Microsoft invests in mobile apps company

When Microsoft Corp. realized that enterprises needed help deploying and managing mobile phones, it turned to a partner it first found in the 1980s.

Microsoft approached Mort Rosenthal recently with the idea of starting a company that could help enterprises design, deploy and manage Windows Mobile mobile phones and services, Rosenthal said. He plans to formally launch the company, called Enterprise Mobile Inc., on Tuesday at the CTIA Wireless I.T. and Entertainment conference in San Francisco.

Microsoft is a minority stakeholder in the Watertown, Massachusetts, company, which has quietly been doing business since June.

Rosenthal began working with Microsoft in the 1980s when he founded Corporate Software, a company that resold software to large companies and offered them technical service and support.

The enterprise mobile market looks similar to the software market at that time, when software was largely sold through retail stores without channels or support for enterprises, he said.

“What comes from the [mobile] market is consumer-driven devices,” he said. “We’re about turning those consumer driven devices into enterprise devices.”

Enterprise Mobile will do that by offering a wide range of services to enterprises, starting with development of a vision, through to deployment and then including management and support services.

Currently, an enterprise has to work with different types of companies that provide a range of services including security, asset management and expense management, said Kitty Weldon, an analyst at Current Analysis. “What Enterprise Mobile brings is the ability for companies to just say, ‘phew, I can go to this one set of people and they can do everything’,” she said.

Enterprise Mobile will work exclusively with Windows Mobile phones so it won’t serve companies that want to support a variety of devices, including BlackBerrys. However, there’s a large market for companies that are happy to standardize on Windows Mobile and other providers similar to Enterprise Mobile might pop up to serve the heterogeneous companies, Weldon said.

Enterprise Mobile customers can pay for the services in a number of ways, including a flat consulting fee for the design of a system and then a monthly per-device fee or a per-incident fee for ongoing support.

One of the most attractive parts of the ongoing service offering will be that Enterprise Mobile serves as a single point of contact, Rosenthal said. “Today if you have questions, do you call the operator, Microsoft or the OEM?” he said. “Here, we’re the one throat to choke.”

Another problem facing many enterprises is challenges around device procurement. If an administrator is designing a new mobile deployment to launch in a few months, it’s virtually impossible to find out if a chosen device will continue to be available by then. Operators and handset makers aren’t forthcoming with that information, Rosenthal said.

That’s different from the PC world, where manufacturers will continue to support and make older models even while they introduce new ones.

Enterprise Mobile hopes to help solve this problem by working closely with operators and phone makers and possibly even to create its own inventory of devices in order to maintain availability longer, Rosenthal said.

Currently, Enterprise Mobile doesn’t have much competition, Weldon said. Companies such as IBM Corp., Accenture and Electronic Data Systems Corp. do help enterprises deploy and manage mobile phones, but they often do so only in tandem with other large jobs, and they may outsource the work to various companies with expertise in different components, she said.

However, Microsoft expects to partner with other companies like Enterprise Mobile that might emerge. “We’re kick-starting a new level of engagement” with Enterprise Mobile, said John O’Rourke, general manager of Microsoft’s mobile communications business.

Enterprise Mobile has implemented beta versions of Systems Center Mobile Device Manager 2008, mobile device management software that Microsoft plans to introduce on Tuesday.

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