Ericsson Adores a Vacuum

The three-year contract for hosted email service and smartphones announced by Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) yesterday for Swedish appliance maker Electrolux marks an important win for Ericsson in a market that it has admittedly entered late. It also represents an advance for hosted mobile email services against the more traditional enterprise-based server systems like those offered by BlackBerry maker BlackBerry .

Electrolux will roll out Ericsson's mobile email service to around 300 of its top executives and mobile employees initially, on a variety of mobile devices, with a broader deployment to follow. Hosted at Ericsson's Western Europe hosting center in Rome, the service, called Ericsson Mobile Organizer, provides Electrolux employees with the usual push email and personal-information management functions. The decision to go with Ericsson stemmed from the company's determination to standardize its mobile devices, says Electrolux CTO Frank Bolata.

"We saw little devices popping up, PDAs, etc., among our employees," Bolata explains, "and they required from an IT point view quite an intensive support effort. Each different device had different programs, different issues, and it really became a headache."

So in 2005 Electrolux, which has around 35,000 employees in Europe, decided to eliminate the hodgepodge of different systems from different providers and go with a standardized solution. It quickly became apparent, says Bolata, that the traditional default provider, RIM, was not going to be suitable in this case.

"We considered BlackBerries briefly, but we didn't put them into the final equation," comments Bolata. "We found that the functionality, especially for the devices we have as standard, on the Ericsson solution better fit than BlackBerry. As for the BlackBerry device -- it's probably behind some of the more modern phones that are coming out, that are already available in organizations for a lot of people."

That being said, the attractiveness of a hosted service -- with routine maintenance and upgrades handled by the service provider -- was also part of the calculation for Electrolux. Ericsson's mobile email solution can be implemented either on a customer's server, or delivered as a hosted service by a carrier or other service provider. BlackBerry also offers a hosted service, but the vast majority of BlackBerry enterprise customers continue to use the BlackBerry Exchange Server. To date, hosted services have been directed mostly at very small businesses or the self-employed. In the case of Electrolux, the mobile email service is hosted and managed by Ericsson itself.

"It's not just a loosely hanging solution out there," Bolata remarks. "It's supported by Ericsson, a company we have a good long-term relation with, and that was another reason we went with EMO."

"We're able to provide a seamless, hosted global service," says Urban Gillström, president of Ericsson Enterprise. "That's a significant reason why [Electrolux] decided to outsource this application to Ericsson. This deployment is really in line with the determined and dedicated strategy we have to utilize the strong presence we have in global services."

Looking forward, the question becomes: Will companies deploying customized mobile applications beyond basic email find a hosted service or a premises-based server solution more cost-effective and efficient?

"Down the road we could definitely see using this for other types of requirements besides email," says Bolata. "We have a large number of workers out in the field servicing appliances, etc., and they will be able to use [the Ericsson devices] for connecting to central databases, uploading and downloading information, and so on."

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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