To Get Windows Mobile into Enterprises, Microsoft Turns to Boston Software Veteran

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create a service organization for enterprise mobility—to make the whole story more real.”

Boston-based bakery chain Au Bon Pain, for example, needed help getting the real profit-and-loss figures for each store into the hands of its traveling area directors. The company had developed its own network-accessible daily report application, but area directors frequently couldn’t get at the latest data because, well—if you’ve ever been to one of the company’s cafes, you know that there just isn’t a spot in the typical Au Bon Pain kitchen big enough to set down a laptop, let alone an Internet connection to plug it into.

Enterprise Mobile worked with the company to create a Windows Mobile version of the report application, select the right mobile phone to run the application, and teach area directors how to use the devices. Enterprise Mobile “not only provided the technical expertise we required, but removed any fear and uncertainty our employees may have had about going mobile,” Ed Mockler, the chain’s senior vice president for information technology, told Enterprise Mobile for its published case study of the Au Bon Pain deployment. Now area directors “can get out earlier in the morning and visit more cafes, even those they weren’t planning on visiting,” Mockler said.

Enterprise Mobile has 65 employees to service its 30-plus customers, mostly Fortune 500 companies. These workers are spread across the Watertown headquarters; a Bellevue, WA, office that liaises with Microsoft; and a Dallas “factory” where workers ready mobile devices for deployment to customer sites. Microsoft has also named Enterprise Mobile as the lead strategic partner available to help its own customers get Mobile Device Manager running on their corporate networks.

I contacted Microsoft to ask how Enterprise Mobile fits into its overall vision for Windows Mobile. Scott Rockfeld, group product manager with the company’s Mobile Communications Business, replied that lRosenthal’s company “helps businesses tap into the enormous potential the Windows Mobile platform delivers….By acting as a single contact for device procurement, custom provisioning, lifecycle maintenance and helpdesk support, Enterprise Mobile extends Microsoft’s commitment to the success of its customers and its strong partner network.”

Enterprise Mobile is privately funded and held; its sole outside investor is—you guessed it—Microsoft, which owns a minority stake, according to Rosenthal.

Before I left Enterprise Mobile—which is located inside one of the converted munitions-factory buildings at the Watertown Arsenal—I asked Rosenthal for his quick rundown of today’s mobile-device market. Unsurprisingly, he’s of the opinion that Windows Mobile devices are the only smart option for businesses looking to help their workers be truly mobile. RIM’s Blackberry, he says, is “interesting, and has a stronger business following…But lately they seem to be trying to make it into a general-purpose consumer device. They got rid of the thumb wheel, which was the best thing about it. They’re trying to make it look sexier—but at the end of the day, they’ve made it less useful.”

Google’s open-source Android phone operating system should also be “interesting,” Rosenthal says, “but if it’s all about advertising-supported services, that’s not compatible with enterprise functions.” And the Apple iPhone? “For one thing, it’s just not a very good phone,” says Rosenthal. “And it’s far from being enterprise-ready. It doesn’t do enterprise e-mail. There is no security. Plenty of our customers think it’s cool—but none of them would ever think about adopting it.”

“For our purposes,” Rosenthal concludes, “Windows Mobile is the only player.” And for Ballmer’s purposes, apparently, Rosenthal was the only player. The next 12 months—as Mobile Device Manager is rolled out, more manufacturers and carriers come out with phones that are compatible with the system, and more companies get a chance to evaluate the technology—may show whether Ballmer made the right call.

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Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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  • I agree with the you partially about windows mobile devices not as much faster as other competitors like blackberry etc.

  • As a self-proclaimed windows mobile junkie (both for consumer and enterprise functionality), I’m pretty excited to see what enterprise mobile brings to the market.

    One of the fundamental flaw in WinMo, that Wade brings up, is indeed that they are highly powerful. This is a double edged sword in that they are fully capable of being secure, remotely controlled devices… just as much as they are able to be cracked into insecure remotely controlled devices.

    I hope that EM can bring WinMo beyond this issue and give ISOs a better peace of mind.

    Incidentally, I was once told by an IT support member that if I wanted company email I needed a blackberry- I was told that Windows Mobile “would not work”. But I’m guessing this was just to deter users because WinMo couldn’t be remotely controlled by internal IT… so instead I just entered in the publicly shared webmail info and had full active sync running anyway… If I can crack it that easily, I guess others can too.

  • A familiar face on the local scene at an inflection point for the mobile world. None better than Mort to develop this business.

    Having been in the industry for twenty-odd years and utilized Stream as a resource, it’s fascinating to see applications reach newly developed platforms yet many of the challenges are re-occurring. Not only the distribution channel but the inherent asset management challenges many F500 companies will face – so on that note I agree with Zach.

    Say what you will about Microsoft but they are a huge market enabler and will do it again with Windows Mobile. The difference relative to the laptop era is market adoption rates are radically faster and so are development timeframes.