Thursday, December 21, 2006

MobileDataforce Announces a Reseller Agreement with Abox for Mobile Software

MobileDataforce announces today a reseller partnership with Abox. In this agreement Abox will resell MobileDataforce's mobile software, the PointSync Mobility Platform in Spain, Portugal, France and many areas of Africa. We are very excited about this relationship. This will help us provide our customers and sales prospects with localized sales and technical support across a significant geographical area for our mobile software solutions used on handheld PDAs and Smartphones.

MobileDataforce's market for handheld PDA and smartphone software has been growing rapidly around the world with offices in North America, Sydney, Australia and Den Bosch, The Netherlands.

Our channel partners are the key to our success. They provide localized business knowledge as well as vertical expertise.

MobileDataforce Announces a Reseller Agreement with Sybase South Africa

MobileDataforce today announces a reseller partnership with Sybase South Africa for delivering mobile handheld PDA and smartphone applications. In this reseller partnership, Sybase South Africa will be reselling MobileDataforce's PointSync Mobility Platform to companies and government agencies interested in field mobility including, inspection software, work orders and asset management on handheld PDAs and smartphones.

Interest in MobileDataforce's mobile software solutions is growing rapidly and we have a significant sales pipeline in South Africa that reflects an expanding market for mobile applications.

We are very excited to work with Sybase South African. This partnership will enable MobileDataforce's mobile solutions to be supported locally with the highest level of professionalism and attention.

Airlines and PDAs

NEW YORK (CNN) -- From cell phone use to high-speed Internet access, the connected life is spreading to the skies.

In January, Emirates airline plans to launch mobile phone usage in its planes, making it the first airline to allow passengers to make cell phone calls on its flights. And Australian carrier Qantas plans to start evaluating technology that lets fliers use their cell phones and PDAs during flight early next year.

10 Steps to a Successful Mobile Software Deployment on Handheld PDAs and Smartphones

Tim Cerami, a brilliant Mobile Systems Architect here at MobileDataforce, did us all a big service by documenting his thoughts on how to conduct a successful mobile software deployment on smartphones and handheld PDAs in the following article.

Companies around the globe are looking for ways to do more with less. Many recognize that their mobile workforce is being managed inefficiently and extending business process automation to mobile field workers is becoming a priority. The following 10 steps identify how you can get started automating and mobilizing these business processes.

Step 1 – Understand the ROI/Scope of the Project and Plan Ahead

“What’s the number one reason a mobile project fails?” is a common question we get asked. The answers are that many companies don’t put enough upfront thought into defining the requirements, scheduling testing resources and planning a deployment strategy. The results of these deficiencies are project scope creep, cost overruns, missed deadlines, poor user acceptance and sometimes even complete project failure.

Step 2 – Build a Team of Stakeholders

Make sure the members of your team have the right roles and responsibilities to help the project succeed. Mobile solutions usually tie into other corporate IT assets and business processes, therefore impacted members of your IT department and business units need to be on the project team. In addition, a representative mobile field worker(s) should be included on the project team to provide valuable “real-world” insight.

Step 3 – Select a Partner That Specializes in Mobility Solutions

Performing successful data synchronization from mobile computing devices can be a challenging and complex task. There are many variables that can affect the results of synchronization. To insure you get your solution done correctly the first time, you need experienced experts in mobile technology. You need technologists who specialize in the design, development, deployment and support of enterprise mobile solutions.

Step 4 – Know Your Target Users and Their Environment
During the planning and scoping phase of your mobile project, take time to experience the working environment of your mobile workers and observe the business processes in action. Pay specific attention to how information is collected and exchanged between the office and the mobile workers. These observations can significantly impact the design, development and deployment of a successful project! Evaluate the physical environment of the work. How do moist, cold and dirty environments impact the mobile devices? How does low light or bright sunlight affect visibility of the screen? Can workers read the small text on the PDA screen, or does the text need to be larger? Step 5 – Don’t Underestimate the Complexity of Synchronizing Field Data

One of the biggest mistakes a project planner or IT department can make is to underestimate how complex data synchronization can be. Part of designing a solid and reliable mobile solution is to select robust synchronization middleware and to spend time designing and testing the data synchronization. Without the right middleware and design your end users could encounter issues such as extra long sync times (hours, not minutes), duplicate records, incomplete data, lost data and even database corruption. Every one of these issues will trickle down to your support department, so designing it right the first time is very important.

Step 6 – Build in Phases

Most successful projects involve a series of phased implementations. Each phase can be developed, tested and implemented in an orderly manner. Once a phase is deployed and proven, additional phases can be layered on top that include more features and added complexity. Remember, the more data requirements that you add the more data you must synchronize, and the longer each synchronization session will take. Only synchronize data that your remote users require in the field. In addition, most mobile devices don’t have the same CPU power or memory as a PC/laptop, so be aware of how the performance of your solution will be affected by a smaller, lower powered device.

Step 7 – Evaluate Your Hardware and Connectivity Needs

The term “mobile devices” can have many different interpretations. Today, laptops, Tablet PC’s, UMPCs, PDAs and Smart phones are all identified with this term. When determining the best mobile device for your project you will want to consider screen size, data storage capacity, security, physical working environment, required hardware accessories such as barcode scanners, GPS, digital cameras, RFID, and the ability to upgrade the device with updated hardware and software components.

How do you connect your mobile device to your enterprise database applications? You have many options including cradle, WiFi, satellite, Bluetooth, wireless, dial-up modems and satellite uplinks to name a few. The method(s) you choose will be affected by how often your mobile workers need to send/receive data. How much data will be transmitted and will they always have connectivity. Study each option, your working environment and consult your mobility partner to make the best selections.

Step 8 – Deploy to a Limited Focus Group, Evaluate and Improve

Once you have completed version 1 of your mobile solution and you are ready to deploy in the real world, roll out your solution to a small group of trusted and motivated users. Define a specific period of time to evaluate the solution, document the results and identify any required changes and improvements. The result of this evaluation should be an improved mobile solution that is ready for wide deployment.

Step 9 – Set and Enforce Hardware and Security Policies

Mobile devices are small computers with the ability to store sensitive corporate data, communicate this data over the Internet and even catch viruses. You must clearly communicate how mobile devices are to be used and for what purpose. Establish and publish guidelines for using mobile devices.

Step 10 – Provide Full Support for Mobile Users

Mobile devices are guaranteed to break. What is your plan for keeping a mobile worker productive and communicating business critical information when their mobile device ceases to function or gets misplaced? These are inevitable issues that are best planned for in advance. Have a plan and a documented back up process.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Mountain Tragedies & Modern Mobile GPS & Data Solutions

This last week I have been captivated by the tragic mountain climbing accident that took place on Mt. Hood in Oregon. Three experienced mountain climbers were caught in 100 mph winds and temperatures below zero on the very top of Mt. Hood at over 11,000 feet. It took over a week to find the snow caves that the climbers had used. Tragically it appears that they all may have succumbed to injuries and the cold. One of the climbers had been able to make a mobile phone call asking for help, but then went silent.
As a person involved in the mobile data collection software industry, I began to think about the software tools and technologies that could be used to help find missing climbers, hunters, hikers and other outdoorsman faster.
Today, many mobile Smart phones can be purchased with GPS receivers built in. Software companies like MobileDataforce can easily create data collection applications that would automatically report the location of the user at specific time intervals, distance covered, speed, and distance remaining to target destination. The GPS receiver captures the GPS coordinates, the data collection software pulls it into the database and connects to the internet at specific time intervals and uploads the data to a web based map. The user could also capture additional information such as the weather, supplies remaining, physical condition, status (resting, digging a snow cave, setting up camp, injured, etc). This is the same technology we use today for fleet tracking applications so fleet owners can know the location of each truck at any given time.
One of the necessary ingredients for a tracking solution like this is a wireless network (wireless mobile phone network or a satellite uplink). In the recent tragedy on Mt. Hood, there was indeed mobile phone connectivity available. If the climbers had had a mobile solution like this with them, their location would have been displayed on a map for the search and rescue teams to view. This would have saved hundreds of man hours devoted to searching, and would have quickly directed the search and rescue teams to the location of the Smart phones as soon as weather permitted.
The technology exists, although it remains to be seen how it would have worked in the fierce cold and rugged conditions these climbers experienced. I know batteries would be an issue, although spares could be carried. Conceptually, it seems that a simple data collection application could be configured, rented out or made available for purchase to climbers. They could register themselves with a unique ID on a website. Thus, family members and other folks interested in their location could view the web based map from any computer in the world.
This needs to be done.

