Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Custom Mobile Software Applications for Handheld PDAs - Don't Start from Scratch

As fun as it may sound to build a custom mobile software application from scratch, I would invite you to consider the merits of using a mobile application development tool kit before you start.

The concept of a mobile application development tool kit, for developing mobile software for handheld PDAs, 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 pre-developed in a tool kit, so you can configure not develop them from scratch. Components and functions such as:
  • support for GPS
  • support for multiple screen sizes
  • support for storing and synchronizing digital images
    support for synchronization of data between a mobile device and an enterprise database
  • support for RFID
  • support for various button configurations on different models of handheld devices and Smart phones
  • support for various security configurations
  • support for bluetooth
  • support for disconnected applications
  • support for a wide range of Tablet PCs, laptops, Windows CE.NET, Windows Mobile etc.
  • support for audio memo capture
  • support for various bar code scanners
  • support for new versions of popular operating systems and their new features
  • support for odbc database integration
  • support for data validations on the mobile devices
  • support for various business logic and business rules requirements
  • Mobile screen design tools
  • much more...

Again the above components and functions need not be developed new for every project. They should be provided pre-developed by your mobile software development tool kit vendor. They are pre-developed, assumed-to-be debugged and tested, added to the tool kit library, improved over time and expanded so all developers can take advantage of them. There is no value added by your internal software development team building what is already available and market tested for less costs than developing in-house.

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 want to configure mobile solutions, not design and program every possible custom scenario.

MobileDataforce is the developer of a mobile software development tool kit called PointSync.

Inspection Software for Handheld PDAs in Mobile Environments

Many inspection services companies work in mobile and rugged environments. They invest time and money into traveling to the point of work. The more time traveling, the less time providing inspection services. In this blog article we will discuss some strategies for saving time, reducing expenses and providing more services using mobile handheld PDA and mobile software technologies.

Many inspections are follow-up inspections or reoccurring inspections on a schedule. In these kinds of inspections the inspector must reference previous inspection data. If the previous inspections were conducted on paper, then the inspector must acquire a copy of these previous inspections to take with them on the next visit. This often requires extra costs associated with driving time, gas and missed opportunity costs (less time inspecting and getting paid).

I remember 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 did the following:
  • Drove to the main office where previous inspections were stored
  • Sorted through file cabinets for previous inspection results
  • Read through these files to determine any previous non-compliance or failed inspection issues.
  • Recorded issues and highlighted them for review at the site
  • Loaded these files into a box and carried them out to their vehicles
  • Re-inspected the site and recorded more information on new forms
  • Added new paper forms to the files
  • Drove back to the main office
  • Administration staff typed all the information from the new forms into a database system on a desktop computer

A simple database synchronization with a handheld PDA, laptop or Tablet PC from the field could have completed most of the above tasks in seconds. The inefficiencies listed above are not uncommon. Inspection software applications can be developed that synchronize directly to the central database. Queries on past inspections can quickly provide historic inspection data at the point of work without all the extra expense of driving to the office and manually searching through file cabinets. The time re-typing inspection data can be eliminated as well.

In these times of economic challenges, companies are looking for ways to do more with less. Mobile solutions can provide many cost savings and allow companies to conduct more services with less resources. For more information on mobile inspection solutions please contact MobileDataforce.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Juno SC Handhelds

Trimble has just announced their new Juno SC handheld. This device is meant for people that work out of doors and need a pocket sized and industrial strength GPS unit that uses a Microsoft Windows Mobile OS.

The value of using a Windows Mobile OS is that many mobile software development tools like PointSync from MobileDataforce uses Windows Mobile. You can develop and customize nearly any kind of mobile software application you can image to run on this device.

"The Juno series handhelds are the ideal solution for GIS-enabled organizations that require high productivity from their mobile field workforce," said Peter Large, general manager of Trimble's Mapping and GIS Division.

An iPhones is My Mobile Phone and Handheld PDA

I have and use an iPhone as my primary mobile computing device which means a PDA or Smartphone. It has some exceptional features including:
  • GPS
  • Easy application uploading and updating
  • High speed Internet
  • Great screen
  • Many great operational features for ease of use

However, the iPhone has some problems or is missing some key features that are required by business users including:

  • GPS fails to track fast enough to use while driving
  • GPS fails to pinpoint the location of the user
  • No TASK function - Apple has not included even a basic TASK function. Many of my colleagues use the standard Microsoft TASK function regularly, and Apple's exclusion of this simple but useful tool is strange
  • No CUT and PASTE function - The exclusion of this feature is another strange choice by Apple - who wants to retype every note or phone number that needs to be moved around on the iPhone....what a pain. My only guess is that Apple wants to train us to email everything to a desktop or laptop for editing....very strange and inefficient
  • The keyboard on the iPhone is clever, but Apple makes another very strange choice to limit the email keyboard to portrait view only. The Internet browser permits a landscaped keyboard which is very nice, but the keyboard in the email only allows portrait...this view of the keyboard is too small for fast and effective 2 fingered typing. Why would they limit the keyboard in the very application where fast typing is most required?
  • The landscape view of an Internet browser is too small for viewing. It is nice that they try to show you a complete view of a full sized website, but it is too small for real use. You continue to find yourself enlarging the view and scrolling all around the website to view it. Not convenient or enjoyable.

