2010 is the Year Mobile Data Gets Real

By Robert McGarvey

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Money talks, you know what walks but focus on this: 2010 is the year when enterprise gets real about using mobile data for substantial business processes beyond email and calendaring. This is because mobile data access now equates to dollars; Smartphones are powerful; enough employees out of office, away from their desktops; and, lastly but crucially, Cloud computing is letting it all come together over the Internet.

“Cloud computing is a blessing for mobile data access,” said Paddy Srinivasan, a co-founder of Cumulux, a company that is bringing data to mobile devices. “We install a small app on the phone, that’s all that is needed.” But with that app installed, users can access CRM data, Microsoft Sharepoint, and many more office staples. Data access is fast, too. “Within 30 to 60 seconds you will be looking at a full customer file,” said Srinivasan.

It sounds so easy. So, what’s been the hold up in making mobile data accessible? “The challenge has been that providing access to mobile data is very hard to do but it’s all now coming together,” said Peter Price, CEO of Webalo, a company that promises to connect a business’ mobile devices to mission critical data “without coding, without waiting, without the cost,” to quote Webalo’s marketing slogan. Don’t snicker that it can’t be true. Already signed up as paying customers are GE, Berkshire Hathaway, Time Warner, Wells Fargo, and a couple dozen more leading companies. [Editor's Note: This is corrected copy. The original story listed IBM, Microsoft, Nokia, Verizon as Webalo clients. They are Webalo partners.]

What Webalo does is put a thin client on the mobile device―mainly Blackberries, but Price said the company is soon introducing iPhone and Android apps―and this lets the device go into a Webalo Cloud―its own, private cloud where all the data are stored and where the computing happens―and pull down whatever data the company wants. That’s typically business intelligence data but there’s also action with databases (Oracle included) and anything that can be expressed in XML web services. The key is wizards let a user drill down to exactly what they want to see. Typically, this means a user won’t see a full-size spreadsheet, for instance, but will focus in on pertinent cells. “We configure data in ways that let a smartphone user make use of them,” said Price.

At leading global electronics distributor Avnet, the company takes a different route to the same end, but it, too, depends upon the Cloud. Avnet firmly believes its sales teams in particular need deep access to mobile data, said vice president Bob Pischke, but instead of drawing upon third-party app developers, Avnet decided to write its own apps. Starting in May 2007, it began rolling out apps and the number now stands at 16, which includes everything from CRM to ERP apps. The payoff is instant availability of information, said Pischke, who cites as a for instance a sales rep sitting with a customer who wants to know if a particular part is available.

Historically, the rep had to go someplace private, call into the company, maybe make another call or two ... “what used to take as many as three calls now takes a few seconds on the hand held device,” said Pischke, who indicates that Avnet standardized on Blackberry―tho reps can choose among eight models and they also can pick their own carrier. “We want this to be personal choice for our employees.”

The one worry is “security absolutely is an issue with mobile data success,” said Rolfe Swinton, a co-founder of Apollo Mobile, a developer of custom apps for music company EMI, ad agency giant WPP, and others. But the reality is that when very little, or no, data reside on the device and Cloud access requires authentication, security concerns are dissipating.

The bottom line for 2010 is stop waiting. This will be the year of mobile data and smart CIOs are jumping on this trend because the right data, in the right hands, at the right moment will save a company money and just may help it make a lot more.

As a busy freelance writer for more than 30 years, Rob McGarvey has written over 1500 articles for many of the nation's leading publications―from Reader's Digest to Playboy and from the NY Times to Harvard Business Review. McGarvey covers CEOs, business, high tech, human resources, real estate, and the energy sector. A particular specialty is advertorial sections for many top outlets including the New York Times, Crain's New York, and Fortune Magazine.