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The wrong places for mobile applications

While mobile enterprise applications get plenty of press coverage, the truth is that few companies are really using them, according to a recent report by Forrester Research Inc. Existing network problems and a slow economy may be partly to blame, but vendors also have plenty to learn about developing applications that integrate well with existing systems, said Charles Homs, a senior analyst with the Cambridge, Mass.-based research firm. Enterprises also need to learn how to effectively integrate mobile applications into their work environments, said Homs, who gave SearchMobileComputing.com an update on the state of mobile application implementations.

How are enterprises using mobile applications today?
On the one hand, you could argue that we've become more mobile, but you can also argue the contrary. Some vendors will say that it's fantastic to be able to do orders on the fly when a field sales rep is out visiting a customer. But, in fact, [that functionality] may not be very useful to a field sales person. The field person should actually be managing the contact with customers -- a face for the company and for customer acquisition. A device in that environment actually harms the interpersonal communication.

On the other hand, you might have a mobile field service person who finishes a job, and has a customer sign off on it there [using a mobile device]. He can also get information about his next job without going to the office. In that case, it can be helpful, since it increases the accuracy of the work. In your report, you were very impressed with a tiny mobile application startup named Aligo Inc. Why?
Its product is very forward-looking. The company makes sure that you are not constrained by any device. Devices evolve very quickly, and applications should be able to work with many different devices now, and in the future. This company separates the application logic from how it communicates with the device. It has landed some big reference customers. It stands out not only in terms of architecture, but also in how it markets itself, as well as with its customer service. You also gave Oracle Corp. high marks for its mobile applications. Why?
Oracle pays a lot of attention to mobile technology. Its mobile applications are very closely integrated with its databases, more so than most other vendors. Why aren't companies adopting mobile applications?
Network coverage is not as good as it could be. With much of this technology, it is hard to say if it generates any kind of return. People may do their job better or do more work, but it is fairly questionable whether it makes a big difference. Also, mobile workers do not do the same kind of work they would do in the office. You need a certain amount of your attention to be on where you are, where you are going. You can only do a subset of your activity in a mobile environment. What technologies should users keep an eye on?
Enterprise application integration will be important to watch. Linux is also starting to play a role. Oracle, for example, is already experimenting with that. Microsoft [Corp.] has also taken mobile computing very seriously, and it will bring out a lot of new technologies.

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What is the most important component of a mobile application?
Integration. But integration is also a significant cost, and can take up a lot of man-hours. What we often see is that the integration is more costly than the device or the network charges. What are the biggest challenges in a successful mobile deployment?
Often it is understanding and working with the circumstances the individual will be in when using the device, and, again, understanding that he will only be able to do a subset of his work. One example is KLM, the airline. It wanted to give mobile devices to the engineers that service its passenger planes. The company felt that if it gave its workers PDAs, they would spend a lot of time staring at them, and might not pay attention to where they were going. It was concerned they might fall out of the plane or injure themselves. Instead of PDAs, it gave them an Internet-connected van with a number of laptops inside. There, the engineers could look over plans and look up all the data they needed, but then keep their attention focused on the job while aboard the plane.

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