I spent some time reviewing all of the applications available on iTunes for the iPhone in December 2008. There were many interesting applications, but there was an obvious lack of real business applications. I consider real business applications as running relational databases and synchronizing or communicating directly with recognized business software applications like SAP. Where are the applications that extend workflows from ERPs into the field?

The lack of real business applications again points to the challenging environment of mobile software. The market is so fragmented that mobile users will find it hard to find a mobile version of their exact ERP or Field Service application. This means companies will need to develop their own customized version, use an experienced mobile software development company or use a mobile software development tool kit from a company like MobileDataforce.

Why is it hard to find a mobile version of your office software? Software companies need to find markets where they can build one software application and then sell it many times to make a profit. In IT environments where customized database applications and customized workflows are the norm, mobile software companies are not able to pre-build mobile applications. They don't know how you want the application to function or what data you need in the field. This must be configured on a customized basis in most companies. Therefore, companies need to work with a mobile software company that can offer a cost effective, very flexible mobile software toolkit so you can take advantage of their tools, synchronizing technologies and application development environments to keep the development costs reasonable.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Mobile Applications for Handheld PDAs and Business Process Automation

Some of the most important and valuable components of SAP's ERPs are the best practices business processes and work flows that are developed in them. These are automated processes that ensure that the business is completed in the appropriate way each time. These work flows and business processes have evolved and improved over the past couple of decades with much research, trial and error. Now that they are highly developed, wouldn't it be a shame to lose the benefit of them when applications go mobile and are used on handheld PDAs and smartphones?

Business process automation is even more necessary when workers are mobile and working away from management oversight. How, when and why should information be collected from the remote work site? How should you handle the need to purchase replacement parts for the equipment you are repairing 50 miles from the office? What paper work do you need to fill out? How do you hire temporary labor at a remote work site? What paper work needs filled out and what information needs sent back to the office so paychecks can be processed? The answers and processes for these kinds of issues are usually pre-determined and pre-configured in the ERP system, but not often on the mobile software that runs on your smartphone or handheld PDA.

When considering the use of mobile software applications, ask your SAP consultant or mobile software vendor how they can help mobile workers by extending business process automation to mobile handhelds and smartphones.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Enterpise Mobile Applications on Handheld PDAs and ERPs

SAP, the world's third largest software company, has defined and standardized many business processes. These business processes are used to ensure repeatable and quality business practices inside the four walls of the organization. The challenge - these business processes are often lost once a worker becomes mobile.

Mobile workers are often disconnected from their company's ERP once they are on the road. Many have Blackberrys or other handheld PDAs or smartphones that allow for a quick ERP query, email or message, but they rarely extend the work flow to a mobile environment.

When a company pays tens of millions of dollars for an ERP like SAP or Oracle, and 40% of their work force is mobile - someone ought to be thinking about extending a work flow out to a mobile device. Blackberrys don't have the robust operating system that Window Mobile does so it may be more of a challenge for Blackberry users. However, companies like MobileDataforce specialize in creating mobile applications that extend your ERP's work flow into the mobile world.

Friday, November 07, 2008

FieldSync Automotive for Mobile Handheld PDAs Hits SEMA with a Storm

This week the MDF sales team attened the SEMA show in Las Vegas. If you are not familiar with the SEMA Show, it is the premier automotive specialty products trade event in the world. It draws the hottest products for the automotive industry to one place and we were there in force. The show attracts more than 120,000 industry leaders from over 100 countries.

Our booth was a HUGE success! We introduced the latest version of FieldSync Automotive, for use on mobile handheld PDAs, which hosts a slew of new features like Estimating, RO#/PO# reference and enhanced reporting capabilities. Our booth was surrounded by interested parties who were anxious to test drive FieldSync Automotive. After viewing FieldSync one visitor commented, "this will revolutionize our business."

That's our goal - delivering mobile solutions that extend business processes into mobile environments.

We are looking forward to 2009 with great anticipation!

I anticipate 2009 will bring more off the shelf FieldSync products so stay tuned as we move to bridge the gap between your field workers and the home office.

Friday, August 15, 2008

iPhone Enterprise Mobility Apps

Finally, it appears that iPhone has real enterprise business applications available to run on it. This article lists the top enterprise mobile software applications as:
  1. Oracle for iPhone
  2. Salesforce for iPhone
  3. Sybase's Mobile Office for iPhone

These are small applications, but with great potential.

