Laptops rule coporate investment in mobility

Mobile telecommunications research

Corporate South Africa regards the laptop computer as the single most necessary mobile technology for deployment in business, edging out even the cellular phone, while emerging technologies like handheld computers and wireless networking will see strong growth in 2005.These were the key findings of a research study conducted by World Wide Worx as part of its Mobility 2005 project, which is backed by Cell C and First National Bank. The report on the latest leg of the project, entitled The Impact of Mobile Technology on Corporate South Africa, reveals a corporate world that intends to intensify its commitment to tried and tested mobile technologies, while beginning to embrace new options.

No less than 98% of corporations surveyed said they would have laptops deployed among staff during 2005, up from 94% in 2004. Cellular phones were a close second, with 93% intending to deploy among staff in 2005, compared to 91% in 2004.

Significant growth will be seen in the use of Personal Digital Assistants for calendar and contact purposes, up from 76% to 84% of corporations, and for e-mail purposes, up from 61% to 76%. 3G will come off a low base of 5% to reach 34% – one of the highest growth proportions, if relatively low in absolute take-up. Wireless networking will experience substantial growth, but Bluetooth networking will continue to languish.

The picture changed somewhat when corporations were asked to rate the importance of each of the mobile technologies, with 86% rating cellular phones as important, and 85% the laptop computer. No other mobile technology scored above 50% in importance. However, in many cases, respondents did not know enough about the potential of the technologies to rate them – three quarters of respondents could not give an importance rating for 3G.

“The challenge for service providers, like banks, is going to remain how applications are integrated and made user-friendly for these new technologies,” says Len Pienaar, CEO for Mobile and Transact Solutions at First National Bank. “For instance, mobile phones have been in mainstream operation for around 10 years but only now are they being used for frequent and appropriate communication. Our free SMS transaction notification system, inContact, has been well accepted and adopted by the FNB client base.

“The one million-plus inContact clients are telling us that people want short, to-the-point communication. Now, the challenge will be how we adopt technology to further assist the client online, especially with 3G on our doorstep.”

A fascinating element of corporate deployment of mobile technologies is the level in the business at which staff tend to be provided with cellular phones, PDAs and Laptop computers, compared to PCs. 62% of corporations surveyed provide cellphones to top management, and 40% supply them to sales or field staff, similar to the proportion of corporations supplying laptop computers to these levels of employee. PDAs go to top management among 37% of respondents, but to field staff among only 10% of respondents.

“Considering the relative immobility of top management versus sales staff, it seems that mobile gadgets are often a perk of the job rather than a needs-based purchase,” says Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx.

It is interesting to note that, when it comes to satisfaction with the performance of mobile technology, cellular phones slip from their normally high ratings for the first time, scoring only a 79% satisfaction rating, while laptop computers maintain high levels, at 86% satisfaction with performance. General messaging with SMS achieves a 66% satisfaction rating. All others fall below the 50% satisfaction mark – but this also reflects the status of their deployment.

The study includes scrutiny of the level of sophistication of use of conventional mobile technologies among corporations, the expected impact of emerging mobile technologies, the preferred providers for each category of mobile technology – not surprisingly dominated by the three mobile networks and the major laptop manufacturers – and the criteria for selecting providers.

As expected, price was not the most important criterion, but rather quality of product or service. Lack of downtime and maintenance were close behind, with both price and reputation lagging in joint fifth place in importance, behind relationships and just ahead of stock availability.

“None of the factors scored significant unimportance ratings, though, indicating that all these factors are taken into account when providers are selected, and none can be sacrificed or ignored by suppliers,” says Goldstuck.

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