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    Mobile user support – The future of mobile management


    The increasing number and variety of mobile devices is placing demands upon operators' device management tools. Tom Blackie suggests an answer

    s we enter a new decade, we're poised for a transformational period in the mobile industry. Hardly a day passes without a new mobile device; be it a Netbook, eReader, Tablet, Media Pad, Smartbook or Smartphone. We're entering the era of the Mobile Internet Device (MID) with access from anywhere to any data.

    Network operators are also scrambling to rollout the latest infrastructure and system architectures; 4 and 5G, LTE, Picocells, Femtocells, hybrid mobile and WiFi support. All aim to provide high-performance, truly scalable mobile data networks, capable of supporting instant access to the burgeoning selection of rich media, bandwidth-hungry applications from the growing number of application stores.

    Looking at smartphones alone, according to Gartner 2009 saw a 29% growth in sales to over 180 million devices, out of a total of 1 billion mobile handset shipments. This year smartphone shipments are likely to overtake desktop and laptop PCs. By 2012, Gartner predicts smartphones will account for 37% of the total mobile handset sales, and as manufacturing costs drop, by 2015 it's likely that the current 80/20 ratio will have shifted to 20/80 in favour of smartphones.

    In essence, today's smartphones are as powerful as desktops and are rapidly becoming the device of choice for highly mobile business executives. Organisations are spending a lot of money on new corporate devices and mobile business applications, but it is not only enterprise customers stimulating sales. Consumers are also driving change with their appetite for new mobile software applications.

    The balance of power is shifting from operators to customers. Locked-down feature phones are being replaced with highly customisable smartphones, where users can download, install, configure and personalize their favourite applications – just as they have done on their desktop machines. Not only will handsets have their unique combination of differently configured applications; customers will also have wildly differing and dynamic content preferences delivered automatically to always-on applications, often based on fine-grain location and social context. Whilst this is good news for operators wishing to avoid becoming marginalized suppliers of commoditized data pipes, it will inevitably lead to complex end-user support issues presenting management headaches.
    It is not unusual to hear of operators struggling to deal with the number of handsets returned within the first two or three weeks of shipment. The exact numbers are a well guarded secret, but industry insiders say 10-15% is not uncommon, certainly for the high-end handsets. They are often returned as users can't configure settings, don't know how to use applications and become frustrated with lengthy calls to customer care centres. More often than not, these devices are re-tested and pass with ‘no-fault-found'.

    While some of these devices are re-sold, the costs of managing and operating this process are significant; not to mention the costs incurred trying to resolve issues through customer care centres. Whether it is with the operators, handset manufacturers, or outsourced fulfilment and distribution channels, someone is carrying this financial burden. Furthermore, customer frustration simply fuels increasing dissatisfaction and churn, as customers seek higher levels of service.

    Stratecast (a division of Frost & Sullivan) estimates that smartphones drive 3X the Average Handling Time (AHT), due to increased device complexity. This additional cost is just about tolerated with today's current volumes and resources; but with fierce competition, revenues are continually under pressure. The shift to smartphones, coupled with the growing complexity of applications, is creating a situation where operators simply won't have the financial resources to keep up with support calls and provide an adequate level of customer care.

    Traditional device management technology has gone some way to help users with functions such as automated SIM configuration, device and email settings, security and asset management as well as on-line user self-help systems. But this falls way short of providing the same level of user support enjoyed, and expected, by desktop users. Some providers are starting to talk about the movement from Mobile Device Management (MDM) to Mobile Software Management (MSM). But the more enlightened are working to replace the traditional quantitative contact centre metrics of Average Call Handling Time (AHT) and First Time Call Resolution (FTR), with a mix of qualitative metrics based on Customer Satisfaction. This is driving KPIs such as reduced churn and increased Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) via, for example, sales of new applications and increased data usage.
    To effect such a change, innovators are looking to learn from traditional desktop vendors that embraced remote desktop technology. Major players such as HP, CA and built successful service businesses based on helpdesk solutions.

    Operating Systems providers also moved to include such capabilities within the OS, such as Microsoft's Remote Desktop Protocol and Apple's Remote Desktop and more recently Intel within its Active Management Technology (AMT), providing out-of-band system access. These and many more have provided the foundations for efficient end-user support and helpdesk capabilities across a wide range of communication channels. Underpinning many solutions is the open-source Remote Frame Buffer (RFB) protocol provided by RealVNC.

    The same has not been true for mobile handsets – until recently. Using new mobile VNC technology, it is now possible to remotely control, test and manage any number of mobile devices or applications, anywhere in the world. A small, efficient and portable VNC Server application runs on the mobile device that allows a specialized VNC Viewer to access and take control of it remotely from a desktop. This means that customer care agents can immediately diagnose, test and manage the device functions and the applications running on multiple operating systems, from one common interface. This immediately reduces support call times as well as user frustration and the potential for simply returning the device.

    One solution reaping the benefits of this approach is Sicap's Device Management Centre (DMC), which already provides automated management and customer care/self-care systems on 80 mobile networks worldwide and manages some 800 million handsets. By using VNC Mobile Solution, customer care agents can now remotely access mobile devices to help customers with configuration, diagnose problems, and give advice on the installed applications. The solution supports multiple platforms including Windows Mobile, Symbian and Blackberry, with development versions for iPhone, Android and Linux Mobile available; Maemo and Palm Pre coming soon.

    "VNC Mobile Solution provides us with a strategically significant and market-leading solution that was easily integrated into our existing systems," says Stéphane Jayet, Head of SIM and Device management at Sicap. "The combined device management solution creates significant savings by reducing customer care call times and the handling of returns of non-faulty devices while improving service availability and increasing levels of customer satisfaction. A tier-one operator in Europe for example, has reduced the number of returned handsets by 10 percent."

    It is clear that mobile devices will only get more sophisticated and powerful. Remember when everyone first got PCs at home and signed up to the early internet providers. Hours were spent on the phone sorting out problems. Now most of these problems can be resolved quickly and remotely. The mobile industry needs to embrace remote control technologies and move on from device management and software management to user support. That way we can keep customers satisfied and save a lot of hassle and frustration.

    Those players who step up and deliver exemplary support and service will ultimately win the hearts, minds and wallets of customers. Improved service provision will increase retention, ARPU and reduce costs; leading to increased customer intimacy allowing operators to broaden services, applications and content delivery.