Great Article on Enterprise Mobility Trends for Mobile Handheld PDA Applications

This is one of the best articles, with good data, good opinions and bold projections on the enterprise mobile computing industry, Handheld PDAs and Mobile Software. It is interesting that this article came out on MacNewsWorld.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Apple's App Store & T-Mobile's Application Store

Both Apple (with App Store) and now T-Mobile (T-Mobile unconfirmed) are launching or are preparing to launch online stores to distribute and sell mobile business and consumer software applications. I have long been involved in the mobile business application markets and can see both the benefits and challenges this model can have. Let me summarize:
  • Online stores promoted by big name companies - this is a good thing. Most mobile business application companies are small companies that can use all the help they can get from a larger company's marketing funds.
  • More visibility to the carrier's network of sales people and reseller channels - again this is good for the small software company producing mobile business applications
  • Sharing 30% of the revenue with the Online Store - this means you are effectively giving up 30% of your revenue as a "cost of sales" or "marketing cost". This would be OK, if you consider the Online Store as a reseller, however, you are still likely to be required to do all of the pre-sales, sales, post-sales and support work anyway. This can get expensive and unprofitable if mishandled.
  • Most mobile business applications consist of many different software components, only a small portion are actually downloadable to the mobile device. So if your multi-component mobile business application only makes a mobile client available on the Online Store, then the remainder could be sold directly by the small mobile business software company in a separate transaction. This is the likely scenario that will work. The Online Store would sell a $19 mobile software client, but the mobile application server, administration component, mobile workflow and device management would be separate applications and fees available directly from the software vendor for another $97,000 (I just made that number up).
  • In effect - the software vendor will just alter their pricing to lower the price of the mobile client - sold through the Online Store, but raise the price of their server, manager, work flow and device management components to meet their revenue model.
  • The net effect to the Online Store is they will make 30% of the $19 mobile client component downloaded from their site, but none of the $97,000 for the rest of the enterprise mobile software platform, consulting and integration fees.
  • The Online Store will not like this model and will tend to promote a monthly service based software package in the SaaS model. The Online Store will see this as getting a larger piece of the entire enterprise mobile solution, not just the small mobile software client.

It will interesting to watch how this model plays out in the market.

- Kevin Benedict

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Great Links to Mobile Technology Portals, Websites and Other Points of Interest

Hello Folks,

I found this list of wireless and mobile industry links that is quite useful.

» Portable Design Mobile Computing
» Wireless Week» Wireless Net DesignLine
» Mobilized Software
» Mobile Enterprise
Wi-Fi Planet
» Mobile Handset DesignLine
» RF Design
» RCR Wireless News
» Wireless Design & Development
» Unstrung» Wireless IQ
» Ultrawideband Planet
» Mobile Tech Today
» CWNP Wireless Certifications
» Global Wireless Education Consortium
» WiMax Forum
» FCC- Wireless Telecom Bureau
» Google Mobile
» CDMA Development Group
» WINLAB» MIPI Alliance
» Investing in Wireless
» Open Mobile Alliance
» 3GPP
» 3GPP2
» Bluetooth SIG
» Enterprise Wireless Alliance
» UMTS Forum
» Wireless Messaging Association
» Mobiliser Intel for Wireless Executives
» 3G Today
» The Wireless Report
» BlipLog Mobile Content
» Mobile Mentalism
» Mobile Entertainment
» m-trends Mobile Media Lifestyle
» This is Mobility
» Mobiltee
» Wireless-Watch.Community
» MobHappy
» Mobile Monday

More on iPhone Challenges and Mobile Software

Larry Borsato of the Industry Standard wrote an insightful article recently on the Nine reasons the iPhone apps platform is lacking. Tiny companies, developing tiny applications, with tiny investments may be interested in developing tiny mobile software applications for tiny niche markets, but any significant mobile software company that develops industrial strength mobile applications would be unwilling to work under the present conditions set forth by Apple.

- Kevin Benedict

Monday, August 11, 2008

Otterbox, Dell Axiom PDAs, Handhelds and Windows Mobile 6.0

Today, while waiting for the activation of my new mobile phone, I watched the water bottle delivery guy carry to large bottles a water in the store. On his hip he wore a nylon case with a mobile device in a rugged case (Otterbox) inside it. I could not stop myself. I walked over and asked him what kind of mobile device he was using inside the rugged Otterbox case. He grimaced as he set the heavy water bottles down and reached into the case. He held it up for me to inspect. It was an old Dell Axiom PDA inside the rugged case.

There is nothing wrong with a Dell Axiom, except for the fact they are no longer made. They ran on Windows Mobile 5.0 and earlier versions of pocket pc, so there is no Dell Axiom that can run on Windows Mobile 6.0. Again, nothing is wrong with running on Windows Mobile 5.0, unless the Dell Axiom dies and you need to buy a new mobile device. New mobile devices run on Windows 6.0. There is nothing wrong with buying a new mobile device that runs on Windows 6.0 unless of course the software you were using only runs on Windows Mobile 5.0. If you developed your own mobile software application 2 years ago for the Windows Mobile 5.0 OS, and your trusted software developer has long since departed for an IPO-bound career in a wireless mobile software company, then you have some challenges.

Most companies do not think about technical obsolescence issues when they decide to custom build a mobile application internally. For a longer list of issues to consider before choosing to develop your own mobile application please visit this website.

- Kevin Benedict

iPhone Business Applications

On Tuesday, August 5, 2008 the Wall Street Journal published an article called Ringing Up Business With iPhone Applications by Raymund Flandez. In this article, an example of a business applications is a set of medical flashcards that work on iPhones. They also suggest these business applications, at $39.00 are expensive. OK...let's talk.

