By 2007, 75% of Fortune 2000 companies will support mobile wireless applications like e-mail, internet/intranet...
access or CRM (Source: Gartner Group)
In today's increasingly distributed business environment, organizations are seeking new ways to share information across the enterprise, decentralize decision making, be more responsive to customers, and reduce costs. To achieve these goals, many companies are considering the adoption of enterprise mobility systems. Organizations are finding that these systems often have a dramatic return on investment and achieve a lasting competitive advantage. By extending corporate applications to professionals in the field, enterprises are able to streamline operations, increase productivity, and improve the quality of customer and partner relationships.
This market shift is accelerated by the commercial availability of powerful Java databases capable of running on memory-constrained devices that are supported by reliable and secure synchronization. Systems integrators, independent software developers, and corporate IT departments are turning to these commercial products to expedite the development of powerful mobile applications and open new markets.
This article discusses the impact of mobility on today's business environments and on a variety of enterprise-wide applications. It also examines the growing influence of Java and the capabilities that make it a leader in mobile development. Finally, we explore the introduction of mobile databases to support mission-critical software and the functionalities IT management should look for when evaluating them.
The growing functionality of today's mobile applications
According to research firm In-Stat/MDR, 39 million field workers will be making daily use of enterprise mobility solutions by the year 2006. "Enterprise mobility" refers to the business process whereby field professionals make use of extended enterprise information and occasionally interact with back-end databases to exchange updates. It differs from today's "wireless" systems in that enterprise mobility solutions are not dependent on the use of a wireless network to deliver substantial business benefits. "Always connected" wireless access poses a number of challenges for enterprises, including high connectivity costs and transmission latency. Though wireless coverage is broad, it is not ubiquitous nor is it fully reliable. Field personnel cannot manage their data by relying on such systems. Instead, most successful enterprise applications are designed for "occasionally connected" architectures, where information is stored locally and periodically synchronized with back-end enterprise databases as needed or when convenient.
Enterprises use these mobile models to support a range of applications, including faster access to e-mail and PIM applications. Some companies use mobile technologies and customized devices for niche applications that provide immediate ROI, such as specialized types of data collection including travel planning, expense reports, timesheets, procurement requests, and other inter-office functions.
However, the fastest-growing arena in enterprise mobility is connecting with mission-critical applications such as ERP, FSA, CRM, and a wide variety of field force automation software. With the availability of powerful synchronization and local data management, enterprises are realizing new benefits gained from better information-sharing and data collection in the field. These gains are leading to new business opportunities and significant improvements in long-term ROI.
Enterprise mobility at work
Enterprise mobility reaches across an exceptionally wide range of business activities. The benefits include both direct financial returns and overall operational efficiencies, such as:
- Increased field and mobile worker productivity
- More personalized and responsive customer service
- More accurate information from the field
- Improved inventory management
- Expedited management of administrative tasks
- Reduced total cost of ownership
For example, transportation and logistics organizations utilize mobile applications to connect the front office, loading docks, and drivers. Not only does this improve communication throughout the organization, but it also lowers costs by reducing theft and loss, and improves customer service. In healthcare, physicians with mobile applications can reduce the time spent on administrative tasks, resulting in faster diagnosis and better patient care.
Mobile enterprise applications also have a strong impact on public safety. Their information-sharing capabilities enable more efficient deployment of medical personnel and law enforcement, helping to ensure safer communities. Utilities workers use mobile applications to automatically dispatch work crews, electronically accessing technical information, and track equipment and supplies.
Mobile applications are also used for regulatory inspections to enable the error-free capture of data in a standardized format. Synchronizing data to back-end systems after inspection reduces data latency and eliminates paperwork. Other industries also rely on mobility to support sales, retail, and manufacturing. By providing field workers and mobile professionals with the information they need, when and where they need it, organizations across all industry verticals can gain a significant competitive edge.
The use of Java for enterprise mobility
Java has established itself over the past six years as a mature technology that is suitable for enterprise-class mobility projects such as those just discussed. Its advantages include complete cross-platform portability that enables the same code to be utilized across multiple mobile platforms. Java-based connectivity enhancements offer the reliability and availability required by the mobile enterprise.
Java is a widely accepted programming language and execution environment, in use in 70% of enterprises. The Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) technology is the de facto standard for large-scale e-commerce solutions. As these applications are extended for mobility, system architects turn to the related technologies of Java 2 Standard Edition (J2SE) and Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME). J2SE brings the advantages of Java to PCs, laptops, tablet computers and PDAs, while J2ME is a small-footprint version of Java that is the foundational software technology for the majority of the world's cell phones and smart phones.
While other approaches tend to lock developers into a single proprietary hardware and software platform, Java enables portability across a wide range of platforms. It also lowers integration costs, since it can simultaneously support several connected devices in heterogeneous environments. This is a special advantage in most enterprise situations where mobility is normally being added to existing systems.
Selecting the best mobile database and synchronization solution
A scalable enterprise mobility solution should implement local databases and synchronize information with corporate databases. A mobile database has a unique set of requirements that ensure compatibility, effectiveness and scalability:
- Small footprint to run effectively using limited device resources
- Storage optimization for diskless environment.
- Portability to widely varying architectures and device platforms
- Standards-based and compatible with SQL and Java
- Full support for applications running SQL queries on handheld devices
- Capable of multiple, simultaneous connections
- Security and transaction integrity
Furthermore, the mobile database should also easily integrate with synchronization technologies to achieve the bi-directional exchange and update of information with corporate databases and applications. Developers need a database solution that provides platform-independent, bi-directional synchronization to facilitate the flow of information, as well as offers scalable connectivity to accommodate a growing number of users. Users can also be assisted by such utilities as conflict detection and resolution tools, which automatically reconcile data conflicts between simultaneously connected users.
Enterprises are extending mission-critical enterprise data via mobile applications to realize a wide range of benefits, including worker productivity, better customer service, improved operations, and reduced cost of ownership. Enterprise mobility solutions for Java introduce a whole new class of mobile applications that can be easily, efficiently, and effectively developed to improve business operations. With enterprise mobility, organizations can share information across the business and beyond in order to improve service levels, make more strategic decisions, and improve productivity.
Steve Jones, Managing Director of Engineering & Support, PointBase
Steve is responsible for PointBase product development, which includes an innovative family of 100% Java, SQL Relational Database Management (RDBMS) and Synchronization products that are ideal for embedding in a wide range of applications. Because they are all Java, they are highly portable.