The process of mobilizing enterprise business applications remains in its early stages, but software makers, device manufacturers, and customers are all currently working to foster increased wireless adoption.
Beyond wireless e-mail and specialized field force applications used in vertical markets such as overnight shipping, experts concede that the push to translate enterprise applications to the handheld goes slowly.
Large companies in the United States have not embraced mobile business applications on a wider scale because of immaturity in the software and device platforms available to them, according to industry analysts.
However, wireless market watchers concede that many of the building blocks necessary to further advance enterprise mobility and the use of handheld business applications are currently being put into place.
"Once you go beyond the e-mail and inventory management type applications, things start breaking down," said Avi Greengart, analyst with Current Analysis, based in Sterling, Va. "There are a lot of people trying it out on a small scale, and vendors are building the next generation of mobile enterprise suites, but there's a big hole in the market in terms of the potential versus the reality."
The problem with many of today's mobile business applications is that they remain watered-down versions of desktop enterprise tools that have merely been re-architected to operate on a small screen, experts contend.
Until software makers and device manufacturers can get their products to align more seamlessly, enterprises will struggle to find the right platforms to push wireless use beyond e-mail, said Maribel Lopez, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research.
"The current set of business applications are still unfriendly in terms of asking end users to click through multiple screens to complete tasks that can be done with a single click on a PC," said Lopez. "The software makers are still trying to translate desktop products to the handheld, and it requires a lot of massaging; until vendors build more mobile applications from scratch and improve usability, I think many customers will hold off on wider adoption."
Despite failing to be won over by the current wave of mobile business apps, many U.S. companies are formalizing the use of wireless devices and planning for a future that involves wireless enterprise systems, the analysts said.
Customers see wireless as a significant opportunity to create new business opportunities and want to ensure that they have control over use of wireless devices and applications, rather than have end users carry tools into the workplace that they find useful in their personal lives.
Finding a way to prove the bottom-line value for wider mobile applications usage is often as big of a challenge for IT decision makers as dealing with any shortcomings of the technologies themselves, the industry watchers maintain.
"No one has been able to prove the return on investment of mobilizing accounting or human resources applications. Mobilizing some types of workflows may make sense, but the larger business case hasn't been made for a lot of desktop enterprise systems," said Greengart.