Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Wal-Mart and Mobile Handheld PDA Solutions - Symbol MC50

I was shopping at Wal-Mart last night. OK!!! I needed food and it was there. As I am prone to do...I stopped a Wal-Mart employee who was walking by with a Symbol MC50 handheld and asked how she was using it. She said their new system allows her to approve or disapprove any issues at the cash register while working anywhere in the building. She simply punches in here ID on the transaction in question and selects here options to approve or disapprove. It saves management the time and exercise of running from the back room to the front cash register all day long. I wonder how this anti-exercise technology effects the manager in question?
The process described above does have some interesting lessons. How often do field service technicians have questions, or need approval to purchase items for a project? Perhaps they need a part, filter, tool etc. How much time is wasted trying to track down the operations manager on the golf course just to get a simple approval. Wal-Mart provides another useful process that involves handheld computers.
MobileDataforce provides a mobile software development platform and development services for mobilizing all kinds of business processes that are deployed to handhelds, smartphones and PDAs.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Appforge Users - What are the Choices?

MobileDataforce has had dozens of calls from Appforge users looking for new and different options for mobile application development. We generally present them with the following options:
  1. Use .NET to develop mobile applications and a mobile application platform

  2. Use a "rapid application development solution for mobile environments" like MobileDataforce's PointSync Mobility Platform.

MobileDataforce® PointSync is a complete mobility platform, used to rapidly design, develop and deploy business critical mobile applications to the field force. The PointSync® Mobility Platform is an enterprise class solution architected to provide database centric applications with full bi-directional synchronization and security for use on handheld computers, Smart Phones, Tablet PCs and Laptops.

It really depends on if your interest is a cool IT development project, or if you simply want the mobile application done so you deploy and start using it. If your interest is really the completed project, not the development experience, then using the PointSync Mobility Platform is likely going to get you deployed in the field in a fraction of the time and with a lot less cost and effort.

If you would like a personal demonstration of the PointSync Mobility Platform click here.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Mobile Software Solutions and Breakfast in Boise

The sales team at MobileDataforce prepared a delicious breakfast for the rest of the company this morning. They served "New York" style muffins (fried muffins with butter) and wonderful omelets! The photo on the right shows Jody Sedrick (in the red apron) making an omelet, while Sean Robideau supervises.
MobileDataforce is having a record sales year developing mobile software solutions for use on smartphones and handheld PDAs and the growth keeps everyone very focused. The sales team wanted to thank our customers, and all the other departments in MobileDataforce for the hard work that goes into supporting this growth.
This photo was taken from the back door of our office on the Boise river.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Otterbox and the iPAQ Handheld PDA Drop Test

Question - What does MobileDataforce do with old HP iPAQs?

Answer - We place them in a variety of rugged Otterbox cases and drop them to see if these handheld PDAs will break.

Details: We dropped the HP iPAQ many times from 8 feet. We used 2 different Otterboxs and we could not break the iPAQ inside. We then used a rugged iPAQ case from HP. The rugged case shattered, but not the iPAQ. So if you had a large number of HP cases, the iPAQ would be fine.

TDS Ranger & Trimble Ranger Rugged Handheld Computer

The TDS, or Trimble Ranger pictured here in the development screen of the PointSync Mobility Platform, is an interesting and very usable device. It is designed around the concept of a landscape view that makes it easier to read long data fields. This particular device is water proof and comes with more buttons than you could ever use. It has a full alphabetical keyboard and a full number pad plus navigation buttons.

Although one of the larger rugged handheld computers, the shape is very agreeable to the grip and the weight is reasonable. One of our customers is currently using this device in the context of mobile autobody services.

Unscientific Analysis of the Mobile Software Market for Handheld PDAs

If you are looking for a scientific study, with verifiable statistics, on the trends to be found in the enterprise mobile software application market, this is the wrong place. What I can share is the following examples from the past few days in Boise, Idaho, USA.

