Welcome to the latest edition of Inside Looking Out. This past week, I spoke with Lee Williams. As the Executive Director for The Symbian Foundation, Lee needs no introduction. Lee has been in tech and mobility for a long time now, having also spent time at companies like Be, Palm and Nokia before joining Symbian.
I first spoke with Lee a few weeks ago when he was doing a whirlwind tour of the US right before the Symbian Exchange and Expo. I do not envy that travel schedule. We followed up that meeting this past week with a phone chat. If you saw a recent interview he gave, you'll get a sense of how the conversation went.
Enterprise Mobility Matters: Hi Lee. It's good speaking with you again. So let's get to it. Where do you see the greatest opportunity for growth in enterprise mobility?
Lee Williams: In enabling access to cloud based services and hosted apps. Even a few years ago you had to build large, walled gardens full of proprietary software to run a productive enterprise. You can now use cloud based services and hosted apps based on open standards and software, and ensure secure, authorized access to data, systems, and coworkers.
Entire teams and companies can become more productive overnight if you can migrate to or build out this kind of system. You can also get off of the laptop, and on to real mobile devices, a fully functioning internet protocol stack in a smartphone is all some people need, and as more and more IT departments realize the cost and productivity benefits of this type of setup, growth will be huge in this area for anyone associated with products and services that provide this level of enablement.
EMM: After email, what’s the next killer application for mobility in the enterprise?
LW: I think the killer application is the mobile device itself and its network. In the PC era of the 90s, 3rd party applications were needed to establish the usefulness and productivity values of a PC, and its infrastructure. Productive and valuable Enterprise Mobility doesn’t need any one 3rd party software application as an enabler.
Today, a mobile device is a pocketable, wearable, point of presence on the Internet. You can be on several push email accounts, twitter, facebook, linked in, and be getting texts and checking your calendar while you make calls on your mobile device. As device form factors, battery life, and display capabilities improve, you have the killer "application" for the mobile enterprise, it’s the device itself, and you can put it in your pocket, and be connected to your personal life at the same time.
EMM: What’s your take on individually liable devices? Is that a good or bad thing for corporations?
LW: I think it’s a good thing, a must have really. The lines between personal and professional or work lives are completely blurred now. As a result, to be truly productive, you need to be able to carry the type of device that suits many aspects of your lifestyle. CIOs and IT departments need to accept these devices, find ways to migrate to services that better enable them, and if they don’t, their companies will struggle to keep top talent in their organization.
EMM: Unlike the desktop space, there are six major platforms today in enterprise mobility (i.e., Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, Symbian, webOS and Windows Mobile). When are we going to see that number shrink?
LW: I am not convinced that it will shrink. I am not convinced we need one or a few dominant platforms. The mobile marketplace is unique in this way. It’s really defined by the convergence of many different markets, including IT, Telecommunications, Internet, and soon Entertainment and others.
There are 4 billion connected people on the planet, and we need to connect more. As a result, many different software platforms and stacks can coexist in the marketplace. The only thing I can think of that would really obsolete a platform would be if one stopped supporting rich, and new web standards, or if they didn’t enable modern hardware technology to be leveraged, or the usability characteristics of a device to continue to improve.
EMM: We talk a lot about security in the enterprise (VPNs, anti-virus, etc.), but not as much in mobility. When is this going to be a top-of-mind issue for enterprises?
LW: I don’t think the VPN in the classic client-server sense is needed. At least I am confident you can migrate away from this type of requirement or need at a technology level. You can set up private and secure networks and domains, and leverage SSL and other authentication schemes to protect data properly.
We have VPN capabilities in the Symbian platform, and a very secure application signing process that helps prevent nefarious things from happening with malware, etc. Those features have been developed and added to the platform largely at the request of Enterprises and Network Operators over the last few years.
I think security in mobility has been a top of mind issue for some time, and will continue to be.
EMM: Linux and other open source technologies certainly have a place in the enterprise. What similarities do you see from that space that can drive open source mobility in the enterprise?
LW: My observation of the reasons why Enterprises embraced Linux so readily had to do with access to technology, and secondarily, with reliability. More than that, the Linux ecosystem is one wherein there are fewer taxes or royalties needed to leverage basic products and services, especially when compared with those in a different ecosystem, let’s say a Microsoft based one.
In mobility, Enterprises need access. They need access to the code, to the low cost hardware, and to the skills and talent of professionals that can help them leverage the power of mobility. The best way to get all three of those things in an ecosystem or marketplace is to participate in one that has an open source model at the heart of it.
Another point to consider is that Enterprises need choice, a large choice of companies and partners to work with, and to know that the participants in an ecosystem can sustain returns on their investments in that ecosystem. This helps ensure that they will be around the marketplace for a while, and long enough for an Enterprise to have a stable level of support from the company or provider. Again, open ecosystems have proven to be ideal at having all of these characteristics.
EMM: One last question Lee. If you can step away from your day to day activities for one moment, what will it take for the Symbian platform to match its global success in North America?
LW: We need more devices available in the region, and it would be ideal if they were both subsidized by operators, and available at more than ‘high end’ price points. Also, we need to continue to be an attractive option for delivering rich internet experiences and content for North American developers, service providers, and content distributors.
You have to keep in mind that North America just recently acquired useful 3G bandwidth and coverage, and people are just now realizing how accessible and useable the internet is on mobile products. Especially when compared to other regions in the world. Countries in Asia, and Europe are definitely ahead of the curve in this respect, and have been for years.
As the demand for these capabilities grows in the region, the Symbian platform becomes more attractive, and its strengths become more obvious. Products based on our platform simply provide a better value proposition for consumers than many other options, and this will continue to become more obvious.
Well there you have it. Thank you Lee for taking the time to chat with me today. If interested, you can connect with Lee on LinkedIn here. Do you know anyone who should be a guest here on Inside Looking Out? Drop me a line.