May 08

What might a Dell business smartphone include and would it be relevant?

he Dell Annual Analyst Conference was held in late April. It provided ample evidence of Dell’s enterprise-orientation and the recruitment of John Swainson (ex-CEO of CA and before that head of IBM’s WebSphere unit) brings genuine weight to Dell’s software aspirations. In terms of mobility there was nothing new on show beyond the expected commitment to Windows 8 (including tablets). What was interesting were 2 particular messages — where Dell is concentrating its customer focus and mention of new “smartphones oriented to businesses”.

The first of these is simple to describe. Dell is aiming for the mid-market enterprise, especially in industry verticals where there tends to be less regulation. Its philosophy is that if it provides increased simplification and operation to the mid-market this is something that larger enterprises will also appreciate. From a business/technology perspective this makes sense, and is distinctly different from (say) IBM which successfully orients itself around huge enterprises and then tries, somewhat lamely, to go after the mid-market later. Dell should do well with this approach.

It is, however, the concept of a business-specific smartphone which intrigues (there were no details). What might such a device include?

Beyond the obvious — the capability to be a phone, to browse, to do email, to connect to internal enterprise systems — where could the differentiation come? In Constellation Research’s analysis, think about the following in an enterprise context:

  • security management
  • backup and recovery
  • synchronization
  • mobile management
  • encryption
  • multi-SIM support
  • separation
  • support.

What is intriguing about all these is that, with the possible exception of encryption and multi-SIM support (and possibly separation), these can be delivered as services that do not require specific smartphone implementation. Indeed most are as relevant to tablets and even laptops as to smartphones Now consider each.

Dell already has a security service offering called SecureWorks (acquired in 2011). This has, as part of its value, that Dell does the threat analysis for clients/customers — and may warn these clients/customers of potential or real problems before the client/customer even knows there is a threat. Such proactive security by specialists is, for most organizations, better than what they can afford in-house. Extending this beyond the traditional IT world into the smart device world is not only a potential revenue source from mid-market enterprises — but could also be sold (albeit likely in a dilute form) to all sorts of corporate end users and even to consumers.

Now apply the same logic to backup and recovery, synchronization and mobile management. When Dell completes its Wyse acquisition it will possess the Pocket Cloud and other service capabilities (including Trellia’s remote device management).  Businesses require as much certainty as is practical and affordable.  Dell looks to be in a strong position to enhance smartphone (and smart device) environment, data and application dependability — provided via services rather than customized factory integration.

In contrast, encryption (on the smart device) plus multi-SIM support could be hardware facets of a business smartphone that would appeal. Encryption would assist protect data and apps while multi-SIM support would be a blessing for all those who travel on business. In the latter case, most do not want to lose their primary contact number (their primary SIM) in their home location — but they do want to be able to insert  locally acquired SIMs (or equivalent).  There is both an enterprise advantage (lower communications costs) as well as greater connectivity for the employee.

Separation, which Dell calls ‘Divide’, is also important on a smartphone. An employee will have at least two areas — a personal area and likely an enterprise area — on the device.  Enterprises must keep these separate so that they (the enterprises) can guard against data or app theft or simple loss of information. In reality it may be that a business person may have several such ‘personas’ — personal, line management, Board Member, institution (like church or club) member, etc. — all of which need separation to assure confidentiality.  How separation is handled remains unclear; it could be on provided as a feature of a business smartphone or it might even emerge as a service.

Finally there is support.  In a Bring (or Buy) Your Own Device (BYOD) world people are choosing the  smartphone they want — for whatever blend of fashion, aesthetic or functional reasons– and then bringing it to work and expecting to use it there. One of the strengths of the enterprise world is that it knows how to deliver support, if ponderously. One of the attractions of Dell continues to be that (at least for laptops/PCs) it makes most devices repairable — you can whip out a disk, replace a screen or keyboard, etc. This is in stark contrast with (say) the iOS and Android worlds where sealed units mean anything that goes wrong is not repairable.

If Dell could create an analog of its repairable laptops/PCs for smartphones (and tablets), it would have a distinctive edge. In cntrast, most mobile device manufacturers want to sell smartdevices that need replacement.  Businesses do not really want this (even if the employee is paying for the device) and most people would, when asked, rather have a device that lasts rather than demands frequent replacement (this, however, clearly does not apply to mobile device fashionistas, but they are likely to be in a minority compared to the broader business world).

Net, net, if Dell could create a smartphone (and other smart devices) that enabled proactive support and maintenance for people who work in enterprises, this would differentiate in ways that would be unique.  Only time will tell if this will happen but it would be difficult for the Apples, Samsungs, LGs, Nokias and others to respond to a well crafted device with supporting services.

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