Last week I looked out of my office window (I do this a lot to appear contemplative), and see a mobile dent repair van in the parking lot. We have been involved with many mobile dent repair business application projects - my sales team swarmed him. Later that day the paintless dent repair technician visited our website to download information on our mobile solutions for paintless dent repair.

Yesterday, I visited Starbucks (this was not my first time), and saw a gentleman wearing a shirt that had a "Carrier" logo. Carrier is a manufacturer of Air Conditioning equipment. We have been involved with numerous mobile software application projects with HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) companies.

I said, "Howdy! I work for a company that develops software applications for handheld PDAs used in the HVAC industry." He looked at me with surprise (I get that a lot when I talk to people) and then he said, "I am looking for mobile work order software for my HVAC business right now."

Later, I was working in my tomato garden (a world class production) last week and my neighbor came over. He leaned against my fence and said the software company he works for is interested in mobilizing their work order management software application. I know just the company I told him. He is coming over to the office later this week.

Again yesterday I was returning to the office after having visited a unique, one-of-a-kind place called Starbucks, and there in the parking lot was a van with the words "Mobile Windshield Repair" on the side. I went down the hall to our sales department and pointed out the window. With an explosion of papers and headsets the room cleared. The Mobile Windshield company has many locations and vans operating across multiple states. They are interested in mobilizing their dispatch and work order processes.

My truly unscientific analysis suggests the market is very interested in mobilizing business processes today. I want to be the first to raise my hand and say - talk to us here at MobileDataforce. We have operations in North America, Europe and in Australia. We are helping companies achieve inspiring returns on their investments in mobile solutions and providing significant competitive advantages around the world.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Handheld Computers & Rugged PDAs Everywhere

When you walk the halls of MobileDataforce you will see desk's covered with PDAs, rugged handheld computers, bar code scanners, cradles, satellite domes, etc. On a pass a few minutes ago I saw the following:

  • Intermec CN3
  • Psion Teklogix's WorkAbout Pro (different sizes)
  • Socket SoMo (and Socket Bar code Scanner)
  • Symbol MC70
  • Palm Treo 750 (700, 650...)
  • HP iPAQ
  • Dell Axim
  • Symbol 9000
  • T-Mobile MDA
  • Samsumg
  • Casio
  • Mobile Mapper CE
  • Itronix Duo-Touch
  • TDS Nomad
  • Mobile Printers of all kinds

A paradise of mobile gadgets, Windows Mobile applications,cradles and cables that we are testing or deploying at sites around the world.

Two weeks ago one of our senior engineers had a Psion Teklogix WorkAbout Pro on his desk. It was sent to us from a customer in the UK, shipped from the Netherlands and manufactured in France. It contained a specialized RFID radio in it that we configured to work with the PointSync Mobility Platform. This solution was going to be used on RFID enabled "wheelie bins" or large trash containers. What could be more fun?

For those of you pondering how to choose the right hardware for your company's needs, please follow this link and download the document called, "Selecting Appropriate Handheld Computers."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Enterprise Mobile Software Solutions, Buy vs Build

The question came up again today from a prospective customer - Should I buy a mobile software development platform like the PointSync Mobility Platform, or should I build my own for use on mobile handheld PDAs and smartphones? This is a good and fair question. Follow the links below for a detailed discussion on this matter.

New WorkAbout Pro Rugged Handheld Computer from Psion Teklogix

Psion Teklogix has released a new version of their rugged handheld computer called the WorkAbout Pro - 2nd Generation. Here is their description:

The second generation WORKABOUT PRO, more rugged and more feature-rich than its predecessor, enables you to significantly change the wireless handheld device in the field, as your work requirements evolve over time. Psion Teklogix is leveraging existing expansion modules from our first generation WORKABOUT PRO, which are fully compatible with the second generation, providing our customers and partners additional investment protection. The new WORKABOUT PRO supports a variety of field installable expansion modules including scanners, imagers, RFID modules, Wireless LAN (WLAN) Wireless WAN (WWAN) radios, and more. Psion Teklogix takes flexibility to the next level by offering a Hardware Developer’s Kit (HDK) that allows you to develop your own custom expansion modules to address your unique business needs. Some recent developments include expansion modules that take fingerprints, read cattle ear tags, and scan passports.

