10 Mobility Trends To Inspire And Scare The Channel4:00 PM EST Thu. Sep. 13, 2012
Mobility and mobile device technologies are effecting significant change in the industry, both in how enterprise business customers want to buy and how solution providers and integrators need to sell. It was a big topic at this week's ScanSource North America partner conference in Greenville, S.C., and based on main-stage presentations from executives as well as interviews conducted by CRN at the show, here are 10 trends no mobile-leaning solution provider can fail to understand.
The storming success of Apple's iPad has changed the way both consumers and businesses think about tablet computing, said ScanSource CTO Greg Dixon. And, the ecosystem of devices and support specific to the iPad and iOS platform -- Dixon called it the "effect of the iDevice on the commercial market" -- represents both an opportunity and threat for solution providers.
Dixon and other executives warned partners to be wary of how the iPad and other devices that might be described as consumer-centric are quickly invading retail and other specialized vertical markets. The field service vertical, for example -- a $900 million market in 2011, according to VDC Research -- will see more than a third of its near-term opportunity at risk to "consumer" devices, Dixon noted.
Solution providers that don't look at some aspect of mobile infrastructure -- the products, services and software that allow users more productive and efficient use of their various mobile devices -- are missing a real channel opportunity, and that doesn't mean the selling of the actual devices, Mike Baur (pictured), ScanSource's CEO, told CRN.
"I had a partner say to me that he isn't selling the iPad, but what he is doing is selling software to the beverage manufacturers to assist inventory management at restaurants," Baur said. "The restaurants themselves are buying iPads, but there has to be a way to link that and to use and manage the [mobile] data. Our channel makes nothing on an iPad, and makes a lot on what else can we surround the iPad with."
That infrastructure approach naturally includes wireless networking, and not surprisingly, Baur said, all of ScanSource's wireless businesses, by vendor, are up year over year.
ScanSource's Baur estimated that of the 300-or-so top ScanSource partners attending its Greenville conference, about half of them had at least a basic, application-centric practice relevant to mobile devices, whether it was custom app development or app integration, and that he expected that to trend up.
"A lot of them don't do app dev, but we expect them to start to do more of it," he said. ScanSource, for example, has a specific resource called AppSource, an online library of "off the shelf" mobile data applications partners can customize, configure and test out.
ScanSource CTO Dixon (pictured) said solution providers will need a fundamental understanding of machine-to-machine (M2M) communications and how customers' infrastructure requirements, going forward, will require addressing both "attended" and "unattended devices."
That means everything from automobile telematics -- in which technology monitors cars and can communicate things such as when oil needs to be changed -- to refrigerators with IP addresses and RFID tags on livestock that can communicate, say, the last time a farm cow was milked.
It may sound unnerving, but the leap for specialized solution providers isn't a big one, Dixon said.
"This uses a lot of the technologies we're already accustomed to in verticals we're already participating in," Dixon said. "If you do anything around inventory management, think of it as inventory management, but now the inventory talks back."
Mobile point-of-sale and payment systems are exploding, said Dixon, who noted the increasing interest in mobile payment technologies like Square. The recent decision by Starbucks, for example, to adopt Square in more than 7,000 Starbucks locations in the U.S. means that the move by retailers to replace cash and traditional POS systems with mobile payment technology is a very real one, he explained.
"We'll see," he said. "But how is this not going to succeed with all this power behind it?"
The emergence of companies like Square into the POS and mobile infrastructure segments hits on another truth about mobility: It means there are a host of new vendors for solution providers to attempt to work with or around -- and that they'll encounter established vendors in unexpectedly new ways, particularly with technologies like near-field communications (NFC) coming to the fore.
For example, Dixon said, one of the best known companies in the emerging market for mobile digital wallet technology isn't one of the POS titans -- it's Google.
"Google has a big, big jump on everybody else here," Dixon said. "They want to own the world, and they've got a lot of money and a lot of momentum behind Google Wallet."
Other names to pay attention to, Dixon noted, include Square, ISIS Mobile Wallet, PayPal Mobile, Paydiant and the retailer consortium Merchant Customer Exchange.
As Dixon described, customer expectations of unified communications have evolved to a point where access to enterprise-grade UC functions, from voice and presence to video, need be available anywhere, from any enabled device. That means mobile UC solutions have to go beyond basic fixed-mobile extension technologies.
In fact, UC and video overall have to be a seamless, integrated offering from which partners can build service and enhance the end-user experience, said Tracey Newell (pictured), executive vice president of global sales at Polycom.
"The world is converging, and we've got to think of it as the end user does, so we have to think of it as a nontechnical person, and they expect to meet face to face," she said. "It has to be that easy."
ScanSource Security, while still less than 10 percent of ScanSource's $3 billion in annual revenue, is one of the company's fastest-growing business units, and physical security and surveillance represent one of its fastest-growing practices, explained group President Tony Sorrentino. Mobile device security is one element, but Sorrentino said a lot of customers are looking at physical surveillance and IP video as part of an overall infrastructure solution that includes not only security for mobile devices and networking but also the ability to access and manage those video assets from mobile devices.
"The end user wants that one throat to choke, and you see a lot of RFPs now that cover voice, data, video, mobile, and requirements for everything," he told CRN. "Mobility is a subset of the bigger solution."
There's no question that two of the other major trends in the industry have big impact on mobility and mobile technologies, Dixon said.
Big Data, for businesses, means better analytics and more efficient management of huge volumes of data. "It's the same data we've always collected," Dixon said. "There's just a lot more of it."
And as for cloud, mobility is an even bigger headache for IT departments than cloud is, Dixon said, but it's helpful to remember that the two trends inform each other. "The cloud is no longer an emerging technology," Dixon said. "[It's] an accelerator for mobility, and they push each other along."
Amidst all the talk of Apple this and iOS that, you can't forget about Google Android as a market force, ScanSource's Dixon said.
Dixon presented data showing that in the automatic identification and data capture (AIDC) market, for example -- particularly for rugged mobile computers -- the growth of Windows Mobile as a platform is flat, whereas Android-based devices are on a steady growth curve.
Granted, ScanSource has a significant stake in the success of Android-based mobile devices given its practice areas with the likes of Motorola, Intermec, Honeywell, app specialist Pyramid and other vendors, but with the Windows impact lessening -- "Microsoft has no announced plans past [version] 6.5," Dixon reminded the crowd -- solution providers in the space need a better understanding of the Android ecosystem.