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March - 2009 - issue > Technology
Enterprise VAS Mobile Enabling Your Business
Jayakishore Bayadi
Sunday, March 1, 2009
"I can't squander a single jiffy. It costs me a lot," said a CEO. He travels across the globe on business purposes at least for 20 days a month. What is appealing is even on the move, he manages the daily affairs of his company in the headquarters and across the branches proficiently just by pressing few keys on his mobile phone. It may be a mighty Blackberry or an awesome iPhone or else could be just a stunning high-end phone, which can be used to send and receive Emails, messages and access any data residing in the back office. Thanks to Enterprise VAS, which made many CEOs to deliver more efficiently. Today, Enterprises from across the verticals are embracing the idea of adopting diverse mobile applications that offer tangible benefits like cost savings, making mobile applications an integral part of their communications strategy. In fact, increasing demands have led enterprises to a process of adding applications and moving toward a sophisticated mobile strategy for fully integrating workforce with various back-end systems.

With revenue from voice service plummeting, Mobile operators are looking at newer avenues for mobile Value Added Services (VAS). Soon, VAS will not be just entertainment-oriented services like full song download or selling ring back tones. Operators are realizing the huge potential of VAS in Enterprise arena. "The operators could take a market position as Enterprise 2.0 enablers," believes an Analyst. They are all set to deepen their relationships with their enterprise customers and to further monetise their network assets in the process.
In India, the ARPU is the lowest in the world, and hence the scope for innovative VAS is immense. Globally, mobile VAS accounts for 25-30 percent of the total value of what operators generate. However, in India, according to the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), it is at 10 percent currently and expected to contribute 20percent of the mobile revenues over the next three years. The VAS industry in India is estimated to grow with 50 percent compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) in India's Mobile VAS industry, including Enterprise VAS, leading to a $348.8 million market by the end of 2009. Industry pundits opine that in 2009, the focus of mobile operators is, therefore, expected to shift from customer acquisition to VAS promotion. The primary focus will be on reinvention of traditional VAS and early adoption of high-end services like enterprise VAS.

Mobile Enabling Businesses
The Enterprise market represents high value services for an operator, as many of these types of customers will pay a premium for availability, reliability and quality of service. Current mainstream offerings to the Enterprise market are based around capacity and hosted services, sometimes complemented by IT outsourcing projects. But the challenge for the operators up to now has been how to offer services that can deepen the relationship with the Enterprise through increasing the scope of their service offering.

When we look at the typical enterprises, we see that after implementing the ERP or Oracle applications, they might have established connectivity to their regional nodes or nearby branches. However, they are still disconnected to the place where actual action is happening. Sales or field guys are still disconnected when they are on move. This leads to latency in processing of data and delay decision-making. And as decisions are always made on the basis of the data updated on previous day or few hours before, result would be not be precise. Furthermore, today users within Enterprise organizations as well, just like consumers, are seeking more openness and tailoring of information and content to suite their individual needs to compliment their job functions.

For instance, a customer service manager may wish to produce ad hoc reports to identify the number of visits each service engineer in his fleet makes. Perhaps additional information may also be required such as repair times, traveling time and many more. Information to produce such a report may need to be sourced from several separate systems and they may need to connect to the core database. So, taking this concept further and mashing this up with Telco 2.0 and Web 2.0 components creates more value to the enterprises. Telco resources can be embedded with the enterprise applications to identify the real time location and distribution of the service engineer's customers (using Google Maps and Location feeds) to view the geography of the area covered. Then, real time SMS/MMS push could be used to introduce a more dynamic way of allocating service engineers to customer calls rather than to have pre-scheduled lists. Hence enterprises are thinking of 'mobile enabling' the field works to achieve intended results. Imagine the power of a marketing sales force that can check real time inventory data in the Mumbai office while sitting in Aurangabad and simultaneously place order for the delivery, all from a single mobile device!

That's where the opportunity is for both VAS players as well as operators to cash in on. Today, there is enormous diversity in enterprises and in enterprise services, so there may be a broader range of opportunities in mobile-enabling enterprise services like capture field force data, supply chain information, sales /customer data, information from retail outlets, data about your raw material sites and more. Field force integration is key to business process automation, which could fill the gap effectively that PC based Internet could not address. "With more and more mobile phones all around the world and mobile Internet becoming a common item, mobile enabled business processes can help connect people and transfer data seamlessly in real time," says Vishwakarma Desai, Product Expert, SAP Labs.

There are immense possibilities of creating the types of services around enterprise VAS. A service could be a customer real time allocation of tasks to mobile field service engineers relative to their physical location; Real time management for distribution of perishable goods (groceries, confectionary, cement) in environments where traffic congestion is a problem; Application initiated calls for debt recovery/bill payment; Click to call features for Enterprise web sites; Secure access to back office enterprise knowledge and information systems using carrier authentication systems; Targeted distribution of information to enterprise workers. There are other business areas too like Research, Supply Chain, Data Collection, Logistics/ Vehicle tracking, Media, HR, Marketing/Advertising, Training and industries such as Insurance, Market Research, Education, Pharmaceutical, Consumer Durables, and more. In fact, many are already a reality.

Millions of investments have gone in building Enterprise VAS space till date. Firms like Mobien Technologies, mGlitz, netxcell, Kirusa, Mobiquest and many more have built coolest perhaps, game changing apps for Enterprises. Enterprise VAS solution from MobiQuest, a mobile Enterprise Platform Company, MobiForms, which can help one complete audits, surveys, questionnaires on a simple common mobile phone device. "It's fast, secure, real time, easy as well," says Vineet Narang, CEO.