MobileDataforce has seen many of these devices deployed in rugged conditions with excellent results.

Intermec CN3 Handheld PDA with Card Reader

MobileDataforce is testing a new Intemec CN3 handheld PDA with an attached card reader for one of our clients. It feels nice and balanced in my hand and seems to be a very viable hardware solution for our clients.

Our client wants to perform inspections out-of-doors with this windows mobile device and also charge for services, process a credit or debit card transaction and print invoices and receipts from a mobile printer.

VIN Decoding with the Socket SoMo Handheld PDA & Socket Scanner on GM Automobiles

MobileDataforce is involved with a lot of mobile software project's in the automotive industry. Paintless Dent Removal, windshield repair, automobile bumper repair, upholstery repair, etc. Many of these projects we work on use the ability to scan the barcode VIN (vehicle identification number) on the automobile. Scanning the VIN enables you to quickly pull up all the relevant data on the car and to uniquely identify the car you are servicing.

Yesterday we tried to use the new Socket Pocket PC with an add-on Socket barcode scanner to read the VIN on a General Motors vehicle. No luck. GM automobiles all have their VIN number with barcode on the dashboard so you must scan through the windshield. The scanner is just not bright enough to penetrate the windshield under full sun. This is not unique since about the only device we have tested that does this well in the Psion Teklogix WorkAbout Pro with a laser scanner.

In defense of the Socket SoMo - we are very impressed with the speed of this device and it's PDA capabilities. Our Product Manager uses it daily in the office.

Electric Bikes and Mobile Handheld PDA Software at MobileDataforce

Check out Dave Wasden's new electric bike! As most of you know Dave Wasden is involved in just about everything that goes on here at MobileDataforce from design mobile software to testing it on mobile handheld PDAs. He is the author of a blog on mobile solutions, he conducts many of our PointSync Mobility Platform training classes in Europe, Australia and in North America and manages our sales channels.
He rode this beautiful new electric bike into the office this morning. He bought the kit and added it to a regular bicycle. It goes up to 35 MPH and has a 9 mile range between charges!
With all the new capabilities available on mobile handheld computers you can have turn-by-turn navigation, Bank of America mobile banking applications, Microsoft Office documents, and mobile versions of popular accounting applications all on your Windows Mobile device in your pocket. Who needs a briefcase anymore?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Barnes & Noble's and Handheld PDAs - Symbol PDT 3140

I have a habit. It is a habit that my family has learned to live with. I must confess. I can not pass by a person working with a handheld PDA without stopping to ask them what they are doing. My family has learned to just keep on walking as if they don't know me.

Yesterday, I was walking through Barnes & Noble (a book store) when I spotted an employee working with a Symbol PDT 3140. I first introduced myself and said my interest in her was purely professional (I've got to work on that line). I told her I worked at MobileDataforce and we deliver all kinds of mobile software solutions for use on Symbol handheld computers, and was interested in how she was using it.
"Are you using it for inventory tracking?" I asked.
"No, I am looking up where each book on my cart is to be placed on the shelf," she answered.
She was not using the handheld PDA and mobile software purely as an inventory database, but the software on it was telling her how to do her job the right way based upon planagrams (analysis of how items should be displayed and organized to maximize sales). This is a very good example of how mobile handheld computer solutions can be much more than just portable data storage, or field data collection devices. Huge DB2, SAP or Oracle databases with data mining and business intelligence applications can crunch large numbers and then push that knowledge to the mobile handheld computer of the mobile worker. This allows the most sophisticated intelligence to be shared with the lady in Barnes and Noble, or the electrical utility guy crawling through the briars inspecting power lines via his mobile handheld PDA.