Real mobile business applications are extensions of key business applications that are run in the office. These mobile business applications enable you to integrate mobile devices with large, complex database applications that include workflow automation, database queries and business automation. The challenge that Apple has today is that their software SDK (software development kit) does not include synchronization technology that enables software developers to easily move data between a database applications in the office and the iPhone.

Another criticism I have for this article is suggesting that $39.00 for a business application is expensive. Expensive is of course relative, but significant business applications can often be worth $39,000-$390,000 to companies that can automate and mobilize their mobile users.

- Kevin Benedict

Monday, August 04, 2008

Convergent Handheld PDAs & Garmin

I have written several blog articles over the past couple of years on the concept of "convergent" handheld computers and PDAs. My definition of a convergent device is a handheld computer or PDA that combines many different features such as:
  • Mobile phone
  • Music player and mass storage
  • Digital camera/video camera
  • GPS and navigation
  • Internet connectivity
  • Powerful operating system that can run powerful business applications (windows mobile or equivalent)
  • Audio memos
  • etc

The convergence of these features in one mobile handheld device provide the mobile worker/field services worker the capabilities of automating and mobilizing many of their business processes and applications without carrying multiple devices.

Garmin, a long time satellite-navigation device company, seems to just be absorbing this concept. As printed in the Wall Street Journal's Breakingviews.com on Saturday, August 2, 2008 - Garmin has been planning, but is now delaying the launch of their mobile phone and gps navigation device until the first half of 2009. It does not seem to include many of the features listed above, but does combine the mobile phone with GPS/Navigation. My question, like the Wall Street Journal's, is why now? Where were they when they owned the GPS/Navigation market? Did they completely miss this concept in 2006, 2007 and 2008 when the iPhone was introduced? Did they really think people would want to carry multiple devices around?

- Kevin Benedict

Friday, August 01, 2008

Mobile Software, Handheld PDAs & Paper Processes Compared to Mobile Handheld PDA Solutions

I have worked with many companies that have experienced challenges with processing paperwork. Why? Often the work is performed in remote locations by people without years of experience, far from the accounting systems, managers and administrative staff. Here is some of the paperwork involved:
  • Creating a job estimate
  • Getting the job estimate approved and signed by the customer
  • Scheduling and assigning the work to a specific service technician
  • Hiring new employees or contract help and completing the documentation
  • Documenting the work (to the customer's satisfaction)
  • Submitting the completed work to the customer for payment (in the proper format)
  • Paying the employee or contract help

This process may happen hundreds or thousands of times per day across a wide geographic region. How does the central office collect, enter and review all of this paperwork to ensure accuracy? How do managers keep all of the correct business processes happening in the field? How do you ensure quality and professionalism when there is significant staff turn-over? How do you keep your customers happy?

Many of these issues can be avoided, or eliminated by using an automated business process on a rugged handheld, PDA or Smartphone at the point-of-work. The handheld PDA and mobile software application can step each service technician systematically through the correct business processes. The handheld solution can inform the service technician how things need to be completed, provide additional audio and video examples, and alert when something has been done incorrectly. The information entered in the field, at the point-of-work, can be synchronized with headquarters and reviewed by management in near real time. This is how companies can ensure quality, consistency and the ability to scale up their business.

- Kevin Benedict

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

MobileDataforce Announces iPhone Software Development Services

MobileDataforce® Announces iPhone Software Development Services

New iPhone software development services enable businesses to deploy custom mobile business applications to the popular iPhone

Boise, Idaho— July 17, 2008 – MobileDataforce®, a leading provider of mobile software solutions for businesses, today announced a new professional services offering for users of the popular Apple iPhone.

MobileDataforce has for years been developing mobile software applications for use on handheld PDAs and helping our customers develop and deploy mobile enterprise software applications around the world on the Windows Mobile and Pocket PC operating systems. We are now adding the capabilities to develop enterprise mobile business applications for use on the iPhone.

About MobileDataforce®

MobileDataforce® is a leader in the development of enterprise class and business critical software solutions for use on mobile computers including Smart Phones, Handhelds, PDAs, Tablet PCs and laptops. MobileDataforce has sales 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 http://www.mobiledataforce.com/.

Apple Stores and Motorola MC50s

I had the opportunity to be in an Apple store in New York City last month. I was again very intrigued that Apple employees were still using Motorola handheld PDAs inside the Apple stores. I would think that Apple would want to replace these handheld PDAs that run Windows Mobile operating systems and are manufactured by their smartphone and PDA competitors. It will be interesting to watch this situation.

MobileDataforce is now developing custom mobile software applications for businesses wanting to extend the use of their iPhones or handheld PDAs into their business processes.

- Kevin Benedict

Mobile Data Collection on Handheld PDAs Drives Rational Decisions

The title of this article is a mouth full, but it is true. We have customers using mobile data collection technologies on handheld PDAs for the following purposes:
  • Surveying AIDS victims, using mobile handheld computers, in various African countries to learn about habits, practices, cultural norms and other lifestyle issues. This information is synchronized back to a central research databases so analyst can learn how best to educate people on how to prevent the spread of AIDS. Real field data is critical for developing the most effective educational programs.
  • Customer surveys included with Work Orders/Service Tickets. Once work is completed at a customer's location, the service technician hands the customer a mobile survey form on the handheld. The customer has the opportunity to rate the service in several different areas. This information is immediately synchronized to the office database and the manager can review the customer's responses. This is an effective way of scaling the manager/owners contact with customers. If there is a problem rating on the survey the manager can immediately contact the customer to address these issues. Having a mobile survey, also encourages the service technician to always provide their best customer support. Managers can base bonuses in part on customer survey reports.

