Software maker gets its mobile house in order

Hosted service from Visage Mobile tracks and manages enterprise mobility costs, including cellular plans
  • John Cox (Network World)
  • 07 May, 2008 08:23

Chordiant Software has nothing against Microsoft Excel. But the software maker no longer wants to use it to track and manage its mobile users, devices and carrier service plans.

Instead the company plans to go into production with a hosted software service it has been beta testing for Visage Mobile. The service, called MobilityCentral, pulls user information from Chordiant's Active Directory and combines it with asset data from the mobile devices and cellular plan data from the various carriers. A series of up-to-date reports now replaces the hours of work that Chordiant's telco analysts invested in trying to keep track of and manage the company's mobile users, devices and services.

"By deploying a platform like MobilityCentral, we could look at what we owned, at the different types of service plans, devices and applications," says Deshen Yu, vice president of information technology for Chordiant, which focuses on CRM and business process management software for financial services and telecom customers. "We quickly realized many [of these elements] didn't make sense."

As a result of analyzing the MobilityCentral data, Chordiant decided to standardize on one carrier, AT&T, and one device platform, Research in Motion's BlackBerry.

MobilityCentral is based on software originally developed by Agistics, a software firm acquired by Visage Mobile in June 2007, to add mobility management for enterprises to the company's existing portfolio of subscriber management services used by mobile virtual network operators. Released in April, the service will be showcased the Visage Mobile booth in next week's Wireless Enterprise Symposium, RIM's annual BlackBerry user conference.

Managing the various elements of enterprise mobility -- devices, applications, users, cellular plans, security and so on -- is largely an ad hoc affair, stitched together with homegrown tools (such as Excel spreadsheets), and an array of third-party point products, such as applications to manage mobile devices or update their software. There's little that brings together asset management for financial purposes, with device management, user support, and service plan management.

Microsoft's just-released System Center Mobile Device Manager (MDM) is focusing on one part of this complex issue: managing the physical Windows Mobile 6.1 devices, for example. And various vendors in the mobility food chain are forging an array of partnerships to address some of these issues.

The time was ripe for advanced tools that would let enterprises, faced with burgeoning numbers of mobile workers, track these mobile assets and use them cost-effectively, says Dean Alms, Agistics founder and now a general manager with Visage Mobile.

MobilityCentral is a hosted service that uses a number of inputs. It draws from the enterprise directory an array of data about mobile users, who are assigned to mobility groups with associated policies, privileges and budgets, all based on user job requirements. Each user receives a profile, which includes service information drawn from carrier invoices, and device information from third-party device management applications (such as Microsoft's MDM) or from manual input. The software creates a complete inventory of devices and services.

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Working with MobilityCentral's management screens, administrators can create usage and security policies for the various telco wireless services. A Web dashboard lets administrators see an array of reports on such things as usage patterns and trends, and lets them compare the mobile budget for individuals or groups with actual carrier bills, quickly pinpointing problem areas. The software can process information and manage mobility plans from different carriers, covering an array of devices.

Visage Mobile can put as many as 500 users online in about 30 days, if the customer is receiving electronic bills from their mobile carriers, Alms says. If they're not getting electronic invoices, it might take two or three months. The service handles all the monthly invoice processing, individual employee bill presentment, and full reconciliation of carrier services.

There is no upfront capital investment: The list price for the MobilityCentral service is US$5 per user per month, which can vary based on the number of users, the length of the service contract, and prepayments.

Alms says there is no shortage of interest. In developing the software, the company talked with more than 70 companies to get insights and feedback."What they wanted was a 'better end user experience,' says Alms."They had the device they needed, and the connectivity they needed. But support issues [for users] are a nightmare."

Chordiant has about 500 employees, counting about 200 outsourced R&D engineers. Of that total, about 300 are mobile workers, not based in a company office. What information the company had about its mobile assets was stored in Excel spreadsheets, laboriously compiled and maintained by hand. One key benefit has been the accuracy of the data collected and processed by MobilityCentral."We see an improvement in the quality of the data, and in minimizing exceptions, the longer we use it," Chordiant's Yu says.

Shifting to MobilityCentral, Chordiant administrators could see at once where excessive expenditures were taking place under the various wireless service plans. Rules were tightened, plans modified, expanded or scrapped as needed, all based on current data."We could identify plans that didn't make sense, based on the business requirements," Yu says.

Another benefit is the company's ability to now accurately and consistently predict what its wireless costs will be month after month. "That's a huge benefit from a business perspective," Yu says.

The only thing missing from MobilityCentral at the present, he says, is Visage Mobile's ability to support mobile users worldwide. "For companies like us, with a global presence, they need to move quickly into partnerships with global telcos," Yu says.