by Al Sacco

RIM VP on Mobile Enterprise Apps: Today and Tomorrow

May 14, 20085 mins
MobileSmall and Medium Business

Some of the mobile enterprise apps now making their way onto BlackBerry corporate smartphones just may surprise you, RIM's Jeff McDowell, VP of global alliances, tells CIO's Al Sacco at RIM's Wireless Enterprise Symposium. McDowell also shares his top three predictions for the future of mobile apps.

Corporations have been using mobile business applications for years, but recent days have seen a notable shift in the type of apps being found on enterprise devices. Today nearly 95 percent of organizations are using mobile apps, according to research from In-Stat. And instead of simple mobile apps like e-mail, calendaring and PIM tools, more and more specialized vertical programs like mobile CRM and ERP applications are being used on business smartphones like Research In Motion (RIM) BlackBerrys and Palm Treos.


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But that’s just the start. Some businesses are encouraging their users to download and employ consumer-focused programs—in some cases, even games.

“It’s not as much as a shift as it is an expansion,” says Jeff McDowell, RIM VP of global alliances, who spoke with CIO at RIM’s 7th annual Wireless Enterprise Symposium (WES) in Orlando, Fla.

McDowell notes that smartphones aren’t simply for business, whether they’re issued by employers or not. They’re “life-style devices,” and the sooner organizations understand that, the closer they’ll come to realizing the true potential of such devices, he says.

That’s not to say organizations shouldn’t be weary about letting users downloading third-party applications to corporate devices, only that they should not outright block anything and everything due to security concerns, McDowell says.

“There was a time where locking it down was what IT departments did, because they just weren’t sure how to do anything else,” McDowell says. “Now we’ve got all this robust management in there, so you can still be secure, the stuff you really don’t want on there you can control. But the stuff that’s useful to them, you allow or white-list.”

As an example of a company taking full advantage of the mobile applications available to BlackBerry users, McDowell calls out BT.

BT staffers currently use a wide variety of mobile apps on their BlackBerrys, ranging from the purely enterprise focused (SAP CRM) to programs with both business and consumer functionality (Viigo) all the way to full-on entertainment applications (BT has contracted Magmic to provide games), says McDowell. And he says he’s seeing more and more corporations following BT’s lead.

As for the future of mobile enterprise applications, McDowell offers up the following three predictions:

1. Multimedia Booms:

The addition of media players to high-end smartphones has created a whole new market for audio and video applications, in both the corporate and enterprise space, McDowell says. As an example, he cites Chalk, a company that produces short training videos, or “pushcasts,” optimized for BlackBerrys. The company created a minute-long video on how to operate the new photocopiers at a customer’s office, and it was pushed to the handhelds of every user who needed instructions, saving time and money on in-person or individual sessions.

“I’m not sure how important multimedia in the enterprise has ever been just in a desktop form,” McDowell says. “Where it really comes to life is when there’s context, where you are at the time. Generally, office photocopiers are not right next to your PC terminal.”

2. Deep Integration With Systems, Other Apps:

Future mobile applications will integrate with corporate systems and other programs on a much more complex level, McDowell predicts. He cites the new SAP CRM for BlackBerry app as an example of this “deep integration.” Users of the mobile SAP app can access SAP CRM data through any of the native BlackBerry apps: email, calendar or contacts. So, for instance, if you have a meeting with a customer, you can click on your BlackBerry calendar to bring up meeting details from your SAP system without ever leaving the calendar. From there, you could find out the location details of your meeting by clicking a “Map It” button or something similar. And another click could bring up GPS-based driving directions.

“So with three clicks, I can look at my meeting on the calendar, get specifics on the company I’m meeting from the CRM system and receive driving directions from a GPS app,” McDowell says.

3. Corporate Social Networking Goes More Mobile:

Businesses are already seeing the value of social networking applications and corporate information sharing through these channels, and mobile devices will only increase that value, according to McDowell. The reason: devices like BlackBerrys can provide ubiquitous access to all the important data housed within these apps. BlackBerry is already working with IBM Lotus and Microsoft on related applications and services, he says. And Facebook for BlackBerry is one of most popular third-party BlackBerry apps—in fact, the app just hit the one million downloads mark in April.

“That’s what really energizes [corporate social networking],” he says. “As soon as you make something real time, it just changes the way people use it.”