‪Vodafone is betting that it knows enough about its SME customers to sell them a set of curated apps.‬

The UK-based operator announced last month that it plans to launch a marketplace for business apps in a number of markets alongside US-based platform-as-a-service provider AppDirect.‬

Vodafone Italy was the first to launch the service in October, with Germany, South Africa and the UK set to follow over the next few months.‬

Speaking to European Communications, Vodafone Group Enterprise Product Management Director Jeni Mundy reveals Italian SMEs have a choice of just 8-10 apps.‬

“Vodafone Italy has been very proactive at building propositions for SME customers that wrap together connectivity solutions and apps and services,” she says.‬

“It’s a complex market, there’s a lot of software players and resellers and for SMEs it can be a bit overwhelming.‬

“What we’re trying to do is make it simpler and easier by building solutions for them where they can get all of their needs in an industry specific bundle.”‬

The apps on offer are a mix of “global” apps, such as Office365 and SugarCRM, that Vodafone has struck deals with to launch across all of its markets, and “local” apps.‬

In Italy, Vodafone is targeting the hotel industry but Mundy says other verticals that the operator expects to target include retail, professional services, restaurants, construction and manufacturing.‬

Each market will determine which industries they target depending on local conditions.‬

SME customers choose their apps on a web portal and pay on a per seat, per licence basis; the costs are rolled into their existing Vodafone bill.‬

Although AppDirect is managing the underlying platform, Mundy reveals Vodafone is not going to offer AppDirect’s catalogue of apps from other vendors.‬

“We wanted to make sure we are not just sitting there with a marketplace full of hundreds of apps,” she says.‬

“We think that would be overwhelming, that’s not our strategy.‬

“What we want to be able to do is say there are certain targeted verticals that we want to help succeed and we will build a very focused set of capabilities for them along with some horizontal applications that we know a lot of businesses will use.”‬

The risk would appear to be that Vodafone will end up dictating the apps that SMEs can access.‬

Mundy says Vodafone has worked with customers “over the last two to three years” to understand their needs and is now ready to “systemise” what it has learned.‬

“Over time we can expand but I think start small, learn as you go and then grow,” she says.‬

“We’re trying to cut through the noise.”‬

Including sales to SMEs, Vodafone saw like-for-like revenues in Italy rise 1.3 percent to €1.5 billion in the three months to July, its most recent financial results.‬

The market, which is dominated by Telecom Italia, is set to be shaken up by the merger of Three and Wind next year.‬

The transaction was completed yesterday (Monday) and promised to shake up the retail and enterprise markets. ‬

Mundy declined to discuss specific targets for Vodafone Digital Marketplace.‬

“I will be happy if our customers can run their business wherever the work is, not where their office happens to be.”‬

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