Q&A: Orange's devices chief Francois Mahieu

Orange's director of devices lays out the company's strategy and explains how his firm is handling iPhone fever.

Mobility is big business, both for operators and corporates. But what's the catch and what should companies be doing - or avoiding - to ensure success? IT PRO spoke to Orange's director of devices to talk about the company's strategy and how enterprises can make mobility work for them.

The whole world seems to have been struck down with a serious case of iPhone fever since the 3G version arrived and starting offering something more tangible to businesses. How is Orange going to convert those wearing Apple-tinted glasses?

This is definitely a question we are getting asked a lot these days. To be honest, in the last five weeks we had our best ever trading weeks of the year. All over [the business] in July, we had a fantastic month.

The iPhone 3G effect has actually been good as it has dynamised the market. The second iPhone 3G effect is the fact that everyone in the industry does recognise that Apple has got a good product and to a degree it has shaken the industry up a little bit and [has perhaps created] designs that are more balanced.

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For example, RIM's BlackBerry Bold. That product strikes a really good balance. If you try to write a text or an email you can do it twice as fast than on a touch screen device. The quality of the screen, the iconography of the desktop space really is a step ahead. We have already had a lot of interest in this product.

How has your business devices division evolved in recent years to take on new challengers like the iPhone?

We make quite a big distinction between corporate what we call MNC and small business. You see a very very clear and different pattern for both. Small businesses are absolutely following the consumer trends as they don't have the issue of fleet management. On that basis, devices like the Nokia N Series have been popular in small businesses and [perhaps not as popular] with corporate.

There's also a budget element as well. And the fact that, in corporate, you have to manage different layers of employees. You know have this getting out of the boardroom' piece because cheaper handsets have been launched. We are seeing small and medium businesses and city and financial firms [interested] and considering Nokia devices like the E71 for example to be phenomenal products.

It's matching the issues around design and usability with popularity and the wow factor with the fact that it's still a device with Microsoft Exchange built in and good business features as well as a range of accessories that are future proof.

Companies aren't compromising on many of their requests and are still asking for long battery life and accessories that they can use for another two or three years. On that basis, companies are probably better off rolling out the Nokia E71 or BlackBerry Bold than a very expensive and fragile touch screen product like the iPhone.

Businesses are increasingly using mobile tech as a way of enhancing productivity and improving value. Does Orange practice what it preaches in terms of enterprise mobility?

Yes, absolutely. It's something for us that has become almost second nature. A very simple example would be the fact that we used to have offices all over London but we now have a smaller office in Paddington and shared desks. Many employees don't come into the office everyday as they use remote tools. We are using mobile technology ourselves on a day-to-day basis.

What are the common mistakes companies make when trying to execute mobile enterprise strategies and what advice would you give them?

There are very simple things companies should consider when mobilizing their workforce. First of all, they need to understand the different needs of their workforce as not everybody needs the same mobile phone to do the same thing. We are trying to have a range of products for different usage [patterns].

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Businesses have a bunch of requirements so when our sales staff go and talk to corporate they're doing so with a full portfolio to address each individual's needs. We then talk about tools for IT managers. You can, for example, block passwords over the air or inform staff where they can return their device when it's broken. Once you do that front end development and back-end IT support you can ensure staff have good levels of security.

How important is research and development (R&D) to Orange generally and in meeting the challenges outlined above?

We try and invest two per cent of revenue on R&D. That is a very sizable chunk of money. Innovation is absolutely at the heart of everything we do. We have created a pool of competence called the techno centre' which transforms R&D into products and then they are commercialised.

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