Phi Data Announces Partnership with MobileDataforce

For all of you who speak and read Dutch - This is an announcement of a reseller partnership we formed with Phi Data in The Netherlands. We are working together on a number of interesting projects in the Benelux region. Even further down the blog article you can see a translation of this press release that was done with the translation software from Babel Fish.

Altijd en overal mobiel met MobileDataforce & PHI DATA BV

Woerden, december 2006. Recent heeft PHI DATA met MobileDataforce een amenwerkingsovereenkomst afgesloten voor de PointSync Mobility Suite. PointSync is een uitermate flexibel platform voor het creëren van betaalbare, prestatiegerichte mobiele oplossingen voor field data collectie, inspecties en werkorder management. PointSync kan in alle mobiele devices geïntegreerd worden die PHI DATA levert (Intermec, Symbol, Datalogic etc.) PointSync is specifiek geschikt voor toepassingen in de Field Service & onderhoud, gezondheidszorg, beveiliging, agrarische bedrijven, Transport ( proof of delivery) en (milieu)inspecties. Complete en professionele mobiele oplossingenDavid Savage, Vice President EMEA MobileDataforce Europe BV: “PHI DATA staat bekend als een professioneel, betrouwbaar en meedenkend leverancier van totaaloplossingen,… drie eigenschappen die noodzakelijk zijn om succesvol te kunnen zijn. PHI DATA en MobileDataforce Europe vormen door dit partnership een sterk team om bedrijfsprocessen te mobiliseren.”
Ronald Pannebakker, Manager Professional Services PHI DATA: De software van MobileDataforce is enerzijds een “tool” waarmee we in korte tijd mobiele applicaties kunnen ontwikkelen. Anderzijds kunnen we op basis van de MobileDataforce software onze klanten een mobiele oplossing aanreiken inclusief communicatieserver, applicatiemanager, database synchronisatie en device- en licentiebeheer; kortom een complete oplossing op het gebied van mobiele applicaties.MobileDataforceMobileDataforce, opgericht in 2000, is een bedrijf gespecialiseerd in het ontwikkelen en leveren van mobiele software- en serviceoplossingen met als doel deze oplossingen makkelijker, sneller en betaalbaar aan te bieden. Inmiddels heeft MobileDataforce een groot aantal klanten wereldwijd en werken zij samen met partners, waaronder PHI DATA. PHI DATA PHI DATA BV, met vestigingen in Woerden (NL), Wemmel (B) en Windhof (L), biedt totaaloplossingen op basis van hoogwaardige automatische identificatie- en printsystemen. Door middel van deze oplossingen worden bedrijfsprocessen geoptimaliseerd en daarmee kostenbesparingen gerealiseerd. De producten variëren van barcode scanners en -decoders, labelprinters, mobiele computers (terminals) en industriële PDA's tot RF-datacommunicatie (RFDC) en RF-identificatie (RFID) en een uitgebreid pakket van matrixlijn- en laserprinters. Voor meer informatie kunt u zich wenden tot de afdeling Marketing & Communicatie van PHI DATA, telefoon 0348-439217.

Babel Fish Translation Software - English

Always and everywhere mobile with MobileDataforce & PHI DATES Ltd 19-12-2006 Woerden, December 2006. recent DATES with MobileDataforce amenwerkingsovereenkomst for the PointSync Mobility suite have concluded PHI. PointSync are an extremely flexible platform for creating payable, performance-specific mobile solutions for field dates collectie, inspections and work order management. PointSync can be incorporated in all mobile devices which provide DATES to PHI (Intermec, Symbol, Datalogic etc.) PointSync are specifically suitable for applications in the Field service & maintenance, health care, beveiliging, agrarian companies, transport (proof or delivery) and (milieu)inspecties. Complete and professional mobile solutions David Savage, Vice president EMEA MobileDataforce Europe Ltd: PHI DATES stand confessed as professional, reliably and thinking with a supplier of totaaloplossingen... three properties which are necessary successfully are able be. PHI DATES and MobileDataforce form Europe by mobilising company processes this partnership a strong team. Ronald Pannebakker, manager professional services PHI DATES: The software of MobileDataforce is on the one hand a "tool" with which we can develop within limited time mobile applications. On the other hand we can pass a mobile solution on the basis of the MobileDataforce software our customers including communication server, application manager, database synchronisation and device - and licentiebeheer; in short a complete solution in the field of mobile applications. MobileDataforce MobileDataforce, set up in 2000, a company has been specialised in developing and providing mobile software - and service solutions with the aim these solutions more easily, more rapidly and payable of offering. Meanwhile MobileDataforce have a large number of customers worldwide and cooperate they with partners, among which PHI DATES. PHI DATES PHI, Wemmel (B) and wind court (L), offer totaaloplossingen to DATES Ltd, with establishments in woerden (NL) on the basis of high-quality automatic identification - and printsystemen. By means of these solutions company processes are optimised and with that cost savings are realised. The products vary scanners and - decoders, label printers, mobile computers (terminals) and industrial PDA's to Rf-datacommunicatie (RFDC) and Rf-identificatie (RFID) and a vast parcel of matrixlijn - and laser printers of bar code. For further information the department marketing & communication of PHI DATES, tel. 0348-439217 can contact you.

Palm Treo & Otterbox for Ruggedized on the Cheap

The Palm Treo is one of the most popular smartphones now days. Palm's Windows Mobile 5.0 version enables enterprises that have standardized on Windows OS to extend that support out to their mobile workforce.

Otterbox builds ruggedized cases for the Palm Treo. We have one in-house that we are very impressed with. I think the list price for one of these cases is around $139. Many of my sales teams are using the Palm Treo 700 W these days, and the case seals it up very nicely and will provide adequate protection from most casual accidents such as dropping it on the floor and using it in the rain and protecting it from blowing sand and dust.
Nearly all of MobileDataforce's customers use handheld computers, laptops or Tablet PCs for field data collection, GPS, RFID, barcode scanning, etc. In all cases protecting the hardware investment is a critical issue. Otterbox has created some very useful cases for protecting Smartphones and PDAs that are not ruggedized on their own.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Symbol MC35 Handheld PDA - More Smartphones

I have been hearing rumors about a new Smart Phone from Symbol. If true, this would continue the trend started by Symbol when they released their MC70, MC50 and soon MC35. Symbol has historically been known for their large industrial grade devices used in retail stores, warehouses and other industrial environments. This new trend seems to point toward the business user.
It is also worth noting that Motorola is in the process of buying Symbol. It should be finalized in January 2007. Motorola, of course, makes consumer handsets. It will be interesting to watch how these two companies merge their product lines and strategies.

Here are some links to other blog articles on the MC35:

RFID on Mobile Handheld PDAs Not Quite Ready for Vendors

We have implemented several very nice RFID projects this year using mobile handheld computers and various PDAs for tracking assets, but these customers seemed to find us, we did not find them. I have tried several times this year, with various online ad campaigns, to find a market for RFID related software products. However, when I ran my ad campaigns they seemed to generate a large numbers of PPC (pay-per-clicks), but the online visitors were only interested in reading not buying.

I found this article today that seems to support my findings:

Frost & Sullivan recently reported that the total North American RFID market for manufacturing and logistics is predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate of nearly 20 percent over the next six years. Yet, about 75 percent of the technology companies responding to a CompTIA survey earlier this year said there are not enough people trained in the field. Eighty-percent said they believe that a lack of talent will hinder RFID adoption.

