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Are Blue Chips the underdogs in m-commerce? Asks UKFast rountable

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In 2010 smartphone purchases increased by more than 70 per cent and research shows that consumer confidence in the mobile web is growing quickly. M-commerce is a burgeoning but largely untapped market and those who make headway into it now will be the big winners when it really takes off.

Industry experts gathered at a Round Table event at the head offices of UKFast – a hosting firm to 4,000 SMEs and blue-chip clients – to discuss the opportunities and challenges presented by the emerging platform.

Lawrence Jones, managing director of UKFast, kicked off a lively debate, asking: “How do businesses develop a mobile presence that will be effective today and also be able to withstand the pressure that will come as mobile takes over as the dominant channel to market? It’s not easy.”

The panellists disputed the idea that large firms are best equipped to embrace the new direction of the internet.

Jones continued: “We’re seeing SMEs engaging in the opportunities presented by the mobile web. The smaller firms know that time is of the essence when it comes to an emerging market in the technology industry.

“It is those lean companies, that don’t have multiple levels of management to bypass, that are ready to seize this chance. There’s a risk that the larger blue chips will fall behind.”

The panel drew comparisons to traditional media companies that have only recently taken control of the online space, suggesting delays in progressing ideas through various divisions of a large company could cause them to lose out in the m-commerce market.

Andy Whitwood described a “big business mentality” whereby companies take a blinkered approach to their mobile strategy. Whitwood said: “There is more to a mobile presence than an iPhone app but that’s the trend that big businesses are focusing on. They’re not considering that once they’ve developed the iPhone app, they need an android app, then Palm and something for the Blackberry and all of those need to be supported and updated. The route they should be going down is a web app or a mobile-friendly website that can be the same across all handsets. The businesses that restrict their approach like that risk missing a big chunk of the market.”

Paul Harris, marketing director at UKFast issued a warning to businesses to think seriously about the best line of attack and make the necessary investment to guarantee they deliver a solid and secure image on the mobile web.

“I think the trust that consumers have in m-commerce now is, unfortunately, misplaced. There is still a fear of mobile web and the infrastructure and the security is very low on the agenda for most IT directors.There is a danger that businesses will make the same mistakes as they did with the web before they realised how significant their internet presence was going to be.”

And it’s not only SMEs that should be concerned. Many big brands have launched their mobile presence with the platform still in its infancy. The infrastructure of those mobile sites will be tested with the growth of the m-commerce arena and any failings in security or stability could damage even the biggest of brands.

Deri Jones, CEO of SciVisum – developer of a monitoring solution for mobile apps used by Tesco – said: “There is lots of scope for companies to damage their brand and lose sales because of a misjudged or badly developed mobile app.

“There’s nothing worse than having a nice new shiny app that lets users down. Before implementing anything that could damage the brand and lose sales, it’s important to test throughout the process.”

Matthew Ryan, chief technical director of Web Comms, an iPhone applications development and training company, added: “Apps have opened the door to bedroom coders to make money and get their apps out there. The mobile space at the moment is open for small set-ups to take advantage but as it develops it will become harder and harder to develop an app that’s interesting.”

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