Friday, July 20, 2007

New Rugged Handheld PDA - Trimble Nomad

The new rugged handheld from Trimble & TDS is quite impressive. Follow this link to the full description:
The new Trimble Nomad packs even more functionality into the most powerful and full-featured rugged handheld computer available. Start with an 806 MHz processor, 1 GB of Flash storage, a long-life battery and integrated wireless capabilities like GPS, 802.11g, and Bluetooth. Then select an optional integrated laser bar code scanner and color digital camera. The Nomad also features a high-resolution, sunlight-visible VGA display that shows graphics and maps in crisp detail. And it's fully rugged and just as tough as our other handhelds which means the Nomad offers a lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) than consumer-grade handhelds.
In the past I have been disappointed with the lack of muscle and speed in the TDS Recon (a predecessor), and the need to add external GPS, barcode, digital camera assessories, but this new product line seems to have resolved most of those issues. I am a big fan of the rugged, easy grip, water resistant case, and I just think the Tonka Truck yellow is cool!
Many of MobileDataforce's customers work in rough and tumble environments (utilities, construction, asset tracking, inspections, environmental assessments, etc.) and a rugged handheld PDA like the Nomad is a great choice.
Here is another link to a blog on the Trimble Nomad.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

What Don't I Know About Mobile Software Solutions & Deployments?

This is always a difficult question. How can you know what you don't know. Well I guess the answer is you find someone who has been there and done that and learn from them.

This blog article is a good starting point. It identifies 51 questions the helpdesk team will want to have answered before large mobile software deployments.

Let me highlight a few of the questions you will want to have answered:
  1. Do you anticipate only needing one specific mobile software application, or many mobile applications over time? Can you start with a mobile software platform that supports all of your mobile needs, or will each mobile application be a separate IT project and use different technologies and infrastructures?

  2. Do you know your exact solution and data requirements in advance, or do you anticipate needing to edit and adjust your mobile application as you learn from your field experiences and users? This will impact both design and schedules.

  3. Do you have an in-house software development capability, budget and helpdesk infrastructure to enable you to customize your own mobile software application(s)?
  4. Do you want to contract your mobile software application design, development and deployment to an experienced mobility company, or build it internally?

  5. Will you be synchronizing your field data with one back-office database, or multiple database applications?

  6. Do you know how to integrate field data to your database applications? Do you have your own DBA that can do this?

  7. Mobile solutions are often used on laptops, Tablet PCs, Smart phones, PDAs, etc. Do you know your exact hardware requirements? Will you be supporting just one device, or all of the above?

  8. If your internal IT staff are developing your mobile solution, do they know how to do the following: support GPS, Barcodes, RFID, Digital Signatures, Digital Image integration, synchronize data across multiple databases, provide helpdesk tools to support large deployments, etc.

  9. Do you have an IT development team that is experienced in designing, developing and deploying mobile applications, or is this their very first mobility project. Can you afford the steep learning curve, time and money developing a mobile application in-house with no experience?

  10. Have you considered the support effort required to manage large mobile software deployments? Do you have software in place to manage this?

  11. The biggest challenge with complex mobile application development is to create the right data model for your mobile application before you start development. Often an appropriate data model for a simple mobile application, is not the appropriate data model once you start adding features in future versions.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Insurance Inspector & Mobile Handheld PDA Inspection Software

Our team in the UK has been busy working with a number of insurance companies on mobilizing their inspection processes. Automobiles that are damaged must be inspected by representatives of the insurance company in order to value the car and appraise the damage.

The inspections take place at the location of the car - so rather than travel to the location, fill out a paper form, submit the paper form to the administration staff to type into a computer - the inspector fills out an electronic inspection form on a mobile handheld PDA and submits it wirelessly to the enterprise computer system for immediate processing.

Mobilized inspection software and processes make so much sense and are very easy to justify on the merits of reduced expenses, reduced errors and better customer service.