Businesses don’t see the value in porting enterprise applications to mobile devices — at least not today. It’s not so much they don’t want to offer employees better access to business apps; it’s that vendors haven’t been able to demonstrate a solid return on investment, according to a couple of seasoned

industry analysts.

“”If there’s one limiting factor for any mobile deployment, it’s been the inability to show the positive return on investment (ROI),”” says Ken Smiley, director of research at Cambridge, Mass.-based Giga Information Group.

And there’s another problem: At this point, none of the mobile vendors provide cohesive support for handhelds, says Roberta Fox, president of Fox Group Consulting in Toronto.

“”I’ve been using PDAs and Palms for 10 years now and I can tell you that our clients have held back on these purchases because the vendor community doesn’t answer questions about IT support, installation and backup. Until those issues are answered, they will always be thought of as personal devices.””

Developers don’t seem to be getting the message. Systemcorp, a Montréal-based application developer, has recently entered into a venture with Mobile Data Exchange (MDEX) Corp. in Toronto to create a mobile extension for its project management tool, PM Office.

The idea is that rather than waiting until the end of the day to upload time sheets and expense reports, field consultants could use handhelds to relay that information back to head office, says Murray Schwartz, Systemcorp.’s director of strategic alliances.

But before Systemcorp tests the waters with customers, it’s working out the bugs internally through a pilot project with 25 consultants in its professional services group. Though Systemcorp hasn’t been able to come up with any “”hard stats”” to show the cost benefits of adopting such technology, it has identified areas of improved efficiency.

“”There was a duplication of efforts,”” says Schwartz. “”People were logging their time in paper mode and then going back a week or two later and re-entering it into the system back at the office.”” Using the handhelds, Schwartz says Systemcorp has been able to shave one week off its billing cycle. And, according to Debbie Leckner, MDEX’s vice-president of business development, “”people are more productive.””

But that’s simply not good enough, says Smiley. A solid ROI analysis should follow a industry-recognized model such as Giga’s TEI, or total economic impact model, looking at such factors as cost, benefit, flexibility and risk.

“”You have to be able to run all the numbers to determine the cost and benefits,”” he says, “”To say it’s going to make you more productive isn’t good enough. You have to put numbers behind that.””

And Smiley says he hasn’t seen project management on his clients’ wish lists of mobile applications. Wireless applications that make sense, he says, are in areas such as sales force automation, health care, stock trading and field service.

“”I haven’t seen much call for project management as a standalone application,”” he says. “”I think it would make sense to add it to a mobile version of another application, such as a CRM app,”” he says.

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