Sunday, May 23, 2010

Build Once, Deploy to Many

The mobile content applications sector presents entrepreneurs with an ever-widening target for fresh ideas. They need only to overcome the fragmented technology nature of the mobile industry itself.

Devices such as the iPhone and the Droid have redefined mobile phone capabilities, but device formats and software operating systems and carrier delivery platforms are silos within silos, each requiring a single, usually small, usually cost-challenged application developer to reinvent the wheel every time it tries to land its app on a new device.

For as many mobile phone manufacturers and carriers are out there, each has its own app store, chock full of ring tones, games and other productivity killers or enhancers (depending on the app).

The cost and labor required to create apps again and again for different phones likely has kept some developers out of the game. The Wholesale Applications Community is trying to open the gates for entrepreneurs flummoxed about how to achieve mass-market scalability.

At this year’s Mobile World Congress, a global alliance called the Wholesale Applications Community is banding together to create an open standard that developers can use to create applications that are device- and carrier-agnostic. According to the community’s Web site, the group aims to establish a simple route to market for developers and provide them with access to a customer base of more than 3 billion people.

The Wholesale Applications Community (WAC), which consists of 24 of the largest worldwide mobile operators and whose goal is to build a standards-based approach to mobile software development and deployment, said it expects to have that platform readied in time for next February’s Mobile World Congress (MWC).

Already, leading carriers worldwide have jumped on the community bandwagon, including U.S. carriers AT&T, Sprint and Verizon Wireless. Handset manufacturers including Samsung, Sony Ericsson and LG have also signed up. The group invites all ICT (information and communication technology) vendors to join, including operators and developers, handset manufacturers and Internet players. Only through cooperation, the community said, will the group succeed in creating “an initiative based on openness and transparency."

“We believe this model presents the most compelling format on the market where developers will thrive and customers will reap the benefits of greater choice,” the group noted on its site.

Such a step is a long time coming in the mobility space. For too long, developers have been hamstrung by the proprietary app dev requirements of individual carriers and handset manufacturers.

Apple proved that mobile app development can be highly lucrative. Imagine how much more lucrative those same apps could be if they were available to any mobile device, from iPods to Blackberrys. If the community is successful, it would be only a matter of time.

Apple hit upon a winner with its app store, and mobile carriers have never been known for their brotherly love toward one another (AT&T and Verizon are the latest to demonstrate this with their series of “you lie” commercials), so Apple may be smart to steer clear.

It will be something short of a miracle if the Wholesale Applications Community succeeds in its endeavor. The concept of “write once, run anywhere” is a compelling one, but it’s one that’s never come close to being realized in mobile. And thanks to the proliferation of new smartphone operating systems and an ever-increasing number of superphones on the market, there’s no chance the WAC will be able to change that. In the meantime, things could get interesting.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mobile Application market in India

India has huge mobile application requirements. An initial look at the market place throws up large number of consumer segments in need of immediate access to important information. Mobile applications is a major development area in India and has resulted in software firms creating or enhancing their efforts in telecom operations. The earlier withdrawal of attention had resulted in a lag in the learning curve with respect to new processes. Companies are again scrambling to make up for it through redoubled efforts.

With 400 million mobile phone subscribers, and the growth showing no signs of plateauing, India is expectedly being touted as a mobile hotspot globally. Today, mobile has become the only medium to reach out to a large part of India's population. No consumer business worth its name is ignoring the potential of reaching out to customers through mobile applications, for customer service, marketing and of late for transactions. By and large, that is what is driving Indian enterprise mobile applications adoption in the initial phase of the market rollout.

That is both good news and bad.The good is that when the adoption becomes mainstream, it would suddenly see exponential growth. The bad news is that this is also the reason why the transition from a hype cycle to an adoption cycle is taking so much time. Today, the market size of enterprise mobile applications in India is a very small fraction of the potential.

According to Dataquest estimates, the total market size of enterprise mobile applications in India stood at Rs 560 crore in FY 09, up from Rs 347 crore in FY 08a growth of 61%. While that growth figure looks quite impressive, it is on a small base and I believe that it will accelerate for the next few years.

