Monday, May 07, 2012

Guidance on Selecting a Mobile Solution Vendor

Last week while working on a mobile strategy project in Scotland, I was reminded of a few things companies should ask vendors when they are in the RFI process.

  1. Do you support HTML5 today, in all products or a limited subset?  Which products support HTML5?
  2. Do you have a hybrid mobile app development capability?  If so, how does it work and what are the limitations?
  3. What versions of Android do you support today?
  4. Where is your support center located?  I learned of a recent situation where support was only given during India's business hours.
  5. Do you have your own proprietary MEAP (mobile enterprise application platform) or do you embed another market leader's?
  6. What IDE (integrated development environment) or SDK (software development kit) can be used to edit mobile application and develop new ones?
  7. How do you secure your Android devices today?  Are they secured through software or a specific hardware level partnership with a manufacturer?
  8. What specific mobile operating systems and versions are supported today?
  9. Ask the mobile solution vendor for a list of third party software components in your solution.  Get a list of software vendor dependencies that must all work together in order for your solution to be effective.
  10. Ask about R&D funding.  This might be an uncomfortable discussion, but being a mobile solution vendor in 2012 means large amounts of resources need to be invested into research and development to keep current with the rapid developments.  This often requires external funding sources to keep up.
  11. Do you have a connection at the top of the company that you can contact for big and important mobile projects?  You don't want to get assigned a junior sales assistant (three weeks on the job) for a mobile project involving ten thousand mobile users.  
  12. How soon can the mobile solutions vendor support new versions of popular mobile operating systems?  Do they take 90 days, 9 months or three years?
  13. Understand the mobile vendor's expertise with integrating into your specific ERP or backend business solution.  Often, the mobility vendor does not have expertise, and you will need to find it.
  14. How do you get your new feature requests on the product roadmap?  How does the process work? Can you add new features yourself, that may provide competitive advantages, or must you wait for the vendor to add it to a roadmap?
  15. What is your mobility vendors core focus?  Is it enterprise asset management?  Is it workforce scheduling?  Is it B2C solutions?  Is it mobile banking?  You need to understand what expertise you are getting with the relationship.
  16. Is your mobile solution expertise coming from the solution vendor or a third-party system integrator?  There are advantages for both, but it is just important to know who your experts are.
  17. Ask you mobile solution vendor what percentage of their annual revenue comes from software and what portion comes from services.  This might help you understand if you are truly buying an off-the-shelf solution, or a long term services relationship.
  18. Ask for a list of all products and services sold by the mobility vendor that are likely going to cost you.  This is important to try to uncover any and all anticipated costs up front.  Ask for a typical break down of expenses for a similar project.
  19. Is the annual software maintenance fee charged the first year, or does it start on the second year?
  20. We all know and want our mobility vendors to make money.  We want them to be financially healthy and investing in R&D.  What are their business models?  How do they charge for their solutions?  Do they charge by mobile client?  Do they charge a server fee?  Do they charge a subscription by the month, but paid annually?  Do they charge for development environments?  Do they charge for their IDE/SDKs?  What is their annual maintenance costs?
  21. Upfront, getting-started costs are important to understand.  I know some mobile platform vendors that want to charge you hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of platform before there are any mobile apps.  To me this is difficult to swallow. There is no ROI on a mobile platform without apps.  I would rather pay for the platform as part of an app.  I want to pay when my ROI starts.
  22. Scalability for your mobile platform is very important to understand.  Does it take one server to support an average of 1,000 mobile users, or does it require one server to support every 100 mobile users?  This can make a huge difference in total cost of ownership.  Schedule and insist on interviewing real users that have the same numbers of users that you may require.  Don't take promises, interview real users.
  23. Often mobile solution vendors have many different products, and each product has its own feature list.  Often they do not support all the same devices, operating systems, security solutions and capabilities.  If a vendor has 25 different mobile solutions, then you need to review each to see what their capabilities are.  It is very easy to assume that because one of the products supports Android, that the other 24 products support Android.  That is rarely the case in the real world.
  24. Ask the mobile solution vendor which mobile platforms they support for each of their products. 
  25. Some mobile solution vendors only support online solutions only.  This is important to understand if you require offline support.  Ask if they support offline/online solutions or connected/disconnected solutions.
  26. Ask vendors if there are hardware dependencies in their solutions.  I know some solutions are only available on Windows Mobile 6.x operating systems.
  27. If you get a bad RFI or RFP from a good vendor.  Reject it and go higher up in the vendor's organization.  Don't give up on doing business with a good company just because one of their junior level people can't write or answer written questions.

I expect this list to continue to grow over the next few days as I think of more questions.  Can you think of more important questions?  Please add them to the comment section here and share!  Thanks!!!!

Kevin Benedict, Independent Mobile Industry Analyst, Consultant and SAP Mentor Alumnus
Follow me on Twitter @krbenedict
Full Disclosure: I am an independent mobility analyst, consultant and blogger. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.