IBM, Symbol partnership delivers mobile integration

IBM is helping Symbol Technologies make its mobile devices work better with back-end systems. Symbol's new rugged handhelds and bar code scanners will be able to access information from Siebel, SAP and PeopleSoft applications.

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Thanks to a new partnership with IBM, Symbol Technologies Inc. customers can look forward to getting more functionality from their wireless devices.

The Holtsville, N.Y.-based provider of wireless access points and rugged devices will use hardware, software and services from IBM to build new types of customized wireless devices, including handheld computers and bar code scanners. The new devices will offer better back-end integration capabilities, said David Green, Symbol's director of global strategic alliances.

Green said the move was part of his company's long-term strategy to provide solutions, instead of just selling hardware.

According to Jack Gold, vice president with the Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group, Symbol's new strategy is a savvy one, because the company has never been strong in the area of integration. At the same time, IBM has lacked a solid footing in the rugged-device market. With this partnership, Gold said, each company can take advantage of the other's strengths.

The relationship is meant to enhance a broad range of Symbol's wired and wireless scanners, as well as rugged handheld devices, especially those that target specific industries.

Going forward, Symbol's rugged devices will run IBM's WebSphere Micro Edition platform, which is compatible with applications from vendors such as Siebel Systems Inc., SAP AG, J.D. Edwards & Co. and PeopleSoft Inc., said John Eberly, global alliance manager with IBM Global Services. WebSphere will enable mobile access to data from those vendors' applications.

For instance, with IBM's platform, mobile-device users will be able to update database records and retrieve server-based data, all in real time. That functionality would be useful in supply chain management and in enabling sales and field force mobility, Green said.

The platform is compatible with all wireless air interfaces, and Symbol also intends to integrate WebSphere into radio frequency identification (RFID) devices as well, Green said.

Part of the reason this partnership is a timely and positive move for Symbol is that mobile devices are becoming less expensive, Gold said. Rugged handhelds now cost between $800 and $1,200, compared with $7,000 for similar handhelds just a few years ago, Gold said. However, even though they may be more affordable, companies expect mobile devices to be able to do more.

Along with increased usage, businesses now expect customized mobile devices to be able to track inventory and perform other complex functions, he said.

"There has been a realization by many companies that giving mobile devices to workers in the field is increasingly [becoming] a requirement for doing business," Gold said.

This move will also better enable Symbol to compete with Intermec Technologies Corp., the other significant vendor in the rugged-handheld market. Intermec already has an in-house group that handles integration for its customers, Gold said, but Symbol's deal with IBM will likely level the playing field.

Gold said Symbol's customers might be wary of IBM's eagerness to push WebSphere, even with those customers that are more Microsoft-centric.

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