Learning to Share

For providers of mobile applications, architecture and engineering firms would seem to be prime potential customers. They have tech savvy employees who are frequently on the road, visiting job sites and client offices, and they use big files that often need to be transferred, shared, and collaborated on. Unfortunately, they also tend to be addicted to dead trees and cardboard tubes.

"We're in one of those industries where the only thing that computers have done is to make it easier to print more paper," says Chris France, CIO of Charlotte, N.C.-based A&E firm Little. "Our use of paper is not going down, it's going up."

Little's customers are even less inclined to view blueprints and floorplans onscreen -- much less on mobile screens. "Our clients are even further behind technologically than we are -- many of them only have a DSL connection to their offices. They're just now coming on board to wanting digital copies for their file."

Little designs and builds commercial properties including retail outlets, office space, and public buildings such as libraries and jails. The fledgling demand for digital versions of Little's renderings that France refers to has caused a minor but significant shift in the way the company -- which has 300 people in seven offices nationwide and around $40 million in annual revenues -- does business.

The company recently started using a Web-based file transfer and collaboration service from Greensboro, N.C.-based mobile applications developer LiveCargo. The program allows smooth transfers of large files (up to 2GB for the free, downloadable version) between desktop computers and mobile devices of all sorts -- smartphones, PDAs, laptops, even basic WAP-enabled cell phones.

The LiveCargo application, says Ken Bowden, the company's executive VP of sales and marketing, comprises three different functionalities: managed file transfer, secure remote storage, and sharing and collaboration. The service includes a plug-in that enables secure managed transfers of large files directly in Microsoft Outlook rather than via email.

"As our customers get more and more mobile, inevitably we'll see new features and new capabilities added to our product to make them more productive," Bowden adds.

One of a growing array of boutique software firms providing mobile sharing and collaboration tools to vertical industries, LiveCargo will have revenues of under $5 million in 2006 and is in the process of completing a Series A round of funding that will total just over $2 million, Bowden says. The company has a distinctive business model in that its primary market will not be direct sales to enterprise users but through resellers, particularly ISPs. Two weeks ago LiveCargo signed a partnership deal with Singapore's second-largest telecom company, StarHub , to provide its software to residential and corporate broadband customers. StarHub offers a premium broadband service called MaxOnline Ultimate that provides connection speeds of up to 30 Mbit/s, and plans to launch a new 100-Mbit/s broadband service by the end of the year.

"They have over 60,000 corporate customers," says Bowden. "It's a good fit for them because they have this new 100-Mbit/s connection and they need applications to justify that premium service."

Bowden sees such mobile collaboration apps as a "value-add" that service providers can use to differentiate themselves from the competition. Large-file transfer management solutions are now available from a variety of providers, from large service providers such as Verizon Enterprise Solutions to small niche companies like Idokorro Mobile Inc. , an Ottawa-based provider of mobile access solutions including mobile FTP. Earlier this week Idokorro (Japanese for "location" or "whereabouts") said its Mobile Desktop application, which was launched last March and allows users access to files and applications on desktop computers from their wireless devices, now supports Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), and Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications devices in addition to BlackBerries.

Founded in 2001, Idokorro now claims to have 2,000 corporate customers worldwide. How many of them are architecture and engineering firms the company won't say.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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