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September 27, 2010

Q&A: Tackling the mobile management dilemma

Gary Flood talks to Julie Purves, CEO of mobile management firm B2M Solutions.

By Vinod

Some of our readers may have come across you when you were heading up the Nokia Data Solutions business ICL/Fujitsu bought in the 1990s, but obviously you have moved on since then. What is your new company all about?
The Nokia period was very useful to me, actually, teaching me a lot about many different parts of the software company life-cycle and that’s something that’s informed a lot of what I’ve done since. Plus, I was in ICL for about 12 years all told, in both operational and technical roles, which was also a good platform for what I am trying to do now. To answer your question, I founded B2M in 2002 to really focus on the problem of the management of mobile, especially for mission-critical, line of business uses.

Julia Purves B2M

As in, what, BlackBerrys for the salesmen? Is that really that hard to manage?
Well of course that can be – but where we started is more the use of the handheld, often ruggedised, PDA for things like parcel delivery, where proof of signature is required. After ICL, you see, I was involved at a European management level with a specialist in that end of the market, a firm called Intermec. I am glad to say I was programme and project manager for the largest then global deployment of GSM-based business mobile applications – 5,500 users – for a major UK parcel carrier. I also established the major project capabilities for that firm’s mobile solutions delivery across EMEA, which led me to the basic idea behind B2M.

So we are more in the area of logistics?
We are in supply chain, yes, but the kind of companies we are helping with our management platform are quite diverse in terms of the applications the devices are being used in. For example, one of our clients is Moody International, which provides technical inspection services to oil and gas, construction, mining and power generation industries. There, we work with its field service engineers and technical inspection tasks. Another customer is Johnson Controls and we also help CBS Outdoor in the UK.

I think I need some sense of the size of business opportunity here – great as individual customer names are, right?
Not a problem. The Mobile Enterprise Application Platform (MEAP) market that we play in was worth $800m in 2009 and is set to grow by 20% through 2013, according to a December piece of research by Gartner. Gartner sees this space as made up of both the mobile applications and the mobile enterprise management space.

So you are selling this solution to corporates looking to better manager a big fleet of mobiles, which could be used in both customer-facing and staff-supporting roles?
Correct – only we don’t sell direct and it’s more than manage, it’s to leverage the use of the mobile in the business. The model is 100% indirect, where our technology is OEMed – a partner CBR readers may well be familiar with that does this is Syclo, which helps companies deploy SAP onto handhelds, for example.

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What may help us is to understand what you see as the CIO’s challenges here. Why is mobile management in this context a ‘problem’ at all?
With a lot of enterprises, they think the job with mobile is selecting the right platform, so they work on provider selection, getting mobile working started for the employee target group. But that’s just Stage 1. Stage 2 is finessing that, making that mobility be as productive and value-add to the business as possible. A key part of that is often business intelligence, using this portfolio to start gather the kind of data from the field that can really help. You need to start collecting data, perhaps on a global basis, for central analysis and that takes sophisticated software, we’d argue.

So what is your message to our CIO readers?
From a CIO perspective, we are aware that, to quote just one source, an IBM survey of 2,500 CIOs internationally in 2009, 83% of IT leaders are turning to analytics and business intelligence to improve competitiveness, for example. I think the SAP-Sybase deal [in May, the enterprise software giant swooped on the former database firm that now also specialises in mobile management, for $6bn] shows how much this issue is starting to occupy business, frankly. So we say we are helping enable CIOs to access this business intelligence across the mobile enterprise.

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