Nagaraja Srivatsan, vice president of global delivery and head of the mobile enablement practice for Edison, N.J.-based SeraNova, answered readers’ questions on CIO.com about how companies can best integrate smart phones, PDAs and pagers into the enterprise
Q: Please explain the differences between the BlackBerry, the Palm Pilot and other comparable devices.
A: BlackBerry is an “always-on” device. As soon as e-mails are received at your mailbox, you are notified. The key advantage of BlackBerry is the always-on, always wirelessly connected paradigm. It is one of the first efforts to combine the flexibility of a PDA with the wireless power of a two-way communications pager. Palm Pilots use a “pull” mechanism to get e-mail and other notifications. You need to log in and then download e-mail. BlackBerry has a standard qwerty keyboard for input, whereas the Palm uses a stylus. Palm OS compatible devices are widely used, and there are a large number of packaged applications built for them, as well as extension modules (whether it be Handspring Springboard or Palm III/V add-ons). The beaming capability available with Palm OS is also an advantage.
Q: What is the best way to set a policy on PDAs? My company has already allowed PDAs in the office, and we now have all different manufacturers and synchronization software.
A: The key technical factors to consider when selecting a PDA are operating system, memory size, connectivity with corporate data, support for packaged or custom applications, and expansion capability. First you need to decide on a single type of PDA operating system to support?either Palm or Pocket PC. The PDA operating system decision is key, as most of the applications (synchronization, add-ons, prebuilt applications) are typically written for a particular OS. Although there is software available that supports both operating systems, you need different conduits for each OS.
Once you have selected the OS, you need to determine the type of applications you want to support. If you’ll be creating custom applications, then you need a good mechanism to distribute the application. You need to decide on the amount of memory that will be required?2MB is standard for most devices but provides you with limited data. So 8MB would be preferable if you will be downloading e-mail and developing custom corporate applications. You also need to decide on how you are going to synchronize. If the user will just be using e-mail and contacts, then the serial port Palm HotSync Manager is suitable. If corporate applications need to be downloaded to the device or data has to be synchronized, then you’ll need a corporate sync server like Aethers’ Scout Synch.
Q: What are some examples of corporations that have applied mobile phone technology in the true sense to improve productivity in the organization? What was the result in relation to the cost of technology involved?
A: Package delivery and dispatch service companies have long used mobile technology to improve productivity. The value of mobile computing was to provide instantaneous location and tracking of couriers and packages. The justification was made based on competitive advantage and increased customer service, as well as increased productivity of couriers. United Parcel Service, for example, has been quoted as saying that its investment in wireless technology is “an investment in the customer,” but that if packages were tracked without a mobile device, then there would be additional call center and service representative costs involved. Utility and energy companies have also been users of wireless technology when sending critical data from remote locations to their regional offices. Technicians and surveyors routinely send information regarding condition/damage levels for gas lines, power lines and so on. The justification for the technology can be made in terms of the revenue losses, as well as the liability costs because of extended service outages.
Q: What are some tips for integrating wireless devices into a company’s business intelligence systems. For example, how do we identify and deliver the information that is especially sensitive to delivery latency?
A: Typically, mobile applications that add value are those that deliver information with immediate value to the user. There are two issues involved in delivering content from business intelligence tools: The first is the extraction of the information from the business intelligence application, and the second is how to deliver the content to the wireless device. You can clearly develop an application that separates the two layers and identify the requirements to enhance the performance of your application.
Q: Our company is in the process of devising its e-commerce strategy. We have a browser-based ERP system and would like to have data available (sales figures, order status, project status and so on) for our sales force prior to and during visits with customers. One method of deploying the info we are considering would be through a PDA. Is the bandwidth acceptable for this type of data transmission?
A: It is possible to mobile enable browser-based applications, so if you already have ERP reports going to your browser, technology is available that can take the HTML data stream as input and deliver it to mobile devices. Of course, we do not recommend mobile enabling extensive financial reports and similar projects. The effective bandwidth available is close to 14.4Kbps, so it is imperative to carefully select the reports and information that is relevant, necessary and of real actionable value for delivery to mobile devices. If the ERP reports are complex or contain graphics, then the mobile application can initiate the process to fax the report to a user provided number. The following parameters affect the performance of a mobile application:
- Data transmission from mobile device to the carrier (typically 14.4Kbps).
- Connection between the carrier and your ISP (public Internet or dedicated links).
- Connection between your ISP and ERP system.
Depending on the type of information, you can design the mobile application as follows:
- Use serial HotSync to synchronize the static data from a PDA to an ERP. This can be done whenever the sales force is attached to a computer.
- Develop wireless application only for dynamic data?that is information that is changing on a regular basis and may have time-sensitive value.
- Use the wireless medium to synchronize the changes between the PDA and ERP.