There are two reasons why the enterprise mobile applications market has still not reached a critical mass. First: the adoption is happening more on the front-end, which typically requires a longer decision cycle as well as longer implementation time. Secondly: most integrators in the enterprise space are still trying to push traditional mobile applications which have worked in developed markets, which are B2E or B2B applications, and are targeted at enhancing productivity and efficiency, as part of their solution to the CIOs.

2008 saw significant take-offs in customer facing applications such as m-banking, which was launched by many large banks through downloadable midlets, WAP sites as well as through SMS. Then there was m-payments, where India is now being seen as an early adopter, as well as a lot of other m-commerce applications.

Major players in the application space include Mobiquest, ValueFirst, Obopay, Mospay, CanvasM, Mindtree, Spice Digital (earlier Cellebrum), Telenity, Netxcell, among others.

The adoption in the intra-enterprise space is low but gaining momentum. We are still at a stage where only a few sectors like retail and BFSI are using mobility apps for conventional areas like sales force automation, transaction management, etc. Field force automation and integration, mobile transaction management, asset tracking and management, bill payments/receipts, ticketing, Intranet applications such as executive MIS on mobile, are currently in vogue. However other areas like CRM, remote data collection and management, queue buster solutions, integrated handhold solutions with other technology solutions like RFID, location-based services are also fast catching up.

Its a well known fact that the first and primary adopter of enterprise mobile applications has been retail. The next rung is occupied by BFSI and pharma, and they are closely followed by the transportation and logistics department.

A new entrant on the mobility street has been the government. Governments across India are busy mobilizing their operations and their workforces. The sector has emerged as an enthusiastic consumer (of mobile enterprise apps), and has niche requirements of developing its wireless capability, especially for domains of security, reliability, and scalability of its operations. Another area that the government is exploring is tracking and locational services.

Apart from these, there are a lot of sectors that hold huge potential for effectively deploying enterprise mobility solutions. Some of these can substantially contribute towards crafting the success story of enterprise mobility. One of the most promising sectors is healthcare. From blood bank tracking to bedside monitoring to real-time monitoring of surgeries, healthcare is one area that holds tremendous scope for deployment of mobility solutions. The other potential verticals are defense, aviation, energy utility, and telecom.

The Challenges
While even sending bulk SMSes to the sales force was considered to be a mobility sort of adoption (and a large number of our SMBs are still in that stage) a couple of years back, we have now evolved to reach what the experts call the email stage. A major chunk of enterprise mobile applications in India right now is mobile email. So clearly, maturity is an issue, and on that front at least, the growth rate speaks volumes about the potential that the Indian market holds.

That apart, because market maturity will only come gradually, the biggest challenge in the way of enterprise mobility applications is the security of data being transferred. Most vendors concur that the first question their customers put up is related to the security of data being transmitted. They want to ascertain how reliable their mobility solution is.

However, experts insist that security vis-a-vis mobile applications, is no longer an issue that cant be dealt with effectively. That is because most developers are now taking care of security issues right from the stage of inception.

The other big factor, that has been especially relevant to the Indian market is the low RoI, that leaves little incentive for application developers. And though a lot of players have mushroomed in the application development picture, a lot of them are targeting the overseas market, rather than the Indian one. The Indian market is more lucrative for VAS application developers, given the consumer base.

Apart from that, integration is another issue. Although most mobile applications are a sub-set or even an extension of the business applications, their integration with the overall IT infrastructure remains a challenge for most enterprises, especially for mid-sized ones. And with unified communications being the buzzword across the industry, the convergence between voice, video, and data points has become more crucial than ever. Thus, one of the biggest ailments seems to be patching-up of the pieces. Accommodation of an application in the existing infrastructure has always been a yardstick for success in India. But enterprise mobile apps, though displaying an integration drive, are yet to reach that stage of seamless integration.

Unless that happens, it is difficult to expect that intra-enterprise applications would really take-off.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]