2009: The Year Mobile-Centric Apps Go Mainstream in the Enterprise | Page 2

"The good news is that the devices are becoming much more powerful," says Antenna president and CEO Jim Hemmer. "In fact, we believe handhelds will be the next big computing platform. But a PDA is as different from a laptop as a laptop is from a mainframe."

Which is why special attention has to be paid to how the device works and how users interact with it. At the simplest level, Hemmer says, design of screens and processes will be effected by the type of input— keyboard, stylus, thumbwheel and so on.

But it's more than just keeping in mind requirements, limitations and idiosyncrasies of mobile devices and networks. Like any good enterprise application, effective mobile solutions have to incorporate and in some cases carefully re-engineer business processes, making it easy for users to adapt to new tools.

"One of the reasons we've seen so many failures of mobile deployments," says Wesson, "is that companies don't look back at what they were trying to achieve with the original paper-based process."

"And too often, they force users to change the way they work—they take field service technicians who have never used a computer before, give them every single function [from the original desktop application] on a PDA and expect them to know where to go to find what they need. It's just asking for failure."

Dexterra's field service application leads users through a series of activities they already do to perform their jobs— forcing them, in fact, to perform each task in sequence.

When they arrive at a job, for example, they indicate with a single gesture on the handheld that they're now onsite. As soon as they do that, the application presents a screen to record the next transaction or prompt them to perform the next task.

Effective mobile applications on the Dexterra and Antenna model also typically interact with and must be integrated with multiple back office or desktop applications —SAP to record a parts transaction, for example, Oracle to generate invoices.

Mobile-centric applications end up being a "mash-up of data from any of those applications," Wesson says. "We do it in a transparent way so the user has no idea where the data is coming from or that it's being routed through this middleware infrastructure. They're just doing their jobs."

"That's an important differentiation from single vendor [mobile] applications."

Kerravala agrees. In fact, as more and more companies mobilize their work forces, he speculates, "the traditional packaged application may wind up becoming just a back-end data source for [mobile] mash-ups and widgets and things like that."

About 60% of development time in mobile deployments is integrating with existing systems and applications, Wesson says. Dexterra makes it easier for customers by providing pre-built application adapters that work with the most popular back-office applications, including systems from major ERP vendors.

He can't provide an estimate of the average time saving from using these adapters, but notes that one customer recently was able to get a complete Dexterra system up and running in less than a week. The average deployment time is about a month.

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