These are just 2 areas where real-time, or near real-time mobile field data collection can enable managers in the office to make solid rational decisions based upon data gathered in far away locations.

If you are interested in more information on inspection software, data collection software or mobile software applications please visit MobileDataforce's website.

- Kevin Benedict

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Law of Mobility for Mobile Handheld PDAs and Mobile Software

The Law of Mobility states that the value of any product or service increases with its mobility. Improvements typically realized from a mobile solution include a reduction of paper, streamlining of non-value added and redundant processes, an increase in overall productivity, elimination of manual processes, reduced labor costs and overtime, and increased quality and reliability of information. ~Russell McGuire, The Power of Mobility

Russell McGuire has provided us with a concise description of the value of mobile software applications for use on mobile handheld PDAs. Here are 39 detailed reasons to mobilize your business.

Mobilizing business processes enables you to gain visibility into work done in the field, helps to ensure quality work, enables you to reduce administrative work and invoice for field services quicker.

- Kevin Benedict

Monday, July 14, 2008

Online Educational Video on Implementing Field Services Using Handheld PDAs

Educational Video on Mobilizing Field Services

For those of you interested in mobilizing your field services with handheld PDAs and mobile software, you will fine the following video informative and useful. The President of Psion Teklogix (a ruggedized handheld computer manufacturer), Ron Caines and myself explore the challenges and rewards of mobilizing field services and field data collection.

Field Services video

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Apple Could Make Things Easier for th iPhone Smartphone

It is a good thing MobileDataforce's professional services organization has so much experience developing enterprise mobile software applications and synchronizing with back office systems, because Apple has certainly not offered much help in making the iPhone enterprise ready. We are developing iPhone applications now for customers and are often coding our own software to fill many gaps in Apple's SDK.

This experience is predictable when new technology is released. It takes companies like MobileDataforce to fill in the missing links. Even with these early stage issues, it is certainly fun and the iPhone smartphone is absolutely capable of being a value enterprise tool for the mobile workforce.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

GPS Features on the iPhone

One of the coolest features of the Apple iPhone for businesses is the integrated GPS functionality. Companies can use these features for a large variety of purposes including:
  • Adding time and date stamps PLUS GPS coordinates to work orders as a way of proving the time, data and location of work performed
  • Enabling service technicians and delivery vans to be tracked in near real-time.
  • Helping drivers reach their destination faster and with less fuel
  • Associating job estimates to a GPS location
  • Locating and identifying the location of various pieces of equipment and other assets
  • Associating conditional assessments for asset management with a GPS location. This can be used to locate buildings, walls, sidewalks, sprinkler heads etc, that require repair

The list can go on forever because there is a HUGE amount of value in adding geospatial information to just about any field service activity. Including this feature on an iPhone is one more step toward making the iPhone a valueable business tool for the enterprise.

MobileDataforce is currently working on a number of mobile business applications for the iPhone.

Business Applications for Apple iPhones

MobileDataforce has just started a very cool mobile business application for use on the Apple iPhone. My team has over 50 years experience developing custom mobile applications yet are still excited about using their experience with the iPhones.

This iPhone business application involves the following:
  • Login to an office database application from an iPhone
  • Enter Sales Order information on the iPhone in the field and transfer the order to the database application in the office
  • Enter Shipping information on the iPhone and transfer the information to the database application in the office
  • Initiate credit card processing on the database application in the office
  • Receive acknowledgement of Order acceptance and CC processing
  • Initiate an order fulfillment and shipping process in the warehouse

This is just one of many iPhone applications and projects that MobileDataforce is reviewing and/or developing for our customers at this time. It is fun, but challenging as Apple has not provided complete tool sets for iPhone development yet. Currently we must develop many of the tools ourselves to address the needs of the enterprise business application market, but eventually Apple will offer more tools to simplify the most common enterprise integration needs.

Let the fun begin for the iPhone enterprise application market!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Extending the Use of Mobile Software and Handheld PDAs at the Airport

I have been away the past 10 days on vacation and noticed several uses for mobile handheld PDAs that I wanted to share.

The customer service folks at the Detroit airport, the people pushing the wheel chairs, were all using MC 70 handheld computers from Motorola/Symbol. This is the first time I have seen this category of worker using handheld PDAs and mobile software for dispatch. As I watched them, they would check them about every two minutes as new dispatches were sent out. It appeared that all dispatches were sent out, and available customer service staff would respond.

As I watched, I wondered if each dispatch had a unique work order number and was invoiced to the various airlines. I did not get the chance to follow-up, but that is how it appeared.

