July 2013 Feature

Enterprise Mobility and the Channel

by Hobart Swan

Mobility ImageAsk vendors and manufacturers if they’re ready for what’s happening in the world of mobile computing and they may respond that, yes, they are now creating applications that work on specific mobile devices. Ask Mark Chellis that same question, and you get a glimpse of just how staggeringly far behind companies like this are. Chellis has spent his entire career in technology—mobility, mobility solutions, and the indirect channel in particular. Among his many senior marketing positions, he has served as Global Lead for Alliances Marketing at Infosys, Director of Motorola Solution Inc.’s Alliance and vice president of marketing & ecommerce at Smith International. Chellis offers the following insights into the changes vendors and partners alike must make to thrive as the demand for mobile solutions goes exponential.

Q: What would you say is the single biggest challenge the channel faces with the growth of mobility?

There are really two main challenges. Vendors and partners—especially partners—need to learn how to operate in much more complex business environments. And they need to become more agile, more able to discern and respond to quickly-evolving customer demands and technologies.

Q: Hasn’t this always been the case? What about mobility makes this any different?

The advent of an entirely new class of products, devices like Google Glass and Motorola’s HC1 (hands-free, voice-activated headset computer), that represent the first step toward true mobility. The move toward true mobility means that the business opportunities for technology companies and their partners are about to explode. But to take advantage of these opportunities, vendors and partners alike need to re-think how they do business. First, they need to prepare for much shorter development cycles. Then they need to start thinking of themselves not as individual problem solvers but as a part of a larger referenceable ecosystem.

Q: Okay, that’s a big term. What does “referenceable ecosystem” mean?

It just means that you have a network in place made up of diverse partners that can help you quickly deliver a wide range of solutions. Almost without exception, every single breakthrough that’s happened with mobility in the last 10 or 15 years has happened on the solution or integrator level. In the past, creating that solution has involved two or three partners. All that has changed.

Consider a piece of hardware called Square, a credit card reader app for mobile devices. Square created the device to help businesses be more mobile. The card reader was designed to work with other devices, particularly iPhones and iPads. But before Square could deliver that mobility, it needed to work with a whole network of partners. It needed programmers with specific knowledge of iOS and how to get the reader to talk to the phone or tablet. It needed Apple to agree to work with them. It needed interface designers, usability experts, and partners who understood the retail space. Then it needed a wireless solution to securely connect to the device, and a carrier to provide the connection. Finally, it needed relationships with banks. Without the ability to conduct transactions with banks, the Square device was just a funny looking thing sticking out of an iPad.

The point is that in order to bring its solution to the marketplace, Square had to establish working relationships with many partners with many different skills. Only then could it deliver on its promise: Full-service banking in the palm of your hand.

Q: Creating the ecosystem itself has its own challenges, doesn’t it?

It really does. The upside is that as you grow your ecosystem, you also grow your ability to provide a broader range of solutions. And this breadth of ability will become very important. According to research I’ve seen, mobile solutions is literally a trillion-dollar market.

But knowing who to partner with gets more complicated when you consider how traditional roles are changing. Just look at the telcos. Carriers used to be little more than public utilities delivering a few simple services. Now they sit at the center of every mobile transaction. Building good relationships with them is critical—especially now that they’re capable of not just delivering mobile solutions, but creating them.

Q: Vendors are paying more attention to finding the right partners. Do partners need to be equally discriminating?

With the rate of change being what it is, both vendors and partners will need to choose carefully. For a banking solution, you need partners that know security technology and internal banking processes inside and out. If it’s a medical solution, you need people with expertise right down to where the solution meets the customer, whether that’s in a nursing home or a radiology lab.

Q: Where does the need to be agile come into this?

It used to be that a company could spend six months designing a product and another six months deploying it. If their solution worked, maybe they wouldn’t have to make significant changes for three or four years. That’s no longer the case. Everything has accelerated.

Every one of us is being challenged to change our business, not quarterly or monthly, but daily. We’ll have to find ways to accelerate our own internal mechanisms to keep pace.

Q: What advice do you have for vendors and partners to help them succeed in this new environment?

Well, you know that old saying, “Dance with the one that brought you?” Forget it. Now you need to be ready to dance with many different partners. If it’s a waltz, find a ballroom dancer. If it’s hip hop, look for the youngest person in the room.

In the future, the vendors and partners who succeed will be the ones who have created a circle of companies with specific skills and domain expertise and referenceable ecosystems of their own, and who are committed to agile development. When they do, they’ll be positioned to deliver the best solutions in the fastest time.

Q: In your mind, how well are today’s channel professionals utilizing the benefits of mobile solutions to do their jobs effectively? What could they be doing better from a mobile technology perspective to make themselves more effective and efficient?

Channel partners themselves must use mobility as more than just an extension of their offices. Working with their vendors and working with existing technology, partners can help develop and utilize mobile tools that exist today to:

  • Monitor product sales in real time (mobile dashboards can measure real-time demand and validate the effects ofr pricing actions and promotions)
  • Conduct real-time polling and inquiry of product issues and issue resolution, with a system of alerts if required
  • Drive interaction with clients at events and trade shows
    Leverage the power of video chat tools like Google Hangout to facilitate “face-to-face” communications with clients and vendors
  • Review MDF account balances
  • Request real-time approval for field marketing activities any time and any place