Several points to note - 1) when you are starting with nothing, 20% growth is not a lot, 2) Comptia offers training and certification classes - so to say the slow adoption of RFID is because of a lack of training is a bit self serving, 3) If you know of someone interested in RFID software solutions, please send them my way....a bit self serving I admit.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Mobile Handheld PDAs, Inspection Software and The Journal of The American Society of Safety Engineers

I was sent an interesting article today from the Journal of The American Society of Safety Engineers. It is called Best Practices - Audits & Inspections:Improving Efficiency with Technology By Rob Retzlaff. In this article it identifies MobileDataforce's PointSync Mobility Platform as a key mobile software solution for developing inspection software applications for handheld PDAs that are used for "improving efficiency" when it comes to inspections and audits.

Inspection software on handheld PDAs just makes so much sense. Many inspection companies are relatively small and the inspector himself is often the person re-typing the inspection data at the end of the day into a report. Using a handheld PDA the data could be quickly collected and fed directly into an inspection report without any re-typing.

MobileDataforce develops many custom inspection applications for companies.

Symbol MC50 - More Smart Phones

Smart phones are becoming more and more powerful. The MC50 from Symbol provides phone capabilities in a semi-rugged case with the power of Windows Mobile 5.0. Field service teams can choose to carry one device that acts as a database centric mobile enterprise database communicator to send and receive dispatched service orders, plus receive phone calls from the wife asking you to stop at the grocery store and pick-up a loaf of bread. What more can a guy want?
The MC50 is not made to drop in the pond or from the 6th floor scaffolding, but it fills a void in the mobile handheld world. It provides a semi-rugged device for only a few hundred dollars more than a consumer grade device.

MobileDataforce Launches PointSync Mobility Platform 4.0

MobileDataforce Launches PointSync Mobility Platform 4.0 for Rapid Mobile Software Application Development for Handheld PDAs

SYNOPSIS: New Version Features Visual Debugger, Data Mapping Wizard, Support for Hosted Environments, SQL Builder and 220 Pre-built Mobile Application Functions

Boise, Idaho—December 12, 2006 – MobileDataforce® today announced the release of the latest version of the PointSync® Mobility Platform, the next generation of the company’s award-winning rapid application development solution for mobile software development environments. This major release includes over 150 new features, innovations and enhancements to PointSync Developer, PointSync Manager, PointSync Server and PointSync Mobile.

This is a very significant release in MobileDataforce’s 7-year history,” said Kevin Benedict, CEO of MobileDataforce. “PointSync Mobility Platform 4.0 will change the way mobile solutions are developed and will reduce the time it takes for our customers to recognize a return on investment by reducing the time it takes to design, develop and deploy new business critical mobile solutions.”

Key new features and enhancements include:

· New Visual Debugger to quickly debug mobile applications during development
· New Data Mapping Wizard speeds up mobile application integration with enterprise databases
· New SQL Builder speeds up SQL statement development
· Enhanced library of over 220 pre-built functions for mobile application development
· Enhanced graphical user interface tools to improve the user’s mobile application experience
· Expanded support for multiple PointSync applications and databases in a hosted environment
· Enhanced server back-up and restore functions

To learn more, visit

About PointSync Mobility Platform

PointSync Mobility Platform is an enterprise class solution used to rapidly design, develop and deploy business critical mobile applications. It is architected to provide database centric mobile applications with bi-directional synchronization, connectivity, security and enterprise database integration all within one product suite.

About MobileDataforce

MobileDataforce is the global leader in the development of enterprise class and business critical software solutions for use on mobile handheld computers including Smart Phones, Tablet PCs and laptops. MobileDataforce has offices in Europe, North America and in Australia to support their expanding customer base and sales channels. Privately held, MobileDataforce has been mobilizing business solutions since 2000. For more information, please visit our website at

Palm Treos and Grabba Card Swipers

We are working on a very cool smartphone and mobile software solution at this time. It involves Palm Treos using the Windows Mobile OS and a Grabba Magnetic Card Reader. This allows mobile sales people and route delivery personnel to take credit and debit card orders as they walk through crowds of shoppers, concert goers, delivery routes and outdoor venues.
My team is using MobileDataforce's PointSync Mobility Platform to design, develop and deploy the mobile software solution.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Smart Phones and Enterprise Database Applications

Nearly everyone in our company has a Smart phone now days. By Smart phone I mean a phone with an operating system like Windows Mobile 5.0 or Windows CE and typically includes a touch screen. These operating systems give you the ability to run powerful database centric applications that can synchronize with your company's business software and enterprise databases. This is important when you consider that 30-40% of the workforce is mobile or works remotely.

For the past 40 years companies have been investing in software for automating their business processes and operations. The problem we have today is that most of these investments have been to improve operations within the 4 walls of the office, warehouse or plant and they do not extend to the millions of mobile or remote workers. Smart phones, however, make it possible to utilize these 40 years of internal IT investments and extend them out to the mobile workforce.

My PSO (professional services organization) spends all their time helping customers extend business software applications out to Smart phones and other handheld devices. We are in effect developing "mobile clients" that integrate and synchronize with whatever business applications they use in the office. The technology we use to extend business software solutions out to the mobile workforce is MobileDataforce's PointSync Mobility Platform.

Here are a few previous blog articles on the subject of Smart Phones for your reference.

In this blog article I wrote about the convergence of industrial handhelds with consumer grade handhelds and Smart phones. The Smart phone in this article even has a built-in bar code scanner.

In this article concert goers can buy T-shirts and other retail items from sales people walking the aisles with Smart phones.

In this article hemophiliac patients keep in touch with their healthcare providers via a database application on a Smart phone.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

HVAC Service Orders on Handheld PDAs

In the last few weeks we have delivered 4 HVAC applications. The image attached is a recent application that was created using MobileDataforce's PointSync Mobility Platform and delivered to a Dutch company.

The ROIs found from automating work and service orders are easily defined:

  1. Daily service orders can be wirelessly dispatched directly to the service technician in the field.
  2. Schedules can be dynamically changed on the handheld
  3. Driving directions can be included and wirelessly dispatched to the handheld and integrated with numerous GPS navigation systems available on PDAs
  4. Customer history and equipment warranty information can be included in the work order and dispatched to the handheld device
  5. Parts can be ordered on the application and wirelessly synchronized with the office
  6. Parts inventory levels and shipping status can be queried on the handheld device
  7. Completed service orders can be invoiced and printed on a mobile printer and left with the customer for fast payment
  8. Completed service orders can be synchronized and integrated with the office database, so no re-typing is required.

These are just a few of the common features in the mobile HVAC applications we have recently delivered using MobileDataforce's PointSync Mobility Platform.

Monday, December 04, 2006

NFL Scout's Job - Watching, Measuring, Assessing

I read an article on a plane last week about how NFL Scouts do their job of finding talent for their football teams. Bob Morris spends much of the year traveling (20,000 miles per year) to different games, practices and workouts to analyze and evaluate players. The picture in the above right shows Bob carrying a reporter's notebook to collect this data. He evalutes over 500 players each year and records huge amounts of information on each player.

Of course - from my perspective as CEO of MobileDataforce, I believe he should be collecting all of this data on a handheld PDA or a Tablet PC so this information can be instantly sent back to the team's database for analysis, comparisons with other players and past data from each player.

The process of data collection that Bob Morris is using is not so dissimilar to many organizations that still collect huge volumes of inspection data and field tests on paper tablets or forms. MobileDataforce has developed 2 complete suites of data collection software to help companies and government agencies mobilize their field data collection processes.

