The concept of enterprise mobility has been maturing for years, but large companies are only just beginning to get their hands around wireless technologies, according to the latest report from Forrester Research.
During the next six years, wireless technologies and services will advance significantly, allowing enterprises to embed new airborne communications and data systems into almost every element of their business.
Wider adoption of everything from smartphones to RFID (radio frequency identification), however, will not be achieved quickly or easily as vendors struggle to make their products more efficient, and as customers slowly add to their budgets, said analysts at Forrester.
In the report - dubbed the Evolution of the Enterprise Mobility Market, and released April 23 - the research company predicts that much work will be done before the end of 2008 by vendors to improve point products and boost still-unpredictable wireless coverage while building support within various vertical markets.
Carriers will continue to expand their 3G networks to further eliminate dead zones, device makers will craft new handhelds for specific industrial markets, and software makers will "reinvigorate" their wireless management applications development efforts, said Maribel Lopez, the Forrester analyst who authored the report.
Meanwhile, networking vendors will focus their wireless plans on catering to new demand in industries hungry for more of the technologies, including the health-care, transportation, and utilities markets, Lopez said.
From 2008-2013, Forrester is predicting that enterprise mobility plans will finally take off and result in wireless technologies finding their way into the hands of a wider majority of workers.
"It will still be a long time before mobility is such an expectation that the perception is every worker needs to have it," Lopez said. "Companies are finally beginning to consider new wireless technologies when there isn't a hard business case to be made for it, but the landscape is so fragmented that enterprise-wide deployment is a way off."
Large companies are finding plenty of reasons for passing out wireless devices to task-based workers such as sales teams and field service fleets and for slapping RFID tags on boxes, but it remains a challenge to justify distribution of handhelds to so-called knowledge workers or to convince business leaders to buy expensive management systems where productivity gains are harder to quantify, the analyst said.
During the next several years, however, more applications will appear that push businesses to consider wider deployment, according to Lopez. As part of this wave of adoption, the researcher is expecting a significant level of wireless industry consolidation as enterprise customers begin demanding more tightly integrated products and services from a smaller group of providers.
"There will likely be far fewer vendors, with the big pushing coming to put different types of technologies under the same management environment," Lopez said. "At the same time, enterprises won't likely buy all of the tools they need on a pallet from a single vendor, but rather from a few."
As customer demands for integration among different types of wireless technologies increase, vendors will seek to bring traditional wired technologies together with wireless services, allowing them to be purchased and managed centrally. Acquisitions and partnerships among various types of wireless vendors will allow that shift to occur, according to Forrester.
Only after 2013 will enterprise mobility systems allow for many companies to adopt some of the cutting-edge applications, such as pushing line-of-business applications beyond the desktop, already being pitched by vendors today, Lopez said.
Although everyone from device markers to applications developers is touting their ability to deliver critical business tools to handhelds or wireless devices used in industrial settings today, the limitations of today's platforms make such systems unattractive to many enterprises.
Businesses have spent years trying to build functional business applications for the desktop, and it will be some time before mobile tools can catch up in terms of usability, Lopez said.
"It's going to take years for enterprise applications to become mobile because these were largely designed for the PC within certain parameters, which doesn't port well to the handheld," Lopez said. "The real business value of mobile devices will come from mobilizing the applications; we're seeing this already in the transportation and shipping industries, but for most enterprises there's still not much there in the way of available platforms."
Many mobile applications developers have become victims of the lack of demand from businesses for their tools in previous years, but Forrester is predicting that software makers who can build attractive wireless products will see significant growth, and likely become acquisition targets for larger firms.
To survive, Lopez recommends that software makers refine their existing products by focusing on usability and building versions of their programs that can be run on multiple devices and mobile operating systems. Middleware providers should attempt to tie their products to specific verticals where wireless is more likely to gain adoption faster, she said.
"Everybody wants mobile business applications, but there's still a lot of massaging that needs to happen before more people are ready to increase investment," Lopez said.