Nokia took a small step toward a big goal this month.

That step is a new version of its device-management software, which lets customers control and provision mobile devices, such as smart-phones and PDAs.

Nokia's goal is to be the linchpin in corporate mobility by offering a variety of products, from handsets to server software that together give mobile workers secure access to enterprise applications.

Achieving that goal is the task of the Enterprise Solutions division, created in 2004, under former HP executive Mary McDowell. In 2005 the division's net sales, including enterprise-class smart-phones, network firewall and VPN products, and now mobile e-mail and device management software, amounted to US$1.05 billion, less than 3 percent of Nokia's total sales. Worse, Nokia executives cited the division's losses as a drag on 2005 profits. Nokia officials say the division is scheduled to be profitable in 2007.

Buying Intellisync
Nokia confirmed the importance of the new business unit in 2005, however, when the board approved a big step: the $430 million acquisition, completed two months ago, of Intellisync, a software vendor offering data-synchronisation middleware with an application for push e-mail and a suite of device-management applications.

"This acquisition really expands their role into mobile e-mail, groupware and PIM [personal information management]," says Cliff Raskind, director of wireless enterprise strategies for Strategy Analytics in Boston. "And it gives them instant presence with CDMA [Code Division Multiple Access] carriers in the United States, where Nokia has had almost no presence."

The Intellisync software will provide the underpinnings for Nokia Business Center, a 2005 package of hardware and software for push e-mail and for mobilising a range of business applications that was initially targeted as an inexpensive offering for small-to-midsize companies. The offering was a direct challenge to Microsoft, Research in Motion and Sybase (which bought Extended Systems in August 2005).

The software announced this week introduces the Open Mobile Alliance Device Management standard into the Intellisync Device Management suite. The OMA-DM is a set of industry protocols and mechanisms for managing mobile- and wireless-connected devices. The release also will give administrators new controls over what file types and sizes can be downloaded to handhelds.

This kind of centralised administration is essential to make mobile devices a true extension of the enterprise, says Olivier Cognet, the division's executive vice president of business development.

It ain't just email
"The driver for Nokia is this: If we just want to sell some more phones to the enterprise, that won't get us very far," he says. "We want to enable all the enterprise applications, not just e-mail, that these employees need."

To do so, the enterprise division is working in four areas.

  • First, it is creating a new breed of mobile terminals, exemplified by the E Series handhelds released in late 2005 and designed for business users. The E Series can run GSM, wide-band CDMA, wireless LAN, and Bluetooth interfaces, and support an array of corporate e-mail applications, VoIP and Session Initiation Protocol-based services.
  • Second, it is securing the data on the devices and the network communications, via Nokia's longstanding security-appliance business, which generates about $300 million a year for the division, Cognet says. These firewall and VPN products are being refined to secure mobile devices better. "We'll keep adding to this [capability]," he says. "If a [mobile] terminal connects to the corporate e-mail infrastructure, the e-mail application has to be protected against a wider array of threats, since the [client] device is functioning outside the enterprise."
  • Third, it is bringing an array of enterprise voice and data applications securely to the mobile device. One key project is the initial partnership, launched in 2005, with Avaya and Cisco to link Nokia mobile phones with their IP PBX products. "We think the cellular phone will be the primary business phone, a single number, a single voice mail system," Cognet says. Customer trials are under way, and Cognet says this capability will debut later in 2006. At the same time, to simplify connections with the Nokia Business Center middleware, the enterprise division has been forging partnerships with e-mail vendors and more recently with IBM, Oracle, SAP and other application vendors.
  • The fourth area is device management, now largely based on the Intellisync products, which support various operating systems. Until now, most of Nokia's focus has been on supporting its own Symbian-based devices.

Is Nokia really willing to support non-Nokia devices? Cognet says he encountered that skepticism with Intellisync's carrier and enterprise customers.

"I told them, 'First, we are telling you that [supporting other platforms] is our intent, so judge us on our execution,'" Cognet says. "'Second, the Enterprise Solutions division serves the enterprise, not [Nokia's mobile phone division].'"