Extending big business software to the phone

Wilter and Arno du Toit

Virtual Mobile Technologies (VMT), a local technology company backed by empowerment group Mvelaphanda, has developed products for mobile devices that integrate seamlessly with enterprise software systems like SAP used by big business. But unlike most such applications, VMT says its solutions work on even old feature phones.

And the company is hoping to take the technology to emerging markets worldwide.

VMT says its solution will work on old, monochromatic, three-line-LCD-based cellphones, right up to the latest and greatest smartphones. This, it believes, gives it a big advantage in emerging markets over its rivals.

The company, founded in 2005 by brothers Arno and Wilter du Toit, wants to extend companies’ enterprise resource planning, enterprise relationship management, banking, inventory management and similar systems onto mobile devices.

Aside from offering platform-specific applications for high-end mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, VMT also creates products that make use of a cellphone technology known as USSD, or “unstructured supplementary service data”, so even older devices can be used.

“Companies don’t have to choose which platform to use,” says Arno du Toit. “When something like Windows Phone 7 comes out, we ensure our products support it, so our solutions remain relevant. Our clients can continue reaching all devices without having to have a development team. It’s also a de-risking in terms of decision making: if a company decides to change devices there are no compatibility problems.”

Wilter du Toit says that this sort of flexibility is essential because the respective market share of the various mobile operating systems shifts all the time. His brother says VMT can adapt to the market as it changes while “managing security, versioning and enterprise integration”.

“Any enterprise service you’re running can now be extended to mobile,” says Wilter. “It’s difficult for companies, even internally, to dictate what devices employees can use.”

The company’s clients include Elizabeth Arden, Imbongi Capital, Zambian mobile banking services company MTZL, Salesforce.com and a handful of Indonesian partners offering VMT’s services in the region.

Wilter du Toit says the company’s support of cheaper and older phones is crucial to its strategy of expansion in emerging markets. “Those are the markets in which we’re most interested,” he says. “Our Indonesian presence is growing, and from there we want to move into other emerging markets.”

Arno du Toit says a number of companies focus on smartphone and tablet applications, and cover the shortfall by means of mobile Web solutions. He says many companies are unaware that they can also reach midrange devices with secure mobile applications.

“Our products can push payslips, leave requests, and other things that help mobilise HR departments,” says Arno du Toit. “We can assist mobile sales forces, streamline mobile workflows and task management, provide mobile access to customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning systems, and provide additional enterprise solutions based on an individual client.”

Wilter says many companies spend large amounts of money on enterprise software systems but don’t always see a return on their investment. “Mobility increases that return by allowing customers and clients to access it and by allowing staff to access information remotely that they would otherwise have to come into an office to get.”

In order to develop its products, VMT has created its own “mobile enterprise application platform” called Ramp. Ramp’s security is endorsed by the US federal technology agency, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and developers interested in it can download it here.

“We’d like to be the mobile solutions standard for enterprises in emerging markets,” says Wilter du Toit. “This is a market with great potential and one that needs high-quality, secure mobile services.”  — Craig Wilson, TechCentral

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