Business Apps On The Go

By  Susan Nunziata — July 02, 2009

Whether your organization opts to do its own in-house development or work with some of the vast array of platform-based or solution-specific vendors, integrating mobility into your core businesses processes is not without its challenges.

Yet, the enterprises we've spoken with for this report all agree that the overarching benefits to their organizations make the effort more than worthwhile. The metrics they're applying to measure the success of their deployments -- whether it's improved productivity for field workers, enhanced management of the supply chain, or heightened customer satisfaction -- are all being met. In addition, even as these companies complete their initial stages of deployment, they're already setting their eyes on the next phase.

In their February 2009 presentation, "The Next Era: Mobile Enterprise Application Platforms and Packaged Mobile Application Vendors," Gartner analysts William Clark and Michael King  predict that the number of mobile application tools and platforms in use by enterprises will increase by 30% in 2011. By 2012, they say large corporations will need to reconcile and link tool portfolios whose lifespan will be at least five mobile architectural styles.

Gartner places platform vendors Antenna Software, Spring Wireless, Sybase and Syclo in the "leaders" quadrant of its 2008 Mobile Enterprise Application Platform (MEAP) Magic Quadrant. In addition, in its Packaged Mobile Application Marketscope, the organization gives "positive" ratings to AirClic, Bluedot, Cognito, Gearworks, Pyxis Mobile, Wonderware and Xora, each of which offers specific applications to address mobile workforce needs. These are just a handful of the many vendors providing solutions for mobilizing key business applications.

Develop Or Buy?

For some organizations, such as pest-control company Orkin, developing a proprietary solution was the chosen route (See article, page 17). "It's not as easy as it appears on the surface," says Tom Porter, CIO of Rollins, Inc., parent company of Orkin, Inc. "It's not a technology issue. It's more [an issue of] understanding the business and business fit. You can build a mobile application, but until you've actually been using it for a while you don't really understand the nuances of what it should be and what it should do, no matter how much benchmarking you do."

Porter says the process has provided key learnings about mobile user interfaces. "We're a lot smarter about what defaults should be," he says. "For example, if you do something and you use the same type of equipment or the same materials at a given customer [location] then they should bubble up to the top of the list."

David Legge, CIO of Terasen Gas, worked with Syclo, SAP and ClickSoftware to mobilize its core SAP applications (see article, this page). At the height of the two-year project, there were about 75-80 business and technical staff involved, encompassing 13 separate legal entities each bringing their individual expertise to the table, says Legge.

"It takes a great political will internally to mandate to all your individual business units that you will do these things the same way," says Legge. "And you run the risk now of having to defend any inefficiencies. You'd better be pretty comfortable you're going to be right, because you're the one going in and telling them this is how you will do your job in the future."

Long-Term Investment

Intren is a Union, IL-based enterprise whose 450 employees are affiliated with 35 different labor unions to provide construction services for utilities, municipalities, developers, contractors and other organizations. The company needed a robust and intuitive mobile solution for crew management at job sites to replace a time-intensive paper process. Penta Technologies, a provider of enterprise software for the construction industry, worked with Intren to integrate its Penta Construction ERP software with a Mobile Field Reporting solution on HP laptops equipped with wireless aircards from Verizon, Sprint and other vendors.

The deployment took about two and a half years to complete. The bottom line? The company is maximizing crew productivity, expediting billing and payroll, and eliminating paper and duplicate data entry from its crew planning, scheduling, field data reporting and approval processes. For example, Lance Rosenmeyer, the company's EVP, says time-to-bill has been reduced from two weeks to a matter of days.

Consider Your Connections

Persistent connectivity is a crucial part of mobilizing any business application. For Soberman, a chartered accounting service based in Toronto, the key was securely and reliably connecting its professional staff with its core financial services program, Case Ware.

This enabled workers to create complex financial statements and other accounting documents for clients while at customer sites or during travel throughout North America. As many as 20-40 of the company's 150 employees may be in the field at any given time.

To give them reliable access, the company deployed the Trellia mobility management platform, which enables professional staff to easily and securely connect with the Case Ware application from their laptops anywhere in the world.

The solution also gives IT the ability to manage and set policies in a way that is virtually transparent to the end user, notes Soberman's Robin Persaud, Senior Network Engineer.

For specialty popcorn manufacturer Dale & Thomas, integrating its mobile warehousing solution with its inventory management database first required an upgrade of its wireless LAN. The company worked with Siemens Enterprise Communciations (now Enterasys) to build a wireless network that enables it to effectively manage the arrival, storage, and departure of items throughout its warehouse. Warehouse workers use 20 Intermec handheld computers to scan barcodes and enter information into the inventory management system. "The wireless system is critical," says Norm Steiner, Manager of IT Infrastructure with Dale & Thomas. "Without it we'd have no inventory tracking."

For related articles:

Inside Orkin's Real-Time Customer Service Solution

Technology Meets Vision At Terasen Gas


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