|Issue:||Asia-Pacific I 2009|
|Topic:||Affordable mobile email for business|
Carsten Brinkschulte, the CEO of Synchronica plc, is a serial entrepreneur and pioneer in mobile technology; he has founded, transformed, acquired, and sold a number of high-tech software companies. Mr Brinkschulte founded Synchronica in his native Germany and subsequently sold the company to the DAT Group, an AIM-listed British company. He became CTO of the DAT Group and six months later, the company was restructured, changed its name to Synchronica and Mr Brinkschulte was named CEO. Mr Brinkschulte founded two other companies before starting Synchronica and spent time working for Apple and SAP as a software development contractor. Carsten Brinkschulte holds a degree in Computer Science from the Technical University Berlin.
Mobile email has long been recognised as a way to improve productivity, enhance customer service and build organisational efficiency. Blackberry’s pioneering mobile email service is efficient, but given its high acquisition and service charges, is rarely cost-effective for any but upper-level executive. To be both affordable and effective, most organisations need a standardised, ‘good enough’, mobile email solution that works on any handset already used by employees, is compatible with the company’s existing email server software and provides carrier-grade security.
Enterprises are continually looking for opportunities to cut costs, make employees more productive and improve customer service, and never more so than in the current climate, where the harsh economic conditions dictate that we batten down the hatches and look even harder at the bottom line before making any business decisions. Less is more in the eyes of businesses that aim to improve efficiency, and the approach is always consistent – halt all non-essential capital expenditure and cut back on operational spending. What may appear to be a simple process is a headache for senior management who have to balance the grumblings of staff members expected to deliver more with less and the aspirations of a board which expects greater returns at lower cost. Forward-thinking business leaders have discovered that the secret to pain-free business efficiency is really as simple as using affordable productivity enhancing tools such as mobile email. Find the right solution and a company’s existing capital investments are secure and it can benefit from ongoing operational cost savings. This is shown by the results from a recent Microsoft Office Personal Productivity Challenge, which highlighted the fact that providing staff with mobile technology can improve productivity significantly: the 38 thousand respondents considered that on average only 28 hours of their 45-hour working week were productive, and many believed this was because they lacked mobile technology. As the former CEO of Intel Corporation, Andy Grove, famously said, “Only the paranoid survive.” He meant that businesses should constantly be looking at how to improve their proposition, reduce costs and improve productivity – basically, to strive to work smarter, even when the going was good and you felt as though you were at the top of your game. This statement of course also holds true for less successful businesses and businesses operating in tough economic times. Improving employee productivity by enabling smarter collaboration with colleagues, clients and suppliers while on the move is a great way of enhancing customer service and improving productivity. The inexorable rise of the BlackBerry has transformed the ‘down time’ formerly experienced by executives waiting for a plane or in between meetings into a productive half-hour of checking email and responding to urgent requests. The impact that this device has had upon the higher echelons of management is universally acknowledged, even if for some it has perhaps become a little too addictive. Nevertheless, the BlackBerry and its imitators come at a high cost. Although there are many that see the advantages of extending the mobile email concept further down the organisational hierarchy, the harsh reality is that, particularly in today’s climate, it does not make financial sense to do this. So is there a way to making the millions of employees further down the organisational structure more productive while on the move? Can a BlackBerry-like experience be made available to them too, or is this still a pipe dream? The chosen few The BlackBerry, with its high price tag and expensive monthly subscription, only makes sense when it improves productivity and enhances communication. It makes financial sense to furnish an executive earning more than US$150,000 a year with one, but not someone earning US$40,000 a year. Not only do organisations have to pay for the handset on all but the highest of monthly tariff plans, they also have ongoing monthly subscription charges of at least US$50. This high cost makes it unlikely that most firms will ever provide BlackBerries to middle management and below. The upshot is that while it undoubtedly improves communication and productivity for the chosen few, businesses are only going to get significant overall improvements in workplace productivity and collaboration if the majority of employees have access to mobile email. Mobilising middle management In today’s ‘anytime, anywhere’ culture, there is a real need to improve employee collaboration and productivity while on the move – but without a substantial cost attached. For those second to fifth layers of management, what is needed is a mobile email solution that works on the handsets already used by employees, rather than requiring an expensive new smartphone for every user. Take the example of a large bank with 30,000 employees. The bank’s staff could be much more productive and customer service-oriented if perhaps 10,000 of these employees had access to mobile email. Still, given the costs involved in providing 10,000 employees with BlackBerries, and paying for 10,000 annual contracts, would deter even the most vocal mobile email supporters. The costs would be prohibitive and the ROI would be unjustifiable. The bank needs an alternative mobile email solution that does not require these up-front costs and that would be a ‘good enough’ solution for the middle to lower management layers. If the bank opted for a mobile email solution that worked on handsets already deployed in the organisation, it would have to deal with a mix of different devices that have been deployed over the years to employees, some with more functionality than others. Some may be Smartphones, but many will be standard feature phones. Some may also connect to a hands-free kit in the employees’ car, making the cost of scrapping these handsets for new ones an even more costly affair. The first priority is to identify a mobile email solution that works on the organisation’s existing mobile phones and works with the organisation’s existing email systems such as Microsoft Exchange, Sun Java System Communications Suite and IBM Lotus Domino. It must also be easily integrated with existing IT systems. Since data security a very real concern in today’s world, the mobile email service also needs to offer carrier-grade security. ‘Good enough’ mobile email There are a number of vendors and service providers offering ‘good enough’ mobile email solutions – a BlackBerry-like experience, but without the price tag. Still, the devil is in the details; look closer and many of the supposedly low-cost BlackBerry alternatives only work on a limited number of mobile phones – usually smartphones. They also tend to offer very basic mobile email service that is more suited to the consumer sector and only support ISP backends (e.g. Hotmail, Yahoo). Note too, that these solutions typically do not provide strong enough data security for the business user and may not offer the scalability needed to add on more devices or functions as needed. Businesses looking to cascade mobile email down the organisation need to look beyond the hype and identify a mobile email solution that works on almost any mobile phone in use today. The best way of ensuring this is to look for a carrier-grade mobile email solution based upon open industry standards such as Push IMAP (LEMONADE) for push email and SyncML for PIM synchronization. The best solutions are also built around a zero-footprint architecture that does not require adaptors behind the firewall or client software installed on the handset. They also provide carrier-grade security and meet the most exacting information security requirements. It might also be important to look for a mobile email solution that enables you to choose between installing and managing the software in-house or opting for a hosted service via a service provider. For in-house deployments, organisations should look for a solution that can be installed on the corporate network in minutes and that keeps deployment and ongoing management costs to a minimum. A well-designed administration portal enables IT administrators to define individual and/or group policies for email, contact, calendar, task and note entries. In today’s difficult economic climate, it is important for businesses to review all aspects of their operations and aim to make cost savings where appropriate. However, it is just as important to find ways of working smarter, by improving productivity and enhancing collaboration with customers, partners and suppliers. Careful selection of a mobile email solution that can be cascaded down the organisation to the non-BlackBerry users, and that works on the handsets already being used by employees, can unleash significant overall productivity and customer service benefits. By giving an organisation a competitive edge, mobile email might also help to make a difference between surviving the recession intact or not.