Channel partners voiced mixed sentiments about mobility services during the opening session of ChannelPro-SMB’s latest SMB Forum event, held April 10th in Long Beach, Calif.
Certainly no one denied that SMBs and others are snapping up mobile devices in large and growing numbers. Indeed, hardware makers sold 117 million smartphones and 46 million tablets to U.S. buyers in 2012, according to Chris Jones, a session panelist who is also vice president and principal analyst at Canalys, an analyst firm with U.S. headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif.
Just the same, many attendees questioned whether there’s enough demand for mobile device management among their clients to make adding such services worth the effort. In fact, no one raised their hand when one audience member asked his peers if customers have approached them for help with MDM.
Some channel pros see promise in mobility just the same. For example, Dave Seibert, CEO/CIO of integrator and managed service provider IT Innovators Inc., of Irvine, Calif., noted that while the MDM services his firm offers may not produce much revenue they boost profits by forestalling maintenance problems that eat into margins on flat-rate service contracts.
Furthermore, Seibert added, the main reason few customers are asking for MDM assistance is that they don’t understand the security risks they face. While none of his clients has experienced a major work stoppage due to mobile malware yet, he noted, they will soon enough. “It’s a matter of time,” Seibert said.
Reinforcing the point, Luis Alvarez, president and CEO of solution provider and MSP Alvarez Technology Group Inc., of Salinas, Calif., argued that channel pros must explain the hazards of workplace mobile device use to their clients. In his experience, most business owners are quick to request MDM help after such a conversation. “You need to spend the time educating your customers,” Alvarez said.
In addition to MDM, panelists and attendees explored the revenue-generating potential of building mobile websites too. Citing figures from analysts at Techaisle LLC, session moderator and ChannelPro Network publisher Michael Siggins noted that 34.5 percent of U.S. SMBs have a smartphone- and tablet-friendly site already and many more are eager to join them.
Panelist Kelly White agreed. “This is growing exponentially in importance,” said White, who is principal at Silvertail Software LLC, a software consulting and development firm based in Hillsboro, Ore. Creating speedy, attractive mobile sites can be tricky though if you lack prior experience, he added, so partnering with a specialist is a smart idea for most IT providers. “You’ve got to hire a designer to help you with this,” White said.
Session participants also weighed the pros and cons of offering mobile carrier services. On the plus side, they noted, reselling mobile voice and data plans alongside mobile hardware enables channel pros to capture more of their clients’ tech spending. On the minus side, however, mastering the intricacies of all those plans can be a time-consuming nightmare.
Ed Correia, president of Sagacent Technologies, an integrator and MSP in San Jose, Calif., advised attendees to investigate the simplified, end-to-end mobility offerings now available from vendors such as Ingram Micro, Tech Data, and Equus Mobility Solutions. In addition to voice and data, such services include streamlined procurement, billing, and activation. “Those programs are out there. You just have to look for them,” Correia said.
Judging by the mood of his fellow SMB Forum attendees, channel pros will be looking for information about plenty of other mobility-related topics as well in the months ahead.