Here is another blog article on data collection and inspections.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Mobile Service Orders for Furniture Repair and Delivery

The July edition of Integrated Solutions magazine has a case study called, Real-Time Mobile Computing Saves Time In The Field. This case study describes how Kane's Furniture saved 32 man hours per day by converting from a paper based service order system, to using mobile service order applications on handheld computers. Their solution was designed, delivered and deployed using MobileDataforce's PointSync. The solution included the following components:
  1. Daily Service Orders sorted by Service Truck
  2. Description of tasks or service orders
  3. Customer location and driving directions
  4. Status of service order (completed, incomplete, pending parts, etc)
  5. Digital signature for customer to sign on the completed work order

These features are synchronized with the main service order CRM system at the office. If you would like a personal demonstration of MobileDataforce's wide range of work order and service order applications please contact MobileDataforce.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Automotive Services and Asset Management on Handheld PDAs

MobileDataforce has designed and delivered some of the most advanced automotive solutions for handheld computers that you will find anywhere. This image shows you an inspection form that allows the handheld computer user to identify any repairs or maintenance that needs to be completed on the interior of a vehicle that was returned from a lease contract.

Once the inspection is completed the cost of the maintenance or repair can be factored into the final contract settlement. The repair work can also be scheduled and dispatched as well. This is just one example of the multitude of automotive applications we have developed and delivered around the world.

Additional blog articles on mobile applications for the automobile industry can be found here:

Field Inspections on Handheld PDAs

In the past I have written about the advantages of conducting inspections using handheld computers and a mobile software platform. In most of my articles I have focused on the efficiencies from collecting data once, and then synchronizing the inspection data directly to a central database. In this article, I would like to highlight the advantages of synchronizing historical inspection data on the handheld computer.

I was recently working with a state agency responsible for inspecting professional licenses and premises. In order to perform their tasks, they were required to drive into the main office, rummage through paper files, remove these paper files and load them into a box to take with them to the inspection sites. They would use a carriage with wheels to transport this box to their automobiles.

Let's pause a moment to think of the costs and inefficiencies of these task. They do the following:
  1. Drive to the main office where previous inspections are stored
  2. Sort through file cabinets for previous inspection results
  3. Read through these files to determine any previous non-compliance or failed inspection issues.
  4. Record these issues and highlight them for review at the site
  5. Load these files into a box and carry out to their vehicles
  6. Re-inspect the site and record more information on new forms
  7. Add new paper forms to the files
  8. Carry back to the main office
  9. Administration staff types all information from the new forms into a database system

A simple database synchronization with a handheld computer, laptop or Tablet PC from the field could have completed task 1-5 and 7-9 in a few seconds.

MobileDataforce helps both commercial and government organizations improve their inspection processes daily.

I have written about other inspection automation and mobilization processes in this recent blog article.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Digital Images and Annotations on Handheld PDAs

I would encourage readers interested in using digital images in work orders and other data collection applications to read this blog article. It talks about how to create a mobile application that allows you to take a digital photo, draw on it and make notes on the photo and then synchronize this edited photo into a central database for record keeping.

I have seen this request from companies doing job estimates on handheld computers. They want to take a digital photo and highlight the problem areas. This information gets sent back to the office where a supervisor can review before delivering a final job bid.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Mobile Solutions for Government & Public Works

MobileDataforce is now involved in so many public works and government mobility initiatives that I felt this area deserved its own blog. The new blog is called, Mobile Solutions for Government & Public Works. The primary focus of this blog is to share information from mobility projects and initiatives in these arenas.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Washington State Mobile Technology Conference - Dec. 1st

MobileDataforce is participating in our 4th Mobile Technology Conference in the past few months on December 1st in Tacoma, Washington. This series has been very popular with government agencies, utilities and field services companies (.i.e. anyone working outdoors). We have participated in this series in Boise, Salt Lake City, Baltimore and now in Tacoma. They are fun, informative and fast paced.

For more details on this upcoming Mobile Technology conference please follow this link.

  • 8:30 am - Registration and continental breakfast
  • 9:00 am - Opening Remarks - Kevin Benedict
  • 9:15 am - Keynote Presentation - Enterprise Mobility - Mission Critical Brent Felker Americas VP, Mobile Solutions,Psion Teklogix
  • 10:00 am - Panel Session 1 - What is Field Mobility? Who is Mobilizing? Where is the ROI?Panelist - Microsoft, MobileDataforce, Palm, iAnywhere, Psion Teklogix
  • 11:00 am - Break - Exhibitor Demos
  • 11:15 am - Latest Developments in Enterprise Mobile Software Solutions
  • 11:45 pm - Microsoft on Mobility
  • 12:15 pm - Lunch (Provided) - Exhibitor Demos
  • 1:00 pm - Government Mobility Projects - Asset Management, Inspections and Work Orders
  • 1:30 pm - Panel Session 2 - Enterprise Mobile Projects, Design, Development, Deployment and Choosing the Right Hardware and Connectivity SolutionsPanelists - Psion Teklogix, MobileDataforce, iAnywhere, Palm, PrintekMobile
  • 2:30 pm - Latest Developments in Ruggedized in Handheld Computers and Accessories
  • 3:00 pm - Latest Developments in Mobile PDA Phones - Palm Treos, Windows Mobile 5.0 and more
  • 3:30 pm - Closing Remarks

Data Collection & Data Integrity

Paper based data collection processes have problems. One of the biggest is the inability of a paper process to ensure that the data collected is relevant, accurate and appropriate. Recently I spoke with a person involved in a data collection project that consisted of 17 data collectors. At the end of the project they reviewed the data on the paper forms and much of it was missing, inaccurate or irrelevant. The project was a complete failure.

The screen shot above shows an example of a data collection application with pick lists and database queries. The data collector is limited to selecting pre-designated service categories. Once the category is selected, then a database query is performed that presents only the services related to that category.

There are many techniques for ensuring the validity of the data collected, but this example shows how you can limit the selection to at least relevant answers.

The other problem the failed data collection project experienced was their inability to review the collected data on a timely basis. The project was over and the data collectors dismissed before the collected data was reviewed and analyzed for accuracy. With a data collection solution on a handheld computer that includes integration to a database server, the data can be reviewed as often as needed and with immediate visibility and analysis.

The Automobile Whisperer - Handheld PDAs Communicating with Vehicles

His name is Tom Booker. His voice can calm wild horses, his touch can heal broken spirits. That is from the back cover of the book, The Horse Whisperer. I can't do that, but we can talk to cars, trucks and vans and they can talk back to us.

We have had the opportunity to work with a company in Vancouver BC, that I have written about in an earlier blog article, that had a requirement to communicate with the vehicle's engine computer. The image to the right shows a cable connection, but we have also connected to the vehicle's engine via bluetooth.

What was the purpose of this project? Our customer was converting conventional delivery vans to "hybrid" vans. So during and following the conversion the company was using handheld computers to monitor the engine diagnostics. The mechanics and engineers now can walk up to a car and survey its vitals without lifting the hood. Analysis software on the handhelds can use the data to make recommendations to improve performance and/or configurations.

Think about all the mobile handheld computer applications that are now associated with automobiles:

All of these mobile software applications for handheld computers used MobileDataforce's PointSync Mobility Platform for design, development and deployment.

Automobile Lease Return Applications on Handheld PDAs

MobileDataforce has become experts and authorities on the subject of mobile handheld computer solutions for the automotive industry over the last 2 years. In the past few months alone we have been contacted and contracted by numerous companies seeking our expertise to develop customized mobile solutions for the following solutions:

  • Vehicle lease returns for commercial companies
  • Vehicle lease returns for the military
  • Mobile automobile repair services
  • Automobile detailing and appearance work
  • Mobile autobody repair shops
  • Mobile bumper repair and replacement
  • Mobile headlamp restoration businesses
  • Mobile windshield repair

Let's discuss just one of these areas in this blog article - Automobile lease returns. What is required in these solutions?

  • Barcode scanning of VINs (vehicle identification numbers) to uniquely identify the returned vehicles. The VIN is often found on the door jam or the dashboard. The handheld computer must be able to barcode scan these numbers, identify the vehicle and store the information on a mobile database on the handheld computer. The screen shot above shows a list of scanned VIN codes that were decoded and saved to a automobile inspection application that MobileDataforce designed, delivered and deployed.
  • Database query using the VIN. The VIN is used to query the mobile database application on the handheld so the appropriate inspection questions for the appropriate make and model of automobile can be displayed and answered. I wrote more on how to develop customized inspection questions based upon collected data in this recent blog article.
  • The handheld inspection application is used to identify any damage and maintenance work required to restore the vehicle to resale condition.
  • The damage and repairs can be be added up on the handheld computer and the estimated costs can also be computed on the handheld.
  • The completed inspections and repair estimates are then synchronized with a central database for all returned vehicles.