The company's another offering MobiBank, a mobile tool for banks to reach their consumers and sell more. With this, field force can capture consumer information on their common mobile phones and transfer data in real time to the head office. This cuts down time for request processing dramatically and allows the sales force to meet and capture much larger number of customers. And banks can directly reach much more consumers even in remote areas and make interested consumers fill up loan, credit card applications. "Banks can track the data instantly and also pass this data to any internal application using a simple excel import /export functionality," explains Narang.

Enterprise VAS Applications
"I think stand-alone enterprise VAS app I would believe is SMS based communications," says Ashish Guptha, MD, Helion Ventures. Be it ring tones, video clips, Bill payment, or any information, they can all be accessed and downloaded by sending SMSes. Enterprises, on their part, broadcast their offerings by pushing SMSes to users who in turn send another SMSes 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. Today, users SMS to the short code the code of the application, access train reservation, airline schedules, video clips, pictures, ring tones, or company data sheets. 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.

Sometimes back, 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 want to access particular information while on the move. In addition to this, as discussed before, 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.

Of late, 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.

Moreover, mobility demands differ from industry to industry, and the segments really driving mobility are retail and finance. Recently Shoppers Stop deployed mobile applications at their stores and distribution centers for inventory management on specialized mobile hardware from Motorola. "The application is used for receiving goods at the warehouse and stores, and then put away or move to shelf respectively," said an official at Shoppers Stop. Besides, there are many instances of enterprises taking initiatives to reach and serve their customers more effectively. ING investment deployed SMS gateway; Mahindra and Mahindra deployed hand-held device to get operated both online and offline at all rural outlets through the MFConnect 3000 project, which serves as a mini-branch between customers and executives. HDFC Bank is using mobile applications like m banking options check statements and money transfer.

But today with plenty of innovations around notebooks, and the advent of net books is made a sales guy's job easy. Carrying a net book isn't hard nowadays. If you have Internet connectivity, we can do all these activities. Then why do we exactly need mobile enabling of the enterprises is the question. "Probably for change management. Also, for a typical last mile guy sitting somewhere in the remotest area, who is not so exposed to PC based technologies, a user-friendly, less complex mobile based approach is most suitable. Meanwhile I also believe that both PC based approach (net books) and mobile based approach will coexist," opines Desai.

How Operators Could Benefit?
That was about how an enterprise can benefit from VAS. But how operators can cash in on the opportunity? "For operators the potential for improved customer retention is one of the main benefits as this would reduce opex for enterprises," says Desai. Increased revenues by offering higher value services by demonstrating to enterprise customers that combining real time network knowledge and communications with enterprise application logic can reduce costs improve effectiveness and efficiency and increase sales. This is the greatest prospect for operators. "If they miss this chance, enterprise customers may either seek to choose an alternative carrier offering at higher value proposition or may opt for lower cost services or possibly choose to bypass the carriers network using the advances in IP networking and WiMAX and such other services," opines an Analyst. This could result in a gradual erosion of the operators' role in supporting enterprise customers towards becoming a bit pipe carrier.

An operator can offer one or more Application Program Interfaces (APIs) (as Telecom Web Services) towards the enterprise customer. These can be provided and sold as raw APIs with an access and usage charge (e.g. numbers of transactions per second). Each time an Enterprise hosted application places a request upon the operator's network to set up a call, send an SMS/MMS, determine a users location, a usage (request) charge can be made. Plus, the APIs can be packaged as part of a "Systems Integration" service offering by the operators. They could offer SI skills (perhaps themselves or in partnership with an SI vendor) to create "telecom web services call outs" from enterprise application logic towards the APIs exposed by the operator. This may also need the enterprise customer's applications to be "WS enabled" and enterprise service bus (ESB) products from Vendors such as IONA could be use to integrate back end enterprise applications with the operators APIs.

But how an Enterprise CIO can look into the ways of implementing a mobile application? There could be two ways. One is through the mobile operators, who bundles the applications along with voice services and can also customize the handset screens for the enterprise. Top operators like Reliance, Airtel, Hutch, and Idea have e-mail and e-billing offerings for the enterprises. Also, the core business for any operator is providing services. They get applications from a third party (App developers or VAS players), which can also be approached directly.

ROI and Security are the obvious questions management would ask a CIO trying to implement enterprise mobile applications. Adopting any mobile application is an expense, with no assurance of direct returns. For instance, 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," opines Desai. It becomes a great tool in acquiring new customers and retaining old ones. In the Business to business (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," adds Desai.

Security is another concern area. In B2B and Business to Enterprises (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 Business to Customer (B2C) scenario, a customer might not like others snooping around his data. So, companies like VeriSign have been supporting application developers and network operators to give secure environment for users especially where financial data is being exchanged. As enterprises need to feel confident before using it with customers, they are using bunch of authentication and authorization mechanisms for data security aspects.

However, from an application developer per se, the biggest challenge is to build a platform agnostic app. Though Blackberry can be followed as a standard, one cannot expect even a typical Kirana guy in India to own a Blackberry. "With plenty of platforms available, what a enterprise VAS App developer can do is partnering with as many as device manufactureres,"opines Desai. Furthermore, reach and speed is the driving factor for today's business to survive. The finance sector believes that service providers are unable to provide good network necessary for these kinds of applications.

However, with the launch of 3G and further enhanced server and network, it is expected that mobility in enterprise will be a sunshine segment to focus on for all the key players in the ecosystem—App developers and operators. With the realization of its true potential, enterprises and operators are putting in their best efforts to deploy more mobile applications and have started to experience the difference. Certainly, this could be a win-win situation for all.
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