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The paradox of mobile computing as far as the channel is concerned is that while there isn’t much money to made selling mobile computing devices, it turns out that the ecosystem of products and services surrounding mobile computing is often immensely profitable.

However, as mobile devices begin to saturate the enterprise, solution providers are now looking toward where and how the next phase of mobile computing will manifest itself.

A new study from VMware suggests that organizations are just now transitioning from acquiring mobile computing devices to enhance productivity to now figuring out how those devices and applications will transform the way they operate their businesses. Based on a global survey of 1,200 organizations, the study finds that while 85 percent of those organizations have already invested in mobile devices and applications on some level, only 17 percent are what VMware describes as having become a “mobile business.”

VMware defines a mobile business as an organization that has to one degree or another altered a business process by, for example, exposing an internal business process directly to customers via a mobile application.

“I think productivity as a driver for mobile sales will soon start to tail off,” said Mike Hulme, senior director of product marketing for VMware. “Organizations are moving past buying tablets and implementing BYOD [bring-your-own-device] policies.”

The study finds that the top challenges that IT organizations face in becoming a mobile business are security (46 percent), risks associated with data loss (32 percent) and the cost and complexity of managing the mobile computing environment (29 percent).

Naturally, all three of those areas are opportunities for solution providers that to one degree or another have already been created by the rise of mobile computing. The difference now is that the need for expertise in those areas accelerates by several orders of magnitude once an organization starts exposing business processes via mobile applications.

Corey Simpson, a principal with LatticeWorx, an IT solutions provider, said the real challenge that solution providers face going forward is remembering that mobile is only a means to a much larger end for most organizations.

“Mobile is a piece of the overall equation,” Simpson said. “A lot of organizations introduce mobile applications without putting the right infrastructure in place to support them.”

As such, it is incumbent on the solution provider to make sure the project is a success by making sure the customer understands what goes into developing a customer experience around a mobile application, Simpson said.

When it comes to mobile computing, customers can be unforgiving. Most end users will try a mobile application only once before deciding whether they will ever use it again. As a result, Simpson noted that there needs to be as much focus on the backend services that support that application as there is on the user interface through which those backend services are accessed.

For most customers, however, that’s a lot easier said than done.

Mobile computing is putting a tremendous amount of stress on existing IT environments, said Greg Richey, director of professional services at Ingram Micro. “Mobility is still in its infancy,” Richey said. “But already IT infrastructure has not kept pace.”

For that reason, a lot of the IT projects where solution providers wind up calling on Ingram Micro for professional services help often wind up involving mobile computing, Richey said.

In many ways, mobile computing may turn out to be the best thing to have happened to the channel in the last decade. While mobile computing devices themselves may often wind up being acquired directly from a vendor such as Apple or a telecommunications carrier such as AT&T, the downstream impact they have on the IT environment as a whole is considerable.

In fact, in terms of the impact mobile computing is having on demand for IT services, the industry might just now be approaching the end of the beginning.

Michael Vizard has been covering IT issues in the enterprise for more than 25 years as an editor and columnist for publications such as InfoWorld, eWEEK, Baseline, CRN, ComputerWorld and Digital Review.