- Kevin Benedict

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Mobile Handheld PDA Technology in a Slow Economy

Slow economic periods are a time for reflection for many companies. Understanding how to react to an economic downturn is one of the hardest tasks for a manager. The focus must be on accomplishing more with less and reducing inefficiencies. How can you provide more services per person, lower administrative costs and reduce expenses while at the same time providing quality work and good customer services? This article is intended to help the reader start the process of self-evaluation - to explore where inefficiencies may be lurking in your own unique business environment.

The use of PDAs, Handhelds and other mobile software technologies, in the context of field services automation, is most often driven by the following 12 business motivations:

1. Efficiencies in communicating information between the office and the remote service technician or jobsite
2. Efficiencies in planning and scheduling work based upon location, parts and expertise needed
3. Reducing fuel costs
4. Reducing travel time
5. Reducing time consuming and error prone data entry activities in the office
6. Increasing productivity – more average service calls per service technician in a day
7. Increasing service contract sales
8. Increasing equipment upgrade sales
9. Increasing collections with mobile invoicing, mobile printing of invoices and onsite collections
10. Improving inventory control and management - visibility to parts needed, the location of inventory and parts used on each job or service ticket
11. Reduced risks by reminding service technicians of safety hazards and safety procedures on the job
12. Improving management visibility into work done in the field to ensure quality services
These 12 business motivations become increasingly important during slow economic times. In rapid growth periods inefficiencies are often overlooked in a rush to keep up with the market and business growth, and hidden under the onslaught of new sales and revenues. However, when the economy slows down, it is time for companies to re-evaluate business processes in order to eliminate the inefficiencies and bad habits that have developed. Let’s now review some common and costly inefficiencies:

1. Inefficiency # 1 -Wasted time and fuel driving back and forth to the office to pick-up and deliver new work orders, tools and parts. With the high cost of fuel, reducing driving distances is a necessity. Can you dispatch a service technician directly from their home to a nearby jobsite? Can you make sure your service technician has the most common parts in the van before they travel to the jobsite?
2. Inefficiency #2 – Wasting time and fuel by being unprepared for the job and driving around looking for parts. Can you reduce travel time and fuel costs by being better prepared for the job before traveling? Can you ask customers for more information on the equipment such as brand, serial number, year, location, problem etc? Can you ask the customer for a digital photo of the equipment, serial number, etc., and email it before dispatching the service technician?
3. Inefficiency #3 – Sitting outside of a locked and vacant location wasting time waiting for the owner to arrive. Can you set up an automated phone call to let the customer know you are on the way? This avoids showing up at a vacant house or closed business and wasting time.
4. Inefficiency # 4 – Sending service technicians to a distant location, when another service technician is closer and wasting time and fuel. Can you use GPS tracking on the vans to better know the location of all service technicians so you can dispatch the closest and best service technician for the job?
5. Inefficiency #5 – Missed opportunities to sell more services, parts and equipment to the customer at the time of work. Can you automatically remind the service technician to promote service contracts by using a mobile handheld work order system? This will help increase service contract sales.
6. Inefficiency #6 – Poor scheduling and routing. Can you schedule service contract visits based on geographic location to reduce fuel costs and wasted travel time? Can a service technician complete more service calls in a day if they are routed more efficiently?
7. Inefficiency #7 – Driving large and heavy vehicles when not required. If you have a better understanding of the parts required for today’s service calls, can you take a smaller, more fuel efficient vehicle to the jobsite?
8. Inefficiency #8 – Poor cash management and collect processes. Can you collect money, swipe credit cards and print receipts from a mobile handheld device to improve collections at the jobsite? Are you wasting time, paper and postage sending out invoices weeks after the work was completed?
9. Inefficiency #9 – Too much administrative costs. Can you reduce the costs of data entry and administrative staff by automating the dispatch process by using wireless work order dispatch that is integrated directly with your work order management and accounting systems?
Every company, upon self-evaluation, will be able to identify additional inefficiencies that can be corrected and reduced. Many of the costly inefficiencies can be resolved by automating and mobilizing field services business processes.

What does an automated and "mobilized" work order system or service request dispatch and management system look like? A customer calls in to report a broken heating system. The office staff takes the phone call, enters the relevant information into the work order application on the desktop computer which then creates a unique work order and number.
The work order database application, with GIS integration, can compare the location of each service technician to determine which service technician is closest to the work location. The dispatch system can also look at the estimated time the nearby service technicians are committed to completing their existing assignments. Once the appropriate service technician is identified, the work order is dispatched to the handheld computer used by the service technician. Included in the electronic work order is driving directions from his/her current location to the next job location. In addition to the work order information, warranty, repair, users manual, maintenance history and product information on file can also be dispatched to the handheld computer for reference and parts inventory management.

Once the service technician arrives at the location, he opens the work order on the handheld computer. Opening the work order automatically captures the service technician's name, the date/time stamp and the GPS coordinates of the jobsite and enters them into the mobile application’s work order.

Next the service technician examines the broken heating system and determines which parts need replaced. He can pull out his handheld computer and check whether he has the needed parts in his vehicle inventory, if not, it can automatically search for nearby service vehicles that may contain the part (GPS tracking enables this). If another nearby service vehicle is determined to have the required part, then driving directions can be sent.

