Sell New Mobile Solutions To Existing Customers
Thanks to advances in wireless technology and mobile computing devices,
VARs can find new sales opportunities in their existing vertical
According to recent research by analyst group Gartner, worldwide
shipments of PDAs and smartphones totaled 42.1 million units in the
first half of 2006, up 57% compared with the same period last year.
Further, portable PCs (e.g. notebooks, tablets, and convertibles, which
are a combination of both) are expected to make up nearly 50% of all PC
shipments in the United States and almost 40% of PC shipments worldwide
by 2007, according to analyst group IDC. I recently spoke with industry
experts from Itronix (a division of General Dynamics), MobileDataforce,
Orative, and Panasonic to get their insight on what’s driving the
mobile computing adoption trend and how VARs can make money selling
wireless mobile solutions.
New Mobile Devices Play Key Role In Adoption
One of the challenges with selling mobile computing solutions in the past was the cost and asset management nightmare associated with deploying multiple devices and services. Within the past 18 months, however, there has been an upsurge of converged mobile devices. “The benefit of these devices is that they function like three or four devices in one appliance,” says Kevin Benedict, CEO of MobileDataforce Inc. “For example, a converged device might enable bar code scanning, access to database applications, e-mail functionality, and Wi-Fi- and/or cellular-based phone service.”
And, smartphones aren’t the only converged devices driving the wireless mobile computing adoption trend — notebooks, tablets, and convertibles also play key roles. How are these devices considered convergence devices, you wonder? In addition to enabling access to a host of data applications such as ERP (enterprise resource planning), CRM (customer relationship management), and e-mail, they can be outfitted with software-based VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) service (i.e. soft phones). Many of the experts I spoke with agreed that advances in wireless technology also play a key role in the adoption of mobile computing devices. “As broadband wireless technology continues to provide greater bandwidth and more reliable service, we’re seeing a trend toward integrated [i.e. built-in vs. plugging in an external wireless network interface card] wireless computing,” says Sheila O’Neil, senior director of channel sales at Panasonic Computer Solutions Company. “By having wireless modems integrated into mobile computing devices, end users can achieve better reception and reliability. This is also an excellent opportunity for VARs to help choose the right wireless carriers for their customers by researching the carriers’ plans before ordering the mobile computers.”
Who Should You Sell Wireless Mobile Computing Devices To?
Now that we’ve established that there’s an increase in the adoption of wireless mobile computing devices — especially converged units — the next question is, “Who’s buying these devices?” The answer is that it’s not any one particular vertical market. “Because there are so many businesses that have field workers, the wireless mobile computing trend is really an opportunity for VARs to target new users within the vertical markets they’re already selling to,” says John Drewry, VP of marketing at Orative. “And, there are all kinds of applications VARs can sell to these markets.” Because there are often multiple mobile computing devices used in a single field service environment (e.g. a field inspector may use a PDA and his manager may use a rugged tablet PC), VARs need to provide middleware and other software that is OS-independent. It’s also important that VARs are familiar with various networking/communication standards. For example, TCP/IP (an open computer communications language) and XML (extensible markup language) knowledge are necessary for basic data communication over the Internet. “Also, VARs need to understand SIP [session initiation protocol] for voice applications and SIMPLE [SIP instant messaging and presence leveraging extensions] for presence integration,” says Drewry.
VARs should also keep in mind opportunities where mobile computing devices are mission critical, meaning that if the device breaks or loses wireless connectivity for an extended period, the end user will lose significant revenue or some other important need will not be met. Consider public safety, for example. If a police officer is unable to run a license plate check because his computer is unable to get a wireless connection, his ability to do his job efficiently and his safety are compromised. “Construction is another area where wireless mobile computing device uptime is critical,” says Panasonic’s O’Neil. “For example, an engineer may detect an error on a blueprint and need to make an adjustment to the blueprint in the field. Before the construction workers can continue working on the project, the updated blueprint needs to be wirelessly transmitted to a government agency, reviewed, and approved.” Every minute that is lost costs the construction company money, which significantly drives up the value of having a reliable, broadband wireless connection.
“The construction example also highlights the value of selling rugged and semirugged wireless mobile computing devices, which offer better reliability in outdoor work environments and provide a lower total cost of ownership in the long run,” says Hans Witt, channel sales director of computing technologies at Itronix, a division of General Dynamics. “VARs should also think about the wireless modem upgradeability of the mobile devices they’re reselling. As new wireless standards emerge, upgradeable devices maintain their value, whereas other devices become obsolete.”
One other issue VARs need to address with their mobile customers is the need for real-time wireless connectivity. In some instances, such as inspection environments, the value of the mobile computing device is being able to help the field worker efficiently capture information and eliminate the use of clipboards, pens, and paper. However, once the information is captured, it can be updated to a corporate database at the end of the worker’s shift, and wireless data connectivity isn’t really necessary. “In a field maintenance setting, however, real-time wireless data connectivity is essential,” says Benedict. “For example, if a plumbing company receives an urgent call from a customer with a water leak, it may need to immediately pull a worker off one job and dispatch him to the emergency site. By using multiple real-time wireless solutions such as GPS [global positioning satellite] and scheduling software, the company can locate and dispatch the maintenance worker closest to the emergency, reassign work orders, and update its field workers’ schedules in real or near real time.”
We’ve talked about several ways VARs can provide expertise to customers that are candidates for wireless mobile computing solutions. However, even though the aforementioned advice will help you get the sale, it isn’t enough. “Postsale services and support seem to be a secondary focus for many VARs,” says Witt. “By not selling the correct level of factory warranty extensions and help desk support, VARs leave themselves vulnerable to having to provide these services at no cost or leaving their customers with a bad postsale experience.”