Bolting on benefits to make money in mobile

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This article appeared in the November 2014 issue of CRN magazine.

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Bolting on benefits to make money in mobile

The party line that resellers must encompass cloud services and wrap managed services around devices and applications holds true in mobility. But just like in the PC game, dealers may find the transition from box-shifting to value-added services daunting – strategically and culturally. 

The key to making this shift is building up new skill sets, whether through strategic hiring, internal training, mergers, partnerships or acquisitions. Star 21, one of Telstra’s top dealers, appointed national cloud and mobility specialist Keith Schultheiss in May this year to chase new opportunities.

Handsets and customer service have always been at the core of the business, but Star21 is “growing and evolving the business”, he says.

“I came onboard as a cloud mobility specialist, allowing the business to revisit its customer base,” Schultheiss says. “Star21’s expansion lets it play the role of trusted adviser to provide customers with new ways of managing enterprise mobility.”

Star21 provides VMware’s AirWatch mobile device management (MDM) suite, but is also certified across other major MDM platforms. Basic MDM features such as locking, finding or wiping mobile devices are becoming commonplace, but Schultheiss says the concept of MDM has expanded in the past few years – often with a focus on secure business applications more than securing the devices themselves.

“The explosion in business-focused productivity apps is making mobile devices more important,” he says. “Often the idea is to provide a secure place for business data to reside and then to give end users close to free rein when it comes to personal apps.

“Somebody has to support customers through this process – especially if they’re looking to software-as-a-service like Office 365 and tackling SharePoint. This creates challenges for customers, which creates opportunities for us to help.”

Star21’s decision to hire Schultheiss and push into the cloud is a perfect example of a mobile dealer shoring up future opportunities, says Brian Reed, chief mobility evangelist with mobile solutions vendor Good Technology, which recently signed up distributor Whitegold Solutions.

The low-hanging fruit for channel partners such as Star21 is to mine their existing customer base. They must become a knowledge expert in certain areas and then teach customers how to leverage mobile opportunities, Reed says.

Mobility deals can stall if the customer can’t make up their mind, but savvy channel players can avoid the classic ‘analysis paralysis’ scenario by being the educator.

“To do this successfully you need to designate people as mobile experts, whether you hire them or bring them up internally,” Reed says. “Alternatively, you need to find a strong mobility partner. One way or another, you need people with mobile DNA to bring the skill sets into your organisation and help accelerate your learning curve, which in turn improves your chances of sealing the deal.”

In terms of managed services, channel players can build offerings that encompass provisioning, configuration, support and replenishment – all helping to create a strong recurring revenue model. 

Managed services are an obvious way for resellers to smooth out lumpy sales and lock down ongoing revenues, but there are other opportunities, too. 

“Mobility raises all kinds of issues for businesses, especially if there is a ‘bring your own device’ element,” Reed says. “Policy is often an underrated aspect of a mobility project but there are revenues to be made helping customers develop their mobility policies to meet the needs of the business for today and tomorrow. Mobility technology and apps are changing so fast that the policy has to be reviewed at least every six months rather than every few years.”

Helping customers build or procure applications is another growth area and Reed says there is “huge pent-up demand” for custom mobile applications from organisations that don’t have the skills to develop them themselves.

Mobility offers a brave new world to explore, but don’t bite off more than you can chew, says Reed. Rather than embarking on a “big bang” deal as your first mobile outing, he advises starting with the “land and expand” approach. Starting small can also help when customers are still finding their way in the world of mobility.

“Most companies fail at their first mobile project if it’s a really big project,” Reed says. “Trying to undertake a major strategic mobile re-engineering on your first project – shifting from laptops to smartphones while embracing a new application – is a set up for failure.

“Success also depends on the customer. These days, Good Technology strikes fewer ‘big bang’ deals and more ‘land and expand’ opportunities. They might be a 25- or 50-person starter deal, with a rapid proof of concept. You can execute these smaller deals quickly to get the ball rolling, which can help avoid the analysis paralysis issues that can strike larger deals.”

All about apps

While each smartphone platform has its strengths and weaknesses, the handsets themselves are becoming less relevant.

Productivity-focused apps are stepping forwards to offer real value to business users, regardless of the hardware.

In Australia, Telstra was quick to partner with Microsoft to offer exclusive access to Office 365 for small to medium businesses. The end of that exclusivity deal lets resellers offer some Office 365 plans directly to SMB customers, but Telstra continues its focus on mobile productivity with the establishment of its Global Applications and Platforms business.

The enterprise apps market – particularly apps designed for specific vertical markets – presents opportunities for channel players to expand their horizons, says Jim Bradley, managing director of Telstra distributor TBS Distribution.

Channel partners that ignore new areas such as apps and cloud services risk being pushed aside by competitors with more holistic offerings, Bradley warns.

“If mobile-centric channel players are just going to focus on recontracting existing clients then they’re really putting themselves at risk,” he says. 

“They need to start adding value and finding other products. It is all about apps at the moment – not your 99c apps but commercial apps that customers are prepared to pay for in order to have customised solutions.”

The first generation of enterprise app deployments focused on personal productivity apps such as email and calendar, but the next opportunity will centre on broader business needs, says Mark Chapman, acting director of Telstra Business Mobility.

“The next wave of application deployment is focused on solving specific business problems, such as productivity, customer engagement or competitive differentiation,” Chapman says. “Having a mobile business applications strategy is as important today as having an internet strategy was 15 years ago. There are opportunities for channel partners who have an understanding of customers’ business problems and the breadth of solutions that can be deployed to address those problems.”

As well as apps and cloud services, channel players may be able to unearth revenue opportunities by charging for things that were once considered ‘all part of the service’. Areas like customer support – perhaps once seen as a cost of doing business – can be monetised as service becomes a primary offering.

Telstra enterprise partner Phonenomena runs its own premium customer service team, aiming to offer a higher level of support than its customers can get directly from Telstra, says sales director Mark Rennie. “You can get a base level of care from us for free, but then we have a range of premium options – including end user support rather than just supporting the IT teams of our customers,” Rennie says.

“We also offer premium service-level agreements and even 24-hour care. Some of that customer support we might have traditionally done for free, but as revenue streams changed we’ve looked for alternatives that are relevant to our customers.”

Phonenomena has also benefited from the rise of mobility-focused productivity apps, even though the company isn’t directly involved in app development or customisation.

“By bringing in an app developer we might triple the size of a customer’s mobile fleet because the app solution makes such a significant difference. Even if you’re not in a position to take advantage of every mobility opportunity, the drive towards mobile productivity can still work to a channel partner’s advantage,” Rennie says. 

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