When the service technician arrives at the service vehicle with the needed part, then the part is scanned using a bar code scanner in the handheld computer to log its removal from the vehicle's inventory and assigns it to the appropriate work order number.

Back at the work site, the service technician runs into a challenge. He has never worked on this model before and needs advice. He snaps a digital photo of the equipment and synchronizes it back to the office. His supervisor reviews the photo and calls him with advice.

Once the work is completed, the service technician signs his name on the handheld computer screen, and has the customer sign the work order screen as well. The service technician prints an invoice on a mobile printer and collects the payment or swipes the customer’s credit or debit card. The collection is noted on the mobile work order and synchronized back to the office.

As soon as the work order is completed and synchronized, the mobile application reminds the service technician to promote a 2 year service contract. The service technician reviews the details with the customer and signs them up for a 2 year service contract. Next, the work order system reviews job locations and priorities and assigns the next optimized work order to the field service technician.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Status of the Mobile Business Application Market for PDAs and Handhelds

I talk a lot. I talk to many other executives who work in the wireless mobility, handheld computer, enterprise software and PDA markets. We share views and experiences from these industries. Here is a summary of what I am hearing these days:

  • The handheld barcode scanner market is hurting. The traditional warehouse and retail markets are not spending money. With shrinking sales, the handheld barcode scanner market is suffering from decreasing margins and more competition

  • Sales people in the handheld barcode scanner industry are leaving under pressure to increase sales in a tough market with shrinking opportunities

  • Tradeshows and conferences are suffering due to the high costs of fuel and travel in a slow economy

  • The market segment for wireless mobile business software applications (where MobileDataforce plays) is the fastest growing segment of the wireless mobility market. The field work force continues to suffer from a large amount of inefficiencies that companies must fix in tough times in order to be competitive. Thus this market is growing when many other segments are not

Custom Mobile Applications for PDAs and Handhelds or Off-The-Shelf?

Definition of "Off-The-Shelf" software: A software application that is pre-developed and can be used by many companies in the same industry.
Our clients often ask the following question: Should they buy a mobile application pre-developed for PDAs and handhelds for less money? The answer may be yes if they have a business exactly the same as many other companies and mobile software is available that fits it. The challenge most companies have is that some percentage of their business processes are unique. Some portion of their enterprise software or database applications have been configured specifically for their own unique preferences. Perhaps competitive business processes are the secret to their success. If this is the case - it is highly likely that a customized mobile application may be both necessary and advantageous.
Often successful businesses have developed unique business processes, unique methodologies and specific techniques that provide competitive advantages. If you want to continue these practices and ensure your mobile handheld business solutions support these, then a customized mobile software application for your field workforce may be your answer.
MobileDataforce provides mobile software solutions that enable companies to rapidly develop customized mobile applications that support your competitive business processes and customized back-office software applications.
- Kevin Benedict

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Mobile PDA Solutions & Medicine in Ethiopia

This picture is of MobileDataforce's consultant, Will Hannold at Bete Giorgis in Lalibela in Ethiopia. He was working on a mobile handheld PDA software project to track the distribution of medicines to clinics. This is a government sponsored project that enables the development of a solid supply chain management system to be deployed throughout the country using mobile PDAs, handheld barcode scanners and enterprise mobile software technologies from MobileDataforce.

Smart Meters, Mobile Handheld PDA Solutions & Utilities

MobileDataforce is working on a number of very powerful mobile handheld PDA applications to help electrical and water utilities manage the maintenance, installation and repair of meters. These applications contain several different software components including:

  • Work Orders
  • Digital photos of meters before, during and after installation
  • Safety inspections and reporting
  • Mapping/GPS
  • Inventory

These applications are integrated with mapping software to enable the user to view current, future and past jobsite locations.

MobileDataforce is working on many custom mobile software projects for water and electrical utility companies and contractors both in North America, South Africa and in Europe. Please visit our website or contact us if you would like to discuss your mobile field data collection or work order project requirements.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Handheld PDAs and Mobile Inspection Software for Electrical Utilities

Sho-Me Power owns 1,663 miles of transmission line, and is responsible for inspection and maintenance of the transmission line. Sho-Me power works directly with power suppliers to help transmit power to rural areas. Sho-Me Power provides services for 131 customer delivery points in 125 distribution and transmission substations.

Sho-Me Power used paper forms to perform inspections of transmission lines in rural areas, which resulted in many challenges. Inspections were performed twice per year, once in the fall and again in the spring, transmission line poles and pole attachments were inspected for damage. Areas surrounding the transmission line were also inspected for overgrown trees and undergrowth to determine trimming needs if necessary. Many inspections were done during poor weather conditions which made it difficult to collect data, juggle necessary paperwork, and caused lost or smudged paperwork because of weather conditions. The paper forms were also time consuming to fill out, hard to collect from the field inspectors (as forms were often lost or misplaced), and required office personnel to re-enter data at the home office.

It took a long time to fill out all of the paperwork in the field, and we ended up with so much paper that it was almost impossible to use all of the information we spent so much time collecting,” said Andy Meyers, GIS administrator at Sho-Me Power. “We knew we needed a better system for collecting and organizing our data.”