All of the automotive software applications MobileDataforce has designed and developed take advantage of the technology in the PointSync Mobility Software Platform.

Business Processes on Handheld PDAs for Automotive Services

I have written a number of times about the ability to automate business processes in mobile software applications. This screen shot demonstrates another simple example. In this screen, an estimate of the costs of detailing and repairing an automobile has been determined. The next step is the service provider's manager must approve and enter his/her initials, the technician that completed the estimate must enter his/her initials and then the auto dealer's manager must sign their name approving the services and cost. These 3 approvals complete the business process that is required in order to start the work and to get paid for the work.

This is a simple but important example. If you try to submit this work order without the proper authority, a warning message will pop-up asking for the handheld pc user to complete the business process before continueing. This is another method of helping new users remember how to appropriately complete their work. You can build guides, training help and instructions into the handheld pc application - paper forms can't do that.

It is very helpful, since much of the work completed on handheld pcs is done remotely, to have instructions, help messages and training pointers built into the mobile application.

Let's consider the following scenario - a new technician inspects a used vehicle and identifies damage to the front bumper. He correctly inputs this information into the automobile inspection software on his handheld PDA. Based on the identified damage to the front bumper, the inspection software brings up an additional set of questions:
  1. location of damage on the bumper
  2. type of damage (dent, scrape, bent, etc)
  3. severity of damage
  4. type of bumper (metal, plastic, rubber strip etc)
  5. Color of bumper

For each of these questions an icon is available to "click-on" for more detailed instructions on how to answer each question. This is a great training tool and helps standardize all answers to ensure the most accurate job estimates possible.

Again, this is a simple example of how a mobile software application can be designed to automate business processes and help the user know what information is required, how to answer the questions correctly and consistently without missing data or forgetting important considerations.

This application was developed using MobileDataforce's PointSync Mobility Platform.

Automobile Work Order Solution for Handheld PDAs

My customer support team has been busily working with one of our customers, Teph Seal to mobilize and automate their business operations on auto dealers' car lots. The mobile application is very powerful and is being rolled out to auto dealerships in many locations across the USA at this time. It consists of both mobile applications and a website application that management uses.

The environment - mobile work stations on auto dealers' car lots.
The purpose - Teph Seal is contracted by the auto dealers to prepare new and used cars for the showroom floor. They detail and repair automobiles so they are ready to show.

•Mobile Form Factor: PDA
•Vehicle services operation
•Mobile Application: work orders, invoicing, mobile printing, time clock, HR module, remote synchronization
•Web Site: customer management, invoicing, employee management, services management, reporting
•Technologies: vehicle barcoding, Ethernet cradle, bluetooth printing, signature capture
•Products: MobileDataforce's PointSync Mobility Platform, PSIONTeklogix Workabout Pro, HP printers, .NET for web site development

This solution includes integration with a web application on a SQL database, plus integration with Great Plains accounting software.

If you would like to discuss the full range of automotive solutions for handheld computers from MobileDataforce, please contact us here.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Automobile Inspection Software for Handheld PDAs

My professional services (Mobile Application Developers) team has rapidly evolved into experts on mobile applications for the automotive services industry. They have developed and delivered a wide range of mobile applications for:
  • Automobile lease return applications on handheld computers
  • Automobile auction software for handheld PDAs- designed to estimate the value of a vehicle at an auction. Damage and repair costs can be estimated instantly on the handheld PDA
  • Mobile automobile repair services - windshield repair, bumper repair, headlight restoration, dent repairs and much more all documented, managed and invoiced on handheld PDAs
  • Automobile cleaning and detailing applications for handheld PDAs at auto dealerships
  • Automobile vehicle location applications for large dealer lots

I have written in more detail about some of the specific applications we have delivered in this article. All of these mobile automobile services software applications were delivered using MobileDataforce's PointSync Mobility Software Platform.

Mobile Software Platform Thoughts

The above diagram represents a mobile software platform called PointSync from MobileDataforce. The concept of a software platform in this discussion means a software application that has many pre-built functions and supports many mobile project requirements out-of-the box.

Many components of a mobile software application should be provided in a mobile software platform, not as a custom development task. Components and functions such as:
  • support for GPS
  • support for multiple screen sizes
  • support for digital images
  • support for synchronization via wireless networks
  • support for RFID
  • support for various button configurations on handheld devices
  • support for various security configurations
  • support for bluetooth
  • support for disconnected applications
  • support for Tablet PCs, laptops, Windows CE.NET, Windows Mobile etc.
  • support for audio memo capture
  • support for various bar code scanners
  • support for odbc database integration
  • support for data validations
  • support for various business logic

Again the above components and functions need not be developed new for every project. They should be provided for you at the platform level. They can be developed, debugged and tested, added to the platform library, improved over time and expanded so all developers can take advantage of them.

Many systems integrators and IT consultants have told me they can not profitably run a mobile application practice if they develop custom mobile applications from scratch. They require a mobile software platform like PointSync to make the projects profitable. No customer wants to pay for custom development, if the code is already available in a tool set at a fraction of the cost.

Managing Mobile Software Deployments

The screen shot above is from MobileDataforce's PointSync Manager. It is the administration screen for managing mobile users, mobile devices, mobile applications, integrated databases, database tables, mobile sycnhronizations and mobile software licenses.

Why am I discussing this today? Because an application like this can save huge amounts of money for a company. Think about it - if you develop your own custom mobile application using .NET it can be powerful, colorful and useful but how are you going to do the following:
  1. Manage deployments
  2. Manage mobile application versions
  3. Manage synchronizations and synchronization errors
  4. Manage different device requirements (i.e. screen sizes, Tablet PC, Laptop, PDA, Palm Treo, etc.)
  5. Manage different user groups (i.e. managers, supervisors, field work crews, etc)
  6. Manage multiple mobile applications on each device
  7. Manage all the database integrations between mobile devices and enterprise databases
  8. Review all successful and unsuccessful synchronizations based upon user group, applications etc, for rapid debugging

These are not the usual issues a .NET programmer thinks about when they raise their hand and volunteer to develop a mobile application. The common thought is that the development of the mobile device application is only about 30% of a mobile project. 70% is the synchronizaton, business logic, connectivity configurations, enterprise database application integration, deployment and testing. Often your .NET programmers will not volunteer for these tasks :-)

The value of using a mobile software platform like MobileDataforce's PointSync, is that these processes and tasks are already developed and available for configuration.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Inspections & Asset Management for Government Agencies

In the September/October edition of Public Roads magazine, a magazine published by the Federal Highway Administration, there is an article called High-Tech in the Far West. The article subtitle is - The Idaho Transportation Department taps into wireless technology for collecting and reporting data on maintenance at rest stops. This article describes in-depth the benefits the Idaho Transportation Department received from mobilizing their daily rest area inspection processes with MobileDataforce's mobile software platforms.

This article focuses mostly on the benefits of replacing a paper based inspection process with electronic inspection forms on handheld PDAs. I would invite you to read the quotes and comments from the ITD personnel involved in this project.

The Idaho Transportation Department mobilization project emphasizes a common theme. The majority of mobile software projects we do fall into one of the following areas:
  • Inspections
  • Asset Management
  • Service Orders/Work Orders

Most often a project touches on all three of these areas. These processes have a few things in common - they often take place out-of-doors and a way from their desktop computer, involve data collecting and reporting in rugged environments.

The utility industry also involves the three processes listed above. In this article, I discuss a Power Pole Inspection project delivered to Sho-Me Power. In this article I discuss over 20 inspection applications we do for the electrical industry.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Windows Mobile 5.0 Phones Don't Work in the Ocean

I lost my T-Mobile MDA PDA phone last week in the Ocean. I was running along the shoreline with my daughter during lowtide and did not notice my phone was missing. After breakfast, I reached for my phone to feed my addiction to email and it was gone. The tide was now up and our shoreline path was under 4 feet of water. I miss that PDA phone and the gigabyte of files on the mini-SD card.

