European multinationals are still being deterred from adopting mobile working technology by concerns about high subscription costs and the difficulty of rolling out remote network and application access to different mobile devices under a single plan, according to new research.
But industry watchers believe this situation could soon change as the global economy improves and mobile operators and service providers finally get their act together on mobile pricing, device management and security, and all-in-one tariffs that combine both mobile and fixed-line connectivity.
A survey of 500 European multinationals published last week by Vodafone Global Enterprise found that only 41 per cent had a mobile working solution already in place, with 70 per cent saying they believed different tariff structures in different European countries were too hard to manage.
Others said they would be scared that workers would abuse their company mobiles and that mobile applications were not sufficiently secure to protect confidential data.
"It is still early days, and we have a really static environment that to an extent is a hangover from the poor economic situation, but multinationals are trying to get their heads around whether to have a service they control and manage themselves, or whether to move to a managed service provider," said IDC research director for enterprise mobility, Nick McQuire.
"The perceived barriers to adoption of mobile working practices are easily overcome," said Vodafone Global Enterprise CEO Nick Jeffery. " Our experience shows that mobile working leads to costs savings as companies unify their communication needs and it also boosts productivity because it enables employees to make better use of their time."
Vodafone Global Enterprise, as well as other operators such as Orange and O2, have been mining lucrative multinational business contracts for years – Vodafone reported revenues of £1.1bn for the year to 31 March 2010 and claims 575 multinational customers worldwide – and will be disappointed that many buyers still find it difficult to identify value in their offerings.
Reductions in international voice and data roaming charges, partially forced by pressure from the European Union, have not yet brought about the surge of interest in managed mobile services expected. But the operators have tried to deliver tailored pricing packages designed to remove confusion and offer greater transparency into the true cost of using mobile phones in different countries.
"The fixed line world has been doing this for years, but the mobile world is not there yet," said McQuire. "There has to be greater cost predictability and control, and beyond that analytics able to look across both mobile and fixed environments [to see what is being spent, where]."
Vodafone has made some inroads here, while Orange launched a portfolio of mobile data roaming services for multinationals last year, specifically designed to give customers clear and predictable pricing for their international workforces.
But the sheer volume and diversity of mobile devices available – the very thing that has driven smartphone uptake among both business and consumer users – has also caused numerous management headaches for corporate IT departments burdened with the task of managing and supporting so many different mobile devices, operating systems and applications.
"The impact of smartphones, whether individually or corporate owned, coming into the enterprise, as well as laptops, PCs, hybrid devices and all the operating systems they utilise, which then have to be integrated by the IT department, does cause headaches," said McQuire. "The other dimension is how to protect the data that resides on those devices, though providers do now have the ability to do basic things like wipe and lock, and manage mobile data from a compliance perspective too."
IDC has forecast that the number of mobile workers accessing enterprise systems worldwide will top 1.2 billion by 2013 - incredibly, almost a third of the world's workforce.
The majority of those workers are predicted to come from the US and Japan (75.5 and 74.5 per cent of all workers respectively), with Europe trailing on 50.3 per cent, however.
Slower penetration in Europe is undoubtedly down to the sheer number of countries the region encompasses, which has historically led to different multinational divisions provisioning services at a local level, rather than buying in single contract terms from pan-European providers.
As well as mobile operators, fixed-line service providers and telcos are also vying for market share in managed enterprise mobility services, as well as systems integrators more traditionally focused on the desktop PC and application layer who are starting to build mobile strategies around that.