Going Mobile in Your Business

I have a confession to make before starting: I’m an Apple iPhone user. So when I was asked to write about how great Microsoft Windows Mobile is, I thought there’d be a conflict of interests. But it turns out there’s no clash here because, for all the great things about iPhone as a consumer mobile device, it has a long way to go before it can sip champagne in business class. For a start I doubt iPhone’s generously sized glass touch screen will ever contend with the rough and tumble of the business world. Take it from me – the clumsy consumer who managed to crack the screen just eight weeks into owning the first generation iPhone. Ouch! A quick check on eBay will tell you I’m not alone either.

In the business world the smartphone many business users have heard of is Blackberry. My fiancée got really excited recently when her organisation told her she’d be issued with a Blackberry. Excited about a phone for business? This is the allure of Blackberry, the brand from Canadian firm, Research in Motion (RIM) that established itself early on as an expert in delivering email and other data to mobile devices. In more recent times Blackberry has shifted focus onto the lucrative consumer sector. It’s no coincidence that Hollywood stars have been spotted using their Blackberries by Heat magazine.

So while Blackberry now tries to woo the consumer and Apple eats away at the same market (while dabbling in the business market), what about the discerning business user? I don’t know about you, but all this talk of fruit is giving me indigestion.

Microsoft Windows Mobile goes beyond satisfying the simple demands of the consumer sector. Unlike Blackberry and iPhone, Windows Mobile software isn’t tied to proprietary hardware. So while Blackberry insists on a physical keypad and iPhone seduces you with touch, Windows Mobile is available on a variety of devices to suit you. Most of us at Technology Management now use the HTC Touch, which incorporates a touch screen with a keypad. Freedom of choice means a large range of competitively priced handsets, available from a number of network carriers.

Microsoft Exchange Integration

Windows Mobile, as you’d expect, works seamlessly with Microsoft Exchange 2003 or later releases. The only additional cost is a security certificate to ensure that data can be synchronised securely to and from your smartphone. The certificate costs about £150 a year (or less if you commit to more than a year).

Getting your smartphone working alongside Exchange is a cinch, with users typically up-and-running within hours. From there they can be writing and responding to emails, checking their calendar, calling their contacts and completing their tasks. Oh…and making calls.

On Windows Mobile, push email, (where email is ‘pushed’ to your phone as soon as it arrives on the Exchange server, rather than your phone periodically checking for new messages and draining battery) your calendar, contacts and tasks synchronise with your desktop version of Outlook. Blackberry users have to buy an additional Blackberry server to enjoy the same benefits. Admittedly there are some technical work-arounds to avoid buying the expensive Blackberry server, but at the cost of questionable performance.

Microsoft Office Mobile

While iPhone and Blackberry try to plug into the workings of Outlook, nothing comes close to the familiarity and functionality of Microsoft Outlook Mobile, which is part of the Microsoft Office Mobile suite and comes free with Windows Mobile. With Mobile Office, not only can you open Word or Excel documents a colleague might email, you can edit them. This luxury isn’t available with iPhone and will cost you extra on Blackberry.

If you suffer from a bout of absent mindedness, don’t worry, because with Windows Mobile all your data can be wiped remotely if you lose your smartphone.

Application Availability

Where Windows Mobile wins hands down is the availability of third-party applications. From TomTom’s satellite navigation through to integration with customer relationship management software like Microsoft Dynamics CRM, the choice is enormous. It’s no surprise, considering the huge Windows developer community.

While Apple and Blackberry restrict how and where their limited choice of applications can be purchased, Windows Mobile users have the freedom to select and buy from many sources. Ironic, considering the criticism Microsoft attracts regarding its so-called stranglehold on the software market.

Looking beyond integration with Outlook, Windows Mobile is a truly powerful business tool, only limited by your imagination. Consider this: access to key performance indicator dashboards, customer signed-for deliveries, live stock information and customer order history….the list of uses goes on and all of this is not only ‘possible’ but actually available now using Windows Mobile.

Flexibility or Rigidity

Of course, a device may not always be used by sales people or other executives. Collecting and exchanging data in a warehouse is another way that Windows Mobile is helping businesses. Earlier I mentioned the choice of devices that Windows Mobile works on; well, this includes a number of rugged devices suited to the rigours of a warehouse or factory environment. I doubt the iPhone would last five minutes here. Technology Management recommends Symbol, a company with a good track record and an affordable range that run Windows Mobile, including ones that incorporate barcode scanning technology.

Next time you go to the supermarket and you see someone stacking shelves, chances are they’ll be using a Symbol handheld scanner. Until recently, these devices were exclusive to big companies, but now the price to develop the software and buy the hardware is within reach of many smaller businesses. Heck, I went to a restaurant recently and the waiter was using one to take my order!

There’s an old adage in sales and marketing circles that says buyers buy with emotion and then try to justify with logic. While in the business arena this is sometimes less true, when it comes to the choice of phone for business it might be right. I find it surprising how mobile phones can ignite an emotional, irrational response in some people that can spill over into the business world. And to date, this has been a big reason for Blackberry’s success.

It’s fair to say that Windows Mobile isn’t as sexy as Blackberry or iPhone, despite the fantastic array of handsets now available. So, setting irrational emotions aside, logic says to me that Windows Mobile is the better choice for business. I can wait until the weekend before I buy the new iPhone 3GS.

If you’re interested in introducing Windows Mobile to your business, contact the team at Technology Management today on 01902 578300.

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