I was at the doorstep of the local T-Mobile store when they opened on Monday morning. My addiction is now fed. A few notes on the MDA. It has a slide out keyboard that is wide enough to comfortably type using your thumbs on the keyboard. When you slide the keyboard out the screen changes to a landscape view that makes it easy to read lengthy emails. It doesn't float, but serves its purpose well in normal conditions. I have used it throughout Europe and Australia when traveling and my email works seamlessly.

Maryland State Mobile Technology Seminar

I am sitting in the airport in Minneapolis as I write this blog. I am returning home from the Maryland State Mobile Technology Seminar where I was the MC for this event. It was great fun.

I had the opportunity to meet electrical utility companies interested in mobilizing many of their field service activities, systems integrators looking for a RADs-ME solution to simply and speed up the development of mobile applications, and government agencies looking to mobilize a wide variety of field operations. Specifically -
  • Sewer system asset management and inspections
  • Snow plow vehicle tracking systems
  • Maintenance and operations processes
  • Asset Management

We met with a company that repairs and installs ATMs. They want all of these processes to be mobilized on ruggedized handheld computers.

We learned from the ruggedized handheld computer manufacturer - Psion Teklogix, that there are many new and very useful develops coming out this quarter and next.

We heard from Verizon Wireless about their CDMA networks and the performance of their data networks.

iAnywhere/Sybase presented a great overview of mobile middleware and synchronization processes.

We met with a company that develops Asset Management software to monitor and care for trees on government property. They inventory all of these trees and shrubbery and then place them on maintenance and care schedules. VERY COOL! They use GPS, inspection, asset management, inventory and service order processes to accomplish this.

These educational conferences take place across the country, so if you would like to be notified of when they are coming to your region please email us.

Orcas Island - Association of City and County IS Professionals

I had the great pleasure of being the keynote speaker at the semi-annual conference for the Washington State Association of City and County IS professionals last week. The venue was amazing out on Orcas Island, and the audience was a lot of fun.

I spoke on the subject of Government Data Collection and Mobilization. We are working with many local government agencies to mobilize their inspections, compliance auditing, service order, maintenance systems and asset management operations.

I will be back in Washington State on December 1st speaking at the Washington State Mobile Technology Conference. This conference is an educational event designed to update government agencies, utilities and companies on the latest trends and technologies for mobilizing processes in the field.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Mobile Forms, Mobile Applications & Mobile Business Processes

Our customers often follow a learning path when it comes to mobilizing their business. Let me identify several steps on this path:

  1. Mobile forms - replace paper forms with electronic forms on handheld computers, Tablet PCs or laptops.
  2. Evolve the electronic form to become a full mobile database application on a mobile computer
  3. Extend business processes out from the enterprise and into the mobile database applications.
  4. Replace many traditional communication methods (phone calls, faxes, web queries) with real time enterprise database queries from mobile database applications.

Let me walk you through a scenario -

  1. Step 1 - Company M wants to replace paper service orders with electronic service orders on a ruggedized handheld computer. In phase 1, they are content to pick up the handheld in the morning with pre-loaded service orders, and return the handheld device at night to synchronize the work they accomplished during the day. This saves a great deal of data input and mistakes by the office staff. It is a simple forms application.
  2. Step 2 - Company M decides they would gain a great deal of efficiencies if they could dispatch service orders during the day directly to the handheld computers, and synchronize the completed or pending service orders throughout the day. This requires a database application to run on the handheld for data storage and database synchronization. It also requires a wireless network card so you can synchronize data over the mobile phone networks, and a synchronization server to keep all handhelds synchronized with your internal enterprise databases.
  3. Step 3 - Extend business processes out to the mobile handheld device. Company M now wants to attach an inventory tracking process to their mobile service order application. When parts get used on a service call, they want the parts to be automatically removed from the inventory tracking software application in the office. This can easily be added to their mobile database application.
  4. Step 4 - Digital signatures are added to the service order application on the mobile device. Scheduling additional service calls can be added to the mobile device. Querying customer history can be added to the mobile database application. Credit card processing can be added tot he mobile much more.

In summary, most companies don't jump in and do everything that is possible in the first deployment of a mobile solution. There are phases, and an evolution of a mobile solution. MobileDataforce's mobile software platform enables companies to evolve on their own schedule, budget and learning curve.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Business Processes and Mobile Handheld Solutions

A successful business is made up of successful business processes. In business terms, in order to be successful, the business processes in use must produce overall profits. With those assumptions in place - let's discuss the following scenario:

Company X is profitable, but wants to reduce the costs associated with their service order and dispatch processes. They want to reduce the time, paperwork and administration costs of dispatching, re-typing and processing field service orders.

Company X determines that mobilizing their service order processes by dispatching and closing service orders using mobile handheld computer solutions that synchronize remotely with a service order management system in the central office would dramatically reduce the costs and improve profitability.

The dilemma: Many off-the-shelf service order management systems don't currently have a mobile client that runs on a handheld computer, or the ones that do, don't support the "unique" business processes that Company X uses as competitive advantages. Let's discuss this in more detail by given some examples of business processes that might be competitive advantages:

  1. Company X - inventories parts inside service vehicles to reduce driving time to and from the warehouse. This saves time, fuel costs and increases the number of customers serviced by each team on a daily basis.
  2. Company X - has 1 vehicle in each region that carries special parts that are less common. This vehicle acts as a mobile warehouse for these parts. Other service teams can meet up with this mobile warehouse when they need special parts.
  3. Company X - has a 1 business day guarantee on service for their clients. No one else can support this service, so it is a significant advantage.

Let's stop here and consider Company X's needs. They need to mobilize their service order processes, but they don't want an off-the-shelf solution that can not support their competitive advantages. What is the answer?

The answer of course, is to mobilize their service order processes in a manner that supports their competitive advantages. This is unlikely going to be with an off-the-shelf software product. It is much more likely that they need to find a mobile software platform that can support their unique processes, support the handheld computers they select, and can integrate with their existing service order management solution that is used in the central office. Bottom-line, they need a custom solution.

Custom solutions often carry large price tags that make them too expensive for the small to medium size service company. How to you solve this issue? You find a mobile software platform that can meet your requirements that is not too expensive.

Let's again review the identified competitive advantages in the 3 points above:

  1. The service vehicles carry inventory to reduce driving time to and from the office. The problem - currently the paper based service order process forces the field service teams to drive back and forth to the office to pick up and deliver the paper service orders so this negates the fuel savings advantages. The solution - dispatch service orders via a wireless network providers' data services plan using GSM/GPRS (mobile phone network) to send service orders to the mobile service technician's handheld computer. In addition, completed service orders will also can be sent directly to the central office without the need to drive back to the office. This provides time saving, fuel saving and allows a field service team to complete more service orders in a day which saves on personnel costs.
  2. Company X has 1 service vehicle in each region that carries special (meaning less common parts). Any service team requiring these special parts must locate this vehicle and meet up with it to get the parts. The current process requires service team 1 to call the central office, ask which service vehicle inventories the special part, find the location of that vehicle, and coordinate a meeting point. This is very time consuming. The solution - the handheld computers support an integrated GPS system that identifies their locations at all time. Any field service team can quickly query on their handheld computer for the closest service vehicle that inventories the required parts. A meeting place can be quickly coordinated, the part acquired and the service performed.
  3. Company X has a 1 business day guarantee on their service. Mobilizing the dispatch of service orders, and optimizing the parts inventory retrieval process, plus the integrated GPS system in the handheld computers allow the central office to optimize the driving, dispatching and support of this unique business process.

There are many additional competitive advantages that clever business people can design. You do not want a mobile software platform that will limit your ability to be clever and make money. You need a mobile software platform that is powerful and flexible enough to support your unique business processes and is affordable.

