though the term SFA focuses on sales and marketing, its applications can arm all employees with relevant information. This information could be office e-mail, appointments calendar, or financial data-anything that can be accessed over office desktops. MMS for insurance companies: Though still in trial phase, insurance companies are planning to cut down the claim processing time by empowering evaluators with MMS-enabled phones, so they may click and send the pictures to the main office where the claim amount can be calculated and referred to the field guy. While MMS handsets and applications have been tested, the only issue is that networks should be ready to support MMS. Similarly, utility meters readings can be captured as images and used for calculating the bills. Field tests are also on for mobile tickets, where hard copies are replaced by bar codes on the handset screens, which can be read by a bar code reader to complete the transaction. Here, security is a much bigger issue than network. Enterprises need to feel confident before using it with customers. GPS for transport industry: Today you can track couriered packages over the Internet. GPS applications enable couriers and transporters to track their consignment in real time over a handset.
Vehicle tracking is today the most widely used GPS application and soon courier companies will be able to tell you, over mobile phones, whether your packet has reached or is still on its way. Video streaming on the way: With operators strengthening their network capacity, 2005 might finally see video streaming happen. Developers have created software to compress live video feed and fit it to the handset's size. Though Hutch has been promoting TV program clips for EDGE subscribers, it really needs to be seen how enterprises adopt live TV. Conferencing seems to be the obvious application in the B2B and B2E space. For consumers live news, sports, and films on handsets would be the show stealers. With 3G around the corner, MMS and video applications also need to be kept on the radar screens. CIO's Clarifications What would be the RoI? What about confidentiality of data? These are obvious questions management would ask a CIO trying to implement mobile applications. Adopting any mobile application is an expense, with no assurance of direct returns. E.g., customers may use a bank's short code toll free but the bank has to pay the application providers and the operators. Of course, returns are in the shape of better customer focus. If customers get better service they remains loyal and brings in more business. It becomes a great tool in acquiring new customers and retaining old ones. In the B2B space it gives employees flexibility in business execution and makes the whole process efficient and reduces the turnaround time. Employees have everything on the mobile and don't have to rush to the office for data or consultations before closing deals. Such application gives obvious competitive advantages. Overall, workforce and IT infrastructure is optimally utilized, which in the long run reflects in the company's balance sheet. Look before you leap The first step towards creating and adopting a wireless environment is to identify what all things can be put on the applications and how would the billing be done. Though 'pay per use' is the best model when the usage is low but when user base is large, explore one time fee. If an enterprise is going for short code from different operators, billing becomes an issue. In case of SMS-based applications, particularly when more data is being accessed over it, character optimization becomes key on the relatively small screen of the handsets. There are two ways of implementing a mobile application. One is through the mobile operators, who bundles the applications along with voice services and can also customize the handset screens for the enterprise. Reliance, Airtel, Hutch, and Idea have e-mail and e-billing offerings for the enterprises. But remember, the core business for any operator is providing services. They get applications from a third party, who can also be approached directly.
In either case, the basic platform or the application has to be customized. CIOs have to choose the best at the optimal cost. An enterprise can also get the applications developed for itself. However, a network operator it still need a for the connectivity. Nowadays, high service level agreements are taken for granted. Even with 99 percent uptime no one buys the services. But adhering to SLAs with more than 99 percent uptime is difficult. As the enterprises depend heavily on the applications and virtually run their business on them, 24x7 customer and technical support is a must. Be sure of the network capacity before adopting multimedia applications. Here, sticking to one operator across geographies helps in maintaining service consistency. As the data is critical for business, better to ask for redundancy and backup on the network in case of a disaster. Security is another concern area. In B2B and B2E situations, once data leaves the company server and rides on public network, it is easy to intercept. And things like handsets getting misplaced or someone else using the handset puts the company's business at risk. In a B2C scenario, a customer might not like others snooping around his data. Companies like VeriSign have been supporting application developers and network operators to give secure environment for users especially where financial data is being exchanged.