HP launches mobile services

Hewlett-Packard leapt on board the mobile electronic-commerce bandwagon last week with the introduction of new mobile e-services aimed at generating commerce on the go.

The HP Mobile Enterprise E-Commerce Solution also dubbed the mobile e-services package, will add mobile e-commerce functionality to an enterprise's existing e-commerce infrastructure, according to HP. Such functionality will help companies conduct business with their customers via mobile devices, including mobile phones, handhelds and laptops. The initiative will integrate BroadVision's suite of wireless applications into HP's network and systems management software OpenView Manager.

In addition to the software, HP will provide the middleware, system integration, consulting and appliances to enable a mobile, e-commerce architecture. This mobile e-commerce solution will include selling and integrating HP servers with the software into a company's existing e-commerce infrastructure as well as selling mobile devices like HP's laptops or Jornada handhelds that transact with the HP server to conduct mobile e-commerce.

The Mobile Enterprise E-Commerce Solution initiative "will be a cross-company effort, touching all HP's product groups, back-end and front-end businesses," said John Chapman, director of strategy and business development for HP's e-services solutions division.

"If a company requests mobile printing, we would be selling HP's printers as part of the mobile e-services package," he said.

The insurance industry is a good example where HP's mobile e-services package can be effectively implemented, according to Chapman. "Insurance companies have billions of (US) dollars worth of assets," he said. "They have several thousand sales and service professionals who need on-the-go communication with the company, their customers and insurance service providers. The mobile e-commerce solution will centralise all that and also allow them to access legacy apps on corporate databases."

Real-world applications of HP's mobile enterprise e-services could be as simple as notifying a customer of changes in their flight schedules or giving them access to relevant information when in a new town, said Chapman. The mobile e-commerce system will also allow access to advanced applications such as banking and financial services, he added.

To allow for easy integration into a company's existing e-commerce system, HP's enterprise mobile e-commerce package has been developed based on open architectures and standards, such as WAP (wireless application protocol) and generic technologies, Chapman said. "Proprietary technology takes a company nowhere. You can't lock in one technology over the long term," he added.

The mobile e-commerce initiative is an extension to HP's E-Garage program, which was introduced earlier this year to assist Internet startups, including dotcoms and ASPs (application service providers) to exploit the power of e-commerce over wireline devices. This initiative will extend E-Garage's focus to e-commerce over mobile devices.

Mobile e-commerce will grow in the coming years, Chapman predicted, surpassing e-commerce conducted via wireline devices. "In the next few years, the number of mobile users will cross the threshold of a billion users," he said. "When the third-generation (3G) network infrastructure is in place, the connectivity and functionality of wireless applications will improve. That is when mobile commerce will take off. We can't see it now, but it will happen."

Over 18 months of research and development has led to the creation of the enterprise mobile e-services package, and a lot of investment has gone into the initiative as well, but Chapman isn't too worried about when exactly HP's early investments in the mobile e-commerce arena may pay off.

"We worry less about when it will happen," he said.

HP is partnering with companies like Aspiro, Brience and others, to provide a centralised point of contact to companies needing mobile e-commerce services, Chapman said. This eliminates the need for a customer to deal with different vendors when implementing mobile e-services into their e-commerce infrastructure.

"Problems occur when customers have to deal with many vendors. Partnering allows us to offer the customer a one-stop shop for hardware, software and consulting," Chapman said.

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