Mobile gets down to business

September 9, 2009: 3:00 AM ET

Verizon, Sybase and Quickcomm team up to manage corporations' mobility needs. Their service just scratches the surface

Chen wants to help your company go mobile. Photo: Sybase

Chen wants to help your company go mobile. Photo: Sybase

Telecom giant Verizon (VZ) says it is launching a suite of services to help corporate IT departments manage their fleets of mobile devices. Corporate clients can hire Verizon to track their inventories of phones and monitor billings, add and drop devices as employees come and go, enforce security policies on phones and even remotely deliver applications and data to employees' handsets.

Verizon is partnering with software company Sybase (SY) and Quickcomm, which specializes in telecom-expense management, to offer a one-stop shop for companies looking to outsource mobile operations.

Analysts' reports suggest there's a need for such tools: Forrester Research estimates that by 2012 nearly three-fourths of workers worldwide, or nearly 400 million people, will be using mobile devices for work.

But the Verizon offering, which today focuses more on devices and enforcing a company's computer policies on mobile devices, addresses only part of the opportunity.

Mobile apps for enterprises - not as easy as it sounds

A growing number of companies are eager to move desktop applications to mobile devices, and may even want to develop new, custom applications for their businesses that take advantage of mobile networks.

Michael Marcellin, a vice president of product marketing for Verizon Business, says such application management services are under development. The company says it hopes to offer support for enterprise apps in 2010.

Delivering enterprise apps - customized or off-the-shelf - to a diverse global workforce is no easy task: Workers likely will have dozens of different handsets of varying vintages, and if the company operates in multiple countries, workers also will use different carriers' networks.

Adding to the complexity: The vendor of the application in question may or may not have a mobile version of their software. Or they may not be ready to move to delivering the software over the Internet cloud, which is the way many mobile workers want to access their applications.

Sybase CEO John Chen says his company has been working on these issues for some time now, as part of an effort to diversify the database-management company's revenue stream.

A few years ago the company began pursuing enterprise mobility in earnest with mobile device management and delivery of mobile messaging services. "Enterprise mobility opened up a whole new world for us in terms of who we partner with," Chen says. "Companies with big names and big reach are working with us, and it is creating (wireless) franchise value for Sybase."

In addition to Verizon, Chen says, the company has done wireless technology work for companies such as Samsung and Western Union (WU).

Sweet spot: Software cred + mobility experience

Chen says Sybase's experience in the software world coupled with its new focus on wireless makes it an ideal partner for companies seeking to migrate, say, SAP (SAP) solutions to a fleet of smartphones.  (SAP is a Sybase customer and partner.)

Indeed, Chen says his firm will be instrumental in Verizon's move into application management. "We can help them with that next piece, application enablement and launching new apps," he says. "We have shown a commitment to mobility, and we understand the enterprise."

Whether Sybase - and Verizon - succeed (especially in providing high-end application development and enhancement services) very much remains to be seen.

Verizon says the initial offerings from its mobility suite will be available later this month in the U.S and 19 European countries. The service is offered by Verizon Business and  Verizon Wireless, a joint venture with Vodafone (VOD).  But Verizon's Marcellin says the telco is happy to manage wireless operations for clients that have wireless service contracts with rivals AT&T (T), Sprint (S) or T-Mobile.

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About This Author
Stephanie Mehta
Stephanie Mehta
Deputy Managing Editor , Fortune

Stephanie N. Mehta is the deputy managing editor at Fortune, overseeing technology coverage for Fortune. She also is a co-chair of the annual Brainstorm Tech conference, an annual gathering of tech and media thinkers. Previously, Mehta spent seven years as a tech writer at Fortune covering the telecom and media industries. She also has worked for the Wall Street Journal and the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va.

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