How Intrepid Companies Are Getting Their Business Apps Onto Smartphones
It's a process fraught with trade-offs but critical to a more-mobile workforce.
Why Is This My Problem?
Jazz Pharmaceuticals shows the often-maddening compromises companies have to make as they try to give employees more mobile capabilities. Jazz salespeople now carry two smartphones: a BlackBerry and a Windows Mobile-based AT&T Tilt. Jazz doesn't want to use the Tilt for e-mail syncing, because BlackBerry's service is far superior, says IT director George Gindoyan. But salespeople need the Tilt to capture physician signatures, a capability not offered on BlackBerrys.
So at Jazz, a drugmaker focused on neurological and psychiatric illnesses, Oracle's Siebel CRM runs on the Tilt. Jazz actually disables Microsoft Office on the Tilt, using Sybase's Afaria mobile management software, because some of the Office features conflict with Siebel. Ideally, Gindoyan would like to adopt an Internet-based thin-client approach, allowing salespeople to use any device, but they wouldn't always be connected. Cellular coverage can be difficult to get, and its use is often prohibited in doctors' offices.
Hologic, which makes mammography machines and other medical equipment, is moving in a different direction, trying to keep the number of devices and apps down. But CIO David Rudzinsky has had to compromise as well.
The company's IT team developed an application for salespeople that runs on BlackBerrys and connects to the back-end Siebel CRM server. Since it was impossible to put the entire contents of a customer record on a tiny screen, it used a development kit from mobile software vendor Antenna Software to craft an app that gives salespeople only the critical data likely to be needed on sales calls, such as details about the person they're meeting with.
Rudzinsky's mobile strategy is an extension of his broader IT philosophy: to consolidate as much as he can onto an integrated platform, with fewer vendors. So ideally, Rudzinsky would have left Antenna out of the picture. "Having extra moving parts and pieces with third parties like Antenna makes me nervous," he says. Yet Rudzinsky uses Antenna because he hasn't been happy with the performance of the Siebel CRM version that runs directly with BlackBerrys, which Oracle has offered since late 2007. "It's now getting better," he says. Rudzinsky wants Oracle to be an even bigger player in mobile--he says he'd be glad to see it acquire Antenna and its middleware.
Hologic and Jazz show the workarounds IT is having to go through to meet mobile goals. Look for IT leaders to put a lot more pressure on enterprise software vendors to make mobilizing apps easier. SAP and Oracle have been slow to deliver, but there are signs of progress.
SAP, which has supported only Windows Mobile for its CRM application, is due to introduce software next month to deliver a mobile version of its CRM product to BlackBerrys. But that device-by-device approach will work for only so long, so SAP has teamed with Sybase to develop software that lets customers more easily port apps to multiple devices.
SAP and Sybase will take two approaches to mobilizing enterprise apps. One, they'll make available business process widgets that handle a specific function (such as a business travel approval) to run on any mobile device. Sybase's middleware will push the widgets via e-mail to mobile phones, and then manage the communications between the widgets and back-end servers. The two vendors also plan to make it easier for SAP customers to develop full mobile client applications, building the basic functionality and selecting the data sources using Sybase's developer kit, then using a mobile device manufacturer's kit to create a user interface for each phone the company allows.
Oracle also started with a device-specific approach. In late 2007, Oracle began offering Siebel CRM for the BlackBerry OS, followed in 2008 by a BlackBerry Java client that salespeople could use to connect to Oracle's CRM On Demand hosted software service. It also worked with Nokia last year to let people run its Database Lite on the Symbian OS-based E90 Communicator, and began supporting the E90's browser to let users access Siebel applications. More recently, however, it has focused on building native apps for the iPhone, available on Apple's App Store.
Oracle now has a multidevice strategy of its own, promising later this year to enhance its Fusion middleware's Application Development Framework for iPhone and BlackBerry developers. Those enhancements will include more support for Java, says Oracle application development VP Lenley Hensarling. Microsoft's .Net and C# languages are lower priorities, he says.
Building A Mobile Business MindsetAmong 688 respondents, 46% have deployed mobile apps, with an additional 24% planning to in the next year. Soon all apps will look like mobile apps – and it's past time for those with no plans to get cracking.