Of course I have a recommendation - MobileDataforce's PointSync allows you to model and design the way you want to communicate and track your field services' business processes. It supports your mobile business processes in the manner that protects and promotes your competitive advantages.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Public Roads - September/October 2006 Issue

In the mail this morning I received the most recent issue of Public Roads from the TFHRC. The Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center (TFHRC) is a federally owned and operated research facility in McLean, Virginia. TFHRC is the home of the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA's) Office of Research, Development, and Technology. They also publish the journal Public Roads. In this journal there is a lengthy case study of how the Idaho Transportation Department uses MobileDataforce's inspection and asset management software for handheld computers.

Paul Ziman, operations, pavement, maintenance, and materials engineer with the Federal Highway Administration's Idaho Division Office is quoted as saying, "We are excited about the innovative use of PDA devices for maintenance acitivies... ITD (Idaho Transportation Department) has been pleased with the performance of the PDAs. Currently, the main use is as a platform for supporting electronic forms in the field. This method would be ideal for any personnel required to complete paperwork while operating away from their office. The form design software is easy to use, and the forms themselves operate smoothly and intuitively."

MobileDataforce's EMEA Partner Summit

This week we conducted our first European Partner Summit in Den Bosch, The Netherlands. We had 24 reseller and alliance partner organizations attend this event. I want to thank all of our partners for dedicating their time to this event. We appreciate it!

Many of the Benelux's largest systems integration companies are now MobileDataforce partners. We spent the day training our partners on how best to market, sell and implement mobility solutions. Many of our partners are building complete mobility practices around the PointSync Mobility Platform. PointSync is designed perfectly for the systems integrator. They can deliver just about any kind of mobility solution imaginable using PointSync. I wrote a detailed blog article the other day on the advantages of standardizing on a mobility platform.

Here is partial list of attending partners:

  • Modatec
  • Hewlett Packard
  • Palm
  • Symbol Technologies
  • Intermec
  • Sybase
  • Gap Gemini

One of our partners is now working on 8 different mobility projects with one company. They are using PointSync to deliver each of them - even though each project involves a completely different business process.

Thanks again to all of our reseller and alliance partners for attending.

Sharing Information & Thoughts On Mobile Solutions

I believe that it is helpful and beneficial to share information on best practices for implementing enterprise mobile software solutions. I receive nearly daily feedback that this blog is useful and provides a valuable service. I also know our competition reads this blog so they also can learn how to run a software business. That is OK, I want their customers to benefit from MobileDataforce's shared knowledge.

MobileDataforce is happy to provide speakers and consultants to help companies and organizations learn more about implementing mobile solutions. If you would like to discuss your mobility projects please contact us.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Mobile Software Platforms and Standardization

I just returned from a meeting in Rotterdam, The Netherlands where Unilever, one of the largest consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies in the world, has asked MobileDataforce to assist them on a 4th mobility project. This project involves laptops, handheld computers, desktop computers and hundreds of mobile users.

The Unilever project highlights an important consideration for companies interested in mobilizing multiple business processes – should a company select multiple mobile software applications or standardize on a single powerful and flexible enterprise mobility platform. Consider the following situation with me – Company X wants to mobilize the following processes:

1. Dispatching and retrieving work orders to and from their field services teams
2. Automating and mobilizing a parts inventory tracking system (parts used for repairs)
3. Employee time cards for the field service technicians
4. Vehicle tracking system – to see the location of all field services teams
5. New product sales system – if field services teams sell upgraded products or services

Let’s assume that the company already has database applications inside the office that manage these business processes. How are these 5 processes going to be mobilized? Does the company need to find 5 different mobile software solutions in order to mobilize each of these individual business processes? This is an important question. Can you image the amount of work to select, purchase, configure and deploy 5 different mobile software solutions. The time and work would be cost prohibitive!

The answer is to select a mobile software platform. A platform that the company can standardize on for the purpose of mobilizing all necessary business processes. A platform that once learned can be used to develop and support an unlimited number of different mobile solutions and where economies of scale can be gained.

The business values of standardizing on a mobile software platform are the following:

  • IT developers get trained on one mobile solution, not many – saves time and money
  • All mobile software solutions follow standardized synchronization methodologies – easy to learn and support.
  • Network connectivity works the same across remote laptops, Tablet PCs, PDAs and ruggedized handhelds – saves deployment and support time.
  • Helpdesk only needs to learn and support one system – saves time and money
  • Database Administrators need only permit one mobile platform integration methodology – ensures data integrity.
  • All mobile solutions including laptops, Tablet PCs, industrial grade handheld computers, Win CE and Windows Mobile PDAs use the same code base – just different screen layouts – easy to develop, deploy and support.
  • All mobile applications get managed from one administrative dashboard – saves time and money supporting and deploying new applications and software updates.
  • Experience has value - the more applications that are developed and deployed on a standardized platform, the larger your libraries of custom reusable code grows, and the more knowledge you have. This helps future projects become simpler, faster and easier to develop and support (economies of scale).
  • You need call only one company – the author of the mobile software platform – to receive software support. Not multiple companies, multiple support systems, multiple update schedules and multiple support fees and programs.
  • The more mobile users using one platform – the greater the price discounts for addition mobile users (again economies of scale).
  • Companies deploying significant numbers of mobile users become more than just a customer to a manufacturer of a mobile software platform. They become a strategic partner that influences product design, product roadmaps and timeframes. The relationship becomes strategic to both parties. Each party interested in achieving the same supporting goals.

    Of course this means it is critically important for you to find the right mobile software platform and software manufacturer that can support your goals and solution requirements. A company that is proven and experienced - a company that even the world’s largest companies like Unilever trust as their mobile software platform. I would invite you to contact us at MobileDataforce to discuss your project requirements.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Magic Quadrant for Handheld Computers

I was in Paris, France last week at Symbol's EMEA Partner Conference. While there I heard more evidence of a trend I have been watching for a while. The 2 largest ruggedized handheld computer manufacturers - Symbol and Intermec have both recently come out with small, ruggedized, full functional handheld computers. These handheld computers combine the ruggedness of larger handhelds, and include barcode scanners, GPS, phones, WiFi, bluetooth and more. Symbol says that their MC70, pictured above in PointSync Developer, has become one of their top sellers. It is especially appealing to the "field service" market. That is also the market MobileDataforce focuses on.

I have also recently seen a lot of very interesting looking small ruggedized handheld computers coming out of Korea and China. These are sub $1,000 USD devices that can reasonably be used as handheld computers, phones and barcode scanners. They are a little bulky for the suit coat, but work nicely attached to the belt.

MobileDataforce is a big fan of these smaller handheld computers. They carry a lot of power and allow us to provide software solutions to our customers for reduced overall project costs due to less expensive ruggedized hardware.

If you can get full functional, ruggedized handheld computer/phones for under $1,000 USD - there is very little business justification for buying consumer grade PDAs. Most consumer grade PDAs with business capabilities are priced at $500-$800, yet are not ruggedized.

Let's go back to the title of this blog - Where is the magic quadrant for handheld computers? It is handheld computers that are truly convergent. Convergent, meaning they combine the ruggedness and size that is easy to carry, plus they have the phone, Windows Mobile 5.0, GPS, barcode scanners, plus the industrial grade batteries to support a full day's work.

I love it!

Friday, October 06, 2006

More on Buy vs Building Mobile Solutions, Part 3

There are always reasons and/or business justifications for wanting to mobilize a business process. Something has motivated the individual or company to march down the path of mobilization. So when considering whether to buy or build a mobile solution these additional factors should be considered:

  • Tolerance for risk
  • Opportunity Costs
  • Expected ROI
  • Competitive Advantages

Let's briefly discuss each of these considerations.

Tolerance for risk - are you willing to risk attempting to develop an enterprise mobile solution for the first time (If your team is an experienced mobile development team, then you can ignore this point)? It can be done, but the first time requires a lot of thought, design meetings, trial and error, debugging and above all else - time. What if the design can not scale? What if the synchronization engine that your developer made is too slow? What if after 8 months the system is still only half complete and full of bugs?

