There is a promising future in mobile commerce, but success depends on the business impact of the technology rather than the technology itself, says Neil Gray, business development manager of mobile specialist Parochus.
What client companies, particularly at the small and medium-sized end of the scale, want is a demonstration of a clear return on investment, and this means concentrating on practical applications.
Both Parochus and the shrunken Ericsson-Synergy mobile effort had the dual perspective of applications and a platform to run them on smoothly, but Parochus approached the applications first. “Applications are the key to early success; and in time we developed the platform,” Gray says.
Ericsson-Synergy, as Synergy chief David Irving (pictured) says, approached the market the other way, developing middleware first for sale to telcos, then developing applications to plug into it.
“I’ve been through that approach with [Boston-based] Netmorf,” says Gray. It’s very expensive, he says, and doesn’t quickly bring in a large number of paying clients. Gray was Asia-Pacific vice-president for NetMorf two years ago (see Gray moves on to mobile pastures). The company closed its doors last year.
“There has been a huge shakeout of mobile companies in the US,” he notes, with many exiting the business, and some of the survivors, like Maryland-based Aether Systems, showing dramatic slides in stock value and continuing losses. And it is becoming difficult to sell to telcos, which are experiencing their own depressed market, he says.
But there are still optimistic prospects for developments where the customer sees mobile commerce as “a strategic business move, not just a piece of funky technology”.
He points to a Parochus project with a large operator in the food market, which was enthusiastic once a business case was developed, “where I thought we’d experience scepticism”.
The company will provide its field staff with handheld PDAs, “something like an iPaq, though that’s not been settled yet”. The application will also work on a tablet-style PC or a laptop, he says.
The cellphone end of the market is less certain of success “I have my doubts of WAP; it may be a technology that time has passed by. We have prospects that are using WAP now, but they are looking at a migration path through to PDA.”
Even with a simple order-processing transaction, he says, it is useful to have a realistically graphics-capable display, so as, for example, to show the customer their ordering history in readily understandable chart form.