BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM) made its name with mobile e-mail, but now the vendor is capitalizing on a surge in mobile applications by pushing a new server that delivers Mobile Data Systems (MDS) applications to devices independently of mobile e-mail.
This week, RIM announced the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) for MDS applications. The server mobilizes applications such as field service, salesforce automation, CRM, healthcare, transportation, logistics and SAP. The server keeps such applications separate from mobile e-mail, meaning companies can extend applications to mobile workers who do not have or do not require e-mail accounts.
"There are quite a few people who are mobile who don't have e-mail addresses as part of their daily jobs," said David Heit, senior product manager with RIM. "We're starting to see people who are mobile who have no need for e-mail."
In the past, Heit said, some industries that wanted to push MDS applications to their workforces felt restricted because, in order to do so, companies had to buy everyone an e-mail account. The BES for MDS server eliminates that need, cutting out an expense.
Examples of mobile workers who would need access to applications without the need for e-mail include truck drivers, who require dispatch programs and routing schedules but may not need a business e-mail account, or nurses and police officers who need to input or retrieve data. Another example would be hired contractors, who need access to certain business applications but do not have a company e-mail address.
Essentially, MDS is the pipeline or conduit for applications and Web traffic to and from devices. Before the announcement of the BES with MDS server, MDS was available only with mobile e-mail included.
In a statement, RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis said many corporate and government users want a wireless platform that can support multiple applications other than e-mail. The new server will mobilize those existing systems.
"With BlackBerry Enterprise Server for MDS applications, customers will be able to focus on deploying wireless applications that are most relevant and essential to specific users," Lazaridis said.
Along with access to applications, BlackBerry devices running BES on MDS can still be used as phones and browsers, and for SMS, Heit said.
The server is a complete framework for creating, deploying and managing wireless applications for BlackBerrys. According to RIM, key benefits include:
- Separation of applications from e-mail.
- Support for hosted applications: Service providers can use the server to offer hosted wireless applications to customers, independent of hosting an e-mail environment.
- Security and manageability: The server uses the same secure, push-based technology and scalable architecture as the standard BES, which gives IT simplified management and centralized control over its wireless deployments. Mobile workers get better access to applications in the field.
- Development tools: Developers will be able to extend nearly any type of application to a BlackBerry by using standard Web development tools, the BlackBerry Java Development Environment (JDE), or BlackBerry MDS Studio with BlackBerry MDS Runtime, which mobilizes applications through Web services standards such as WSDL, XML, SOAP and HTTP/HTTPS.
William Clark, research vice president at Gartner Inc., said in a statement that pushing MDS applications to field workers can boost ROI and improve productivity, accuracy and responsiveness.
"Wireless platforms are increasing their multichannel capability, which is key to reducing the amount of custom integration required to move users beyond mobile e-mail," Clark said.
In his Mobile Enterprise Weblog, Mobile Enterprise Alliance managing director Daniel Taylor said the announcement of BES for MDS shows that "RIM finally came round to the fact that the vast majority of mobile workers aren't corporate executives. In accepting this demographic fact, it's necessary to accommodate one other reality -- that the vast majority of mobile workers are field-force professionals who don't use e-mail on a day-to-day basis."
Taylor wrote, however, that he is troubled by the product's name because MDS indicates that the focus is solely on carrier mobile data services, not on enterprise WLAN or daily data updates and synchronization. He added that MDS and a server to push them could be a more costly alternative to once-a-day updates, prompting the question "whether IT departments need a proprietary solution like BlackBerry tied to expensive data services…or if the combination of SMS and daily sync is sufficient."
There are alternatives to BES for MDS, according to Taylor -- for instance, TrueContext, which is doing hosted line-of-business applications for a mobile environment built around Windows Mobile. He said that solution could give BES for MDS a run for its money.
"The advantage of BlackBerry is in mobile e-mail -- it's secure and relatively easy to integrate," Taylor wrote. "For everything else, it's a device that requires minuscule application footprints. Given the increased availability of alternatives -- Treo, Symbian, Windows Mobile 5.0 -- it's not clear that BlackBerry holds much of an advantage as a device or as a platform for line-of-business applications."