Opportunity Costs - this is one of the most common issues that IT managers discuss with me. Most often IT departments are already over worked and behind schedules. The last thing they need is a another new project added to their list and schedule. IT managers are already annoyed at their current workload, and now the business unit is asking them to develop a completely new and unproven mobile solution? The IT manager is not happy. All they can think of is the headaches this will cause.

The questions the IT managers ask the business unit managers are:

  1. What project should I delay in order to insert this new project into the schedule?
  2. Who is going to support it?
  3. Can I hire more developers to develop and support a mobile solution?

These questions then force the business unit manager to go back to senior management and ask them to re-prioritize other IT projects in favor of the mobile solution. So now all the business unit managers get involved and defend their particular interests.

The opportunity costs can be considerable if you want to code/program the complete mobile application yourself internally.

Expected ROI - if the business unit requesting the mobile solution expects to save $53,000/month by mobilizing their work order management system, then every month that passes without the mobile solution being deployed wastes $53,000. So if coding your own solution from scratch takes 3 months longer than using a RADs-ME tool like MobileDataforce's PointSync, you must consider the $159,000 you just wasted.

Competitive Advantages - we have developed many mobile solutions for companies that are considered competitive advantages. Solutions that provide new and unique revenue opportunities for our customer. We have seen this in the automotive industry, the beef industry, the concert and event promotion industry and many more.

If the business justification of the mobile solution is motivated by a competitive advantage, then the length of time it takes to code a mobile solution from scratch must be considered. What if the mobile solution takes 5 months to code from scratch, but only 5 weeks with a RADs-ME tool like PointSync? The associated competitive advantages and disadvantages must be considered in the equation.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

More on Buy vs Building Mobile Solutions, Part 2

This seems to be the topic of the week this week - so let me add more thoughts to this topic.

If your organization has .NET programmers that are available now and they have a lot of time on their hands, then yes it is possible to develop your own enterprise mobile application. Here are a couple of questions before you start:

  • Have your programmers completed successful mobile applications before? If this is their first time there is a steep learning curve that must be considered.
  • Is the same programmer going to code the mobile application, code the security, code the synchronization logic, code the database integration and code the business logic? If there are multiple developers/programmers involved - ask question #1 about each of them.
  • Are these programmers going to also write your user guide and document the solution?
  • How long will your programmers stay with your organization? What if the programmer leaves? Who will support it and maintain it?

There are many parts to an enterprise mobile solution. It is rare for even an experienced .NET programmer to have experience in all of the components. Here are some good questions to ask a programmer before you start coding your mobile application:

  • How do you plan to sync the data?
  • What sync engine will you use and why?
  • How will you connect to the enterprise database remotely from the field?
  • How do you handle security?
  • How will you integrate the data into existing database systems?
  • How will you glue all these components together in your application so it all works?
  • How will you support multiple mobile devices- Windows Mobile, WinCE, Tablet PC, Windows PC?

These are all questions that need to be answered before a programmer begins. Here is the problem - often a programmer views their component (the mobile application on the handheld PDA) as 90% of the project. Will that simply is not the case. The majority of the time and effort is in connecting all the different components together, integrating and testing.

I have often heard a comment from a programmer that the mobile application is done, although it takes another 8 weeks before it could be deployed. The mobile application is often the smallest part of the project. Many programmers can code a simple PDA application. However an enterprise mobile application needs much more than a simple, stand alone PDA application. It needs full synchronization, remote connectivity, device management, integration, security and more.

- the reason companies love MobileDataforce's PointSync Suite is that all of these components and features are already developed and available for you to configure. You are not required to figure out all of these issues and code them. PointSync is a RADs-ME tool - A rapid application development solution for mobile environments. It is designed for organizations without the desire or time to program all of these components.

So in summary - anyone with the time, interest, intellect and money to code a complete enterprise mobile solution can. PointSync is for those that need the mobile application without the time and money needed to code it from scratch.

More on Buy vs. Build

Even More on Buy vs. Build

You've got to be kidding - yet more on Buy vs. Build...


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Buy vs. Building an Enterprise Mobile Solution? Part 1

This is a good and fair question. Let's start our discussion with a scenario - You want to monitor assets for your government agency. That means you want to track all the street signs, sewer pipes, manhole covers, guard rails etc, that your organization owns using a mobile software application on a handheld computer. You also want to mobilize your inspection processes involving these assets. In addition, you would like to integrate a "work order" management system to dispatch repair technicians when work is needed. You would like all of these processes to be mobilized on a handheld computer that synchronizes with your central databases.

The problem - Often the above processes involve more than one desktop application and multiple backend databases. How would you mobilize all of these? You can't buy 1 mobile software package that will integrate with all of these desktop applications and databases. Why, some of your applications are home grown, undocumented and specific to your working environment. No one else knows your unique inventory of applications. Typically you will have 3 choices:

  1. Buy pre-built mobile clients for each of your off-the-shelf desktop applications. So if you have 8 desktop applications that you use, you will need 8 different mobile software packages in order to mobilize these processes. This is very expensive, forces you to learn 8 different mobile applications, punch 8 different holes in your firewall, learn 8 different synchronization technologies, and 8 different configuration environments. In addition, this does not help you to mobilize your home grown custom applications. Another challenge, most of your 8 desktop applications will not have mobile client applications available.
  2. Develop mobile software applications from scratch using .NET or other programming environments. This can be done, but you need a person with mobile programming experinece to develop a new and different mobile client application for each desktop application and database. There is little ability to reuse code so each of these mobilization projects will take considerable planning and lengthy development time.
  3. Use a mobile software platform that is a rapid application development environment for mobile solutions. This allows you to quickly configure mobile client applications that can synchronize with multiple backend databases. You can standardize on one method of synchronization, learn one development environment, one integration methodology and have one company that can train and support you. You don't need to be a programmer, and you can edit and update your own mobile applications as often as you want. You maintain control of your own applications and you can easily support any of your custom home grown database applications. You can mobilize all 8 of your desktop applications using one mobile software platform. You don't have to pay someone else to develop mobile applications, your own IT team can support any of your mobile client application needs. I am bias, but there is a lot of value to owning your own mobile RADs-ME tool (rapid application development environment for mobile solutions). You buy your RADs-ME tool once, and then you can develop an unlimited number of mobile applications. You control the cost, you control the updates, you customize to your requirements and you are not dependent on some outside software company's schedule and cost structure. Once you have been trained, you can develop mobile client applications internally for any desktop database application.

PMM Selects MobileDataforce Software for Handheld PDAs

Last week MobileDataforce was selected to provide mobile asset management/field inspection software for a large project in South Africa. It will be used by the South African government to assess property taxes.

Properties will be inspected, data will be collected on a mobile handheld device and the data will be synchronized to an enterprise database. The software application that will be used is MobileDataforce's PointSync. It will be integrated with GPS and mapping software so the exact location of all property assessments can be identified and documented.

Manitoba Hydro Selects MobileDataforce Software

We do a lot of business in the electrical utility industry. This previous blog article identified many of the mobile utility projects we have delivered. This week we gained a new customer in Canada called Manitoba Hydro. They selected MobileDataforce as their mobile software platform for field inspections. They listed over 17 inspections that they want to mobilize (convert from paper to mobile handheld data collection).

The solution will involve using rugged PDAs in the field, MobileDataforce software for the mobile inspection application and synchronization to an enterprise database.

Clinical Research Company Selects MobileDataforce

MobileDataforce just won the contract to develop a large clinical research solution for stroke victims. This project involves healthcare providers using handheld PDAs and PDA software from MobileDataforce to monitor treatment programs and the clinical results over a number of years.

MobileDataforce is becoming more and more involved in the healthcare field. We have recently delivered solutions for remotely monitoring young patients, mobile asset management in hospitals, safety inspections of hospitals and now clinical research.

The clinical research project involves using handheld pdas for data collection, software from MobileDataforce, and synchronization with an enterprise database.

Ease of use, flexibility, and quick application development were reasons given for MobileDataforce winning the award.