MobileDataforce worked closely with Sho-Me Power to integrate all necessary field inspection forms into one enterprise class mobility software application for handheld PDAs. The application allowed the field inspectors to sort inspections by region, completed structures, and uncompleted structures. All inspections were time stamped to keep record of when the inspection was completed, which allowed for Sho-Me Power to provide proof of inspection and track results for future inspections. The data collected was integrated into small world GIS.

Sho-Me Power selected a Trimble Recon handheld device, equipped with a GPS receiver for data collection. The mobile application utilized the GPS receivers to specifically identify the location of utility poles. This gave Sho-Me Power greater asset visibility, and made it easier for field inspectors to locate transmission poles in rural areas.

By using a mobile application rather than paper forms, Sho-Me Power was able to:

· Save administrative data entry time
· Increase asset visibility
· Wirelessly synchronize from the field
· Save fuel costs and driving time delivering paper forms
· Provide near real-time visibility to inspections in the field
· Ensure data accuracy through the use of data validation features
· Save inspection time with easy to use software

The PointSync Mobility Platform is an enterprise class mobile software platform used to rapidly design, develop, and deploy 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.

MobileDataforce is a global leader in the development of enterprise class and business critical software solutions. MobileDataforce software can be used on most mobile handheld computers including Smart Phones, Tablet PCs, PDAs, and laptops. MobileDataforce has offices in Europe, North America, and Australia to support our ever expanding customer base and sales channels. Privately held, MobileDataforce has been mobilizing business solutions since 2000.

Through the use of the PointSync mobility platform Sho-Me Power was able to save time and money. Sho-Me Power was also able to gain greater visibility of assets and inspection points, and track them by GPS location.

This system is saving us at every step in the process. We’re saving time in the field collecting information and just as much time back in the office processing it,” Meyers said. “The hours we used to spend collating paper alone is a huge savings to us, and time that can now be spent on other, more productive work.”

MobileDataforce has assisted many organizations around the world design, develop, and deploy mobile applications for field data collection. For additional information please visit our website at http://www.mobiledataforce.com/

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mobile Handheld PDAs, Barcode Scanners and ERPs

Last week my PSO (professional services organization) team gave me a demonstration of one of the coolest mobile software applications for handheld PDA that I have ever seen. This one mobile software application does the following:
  • Proof of delivery - route delivery
  • Route assignments
  • Customer's payment status
  • Customer's details
  • Work Order Dispatch
  • Inventory Tracking
  • Identifies nearest source of additional inventory (mobile or warehouse)
  • New product orders
  • Fleet tracking (odometer readings, driver logs, hours of service)
  • Critical message (alerts) - requires driver to read before continuing
  • Planagrams - Mobile application tells the driver how much product to deliver to each customer and on what date
  • Preventative maintenance planning and service tickets

These are just a few of the features that our customer asked us to customize for their business in just one mobile software application. This customer has chosen the Psion Teklogix WorkAbout Pro as their mobile handheld computer.

This mobile application is complex and huge, yet the processing speed is still very good on the mobile devices. My team has been given a challenge, and they have met the challenge.

This is an example of the kinds of enterprise quality mobile applications that MobileDataforce delivers to our customers weekly.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ethiopia & Mobile Handheld PDA Solutions

I was very excited last night to view photos from one of our mobile application consultants (Will H.) who is in Ethiopia for the next few weeks. He is working on a very interesting mobile software project to help with a medical supply chain and logisitics solution that uses mobile handheld computers, Windows Mobile and software from MobileDataforce. The proof of concept utilized Palm Treos running Windows Mobile OS.

His photos included exotic foods, landscapes, cityscapes and his temporary office. Mobile applications have great appeal in locations where the traditional landline infrastructures are less developed. Wireless networks and connected/disconnected mobile software applications are very well suited for these environments and can accurately collect and synchronize data from very remote locations to centralized databases anywhere in the world.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Comparing the MTC 2100 Ultra Mobile Computer to Handheld PDAs

Nexcom's MTC 2100 (left), MTC 2100-MD (middle), and MRC 2100
Although I love handheld PDAs, I am a big fan of ultra mobile computers. They fit in your hand like a paperback book, yet provide the full power of a laptop. The touch screens permit you to use them like big PDAs. MobileDataforce focuses on working with field workers, so ruggedized mobile devices are very important.
It is said to provide from four to eight hours of battery life, Nexcom's triplets differ in more than just color:

The MTC 2100, aimed at logistics and field service applications, includes GPS, based on SiRF's starIII chipset. Also onboard is a laser barcode scanner.

The MTC 2100-MD, aimed at medical and POS (point-of-sale) applications, includes an onboard RFID reader.

The MRC 2100, designed for outdoor and vehicle use, has added rubber padding installed, and is said to withstand drops of up to four feet.

The devices include 802.11b/g/n wireless networking and Bluetooth 2.0, and accept optional "3.5G" cellular or WiMAX modules. They additionally sport 1.3 megapixel cameras, plus a connector for an optional docking station. Dual independent displays are also supported, likely via the dock.Water and dust proof to the IP54 standard, the devices add several security features. In addition to integral fingerprint readers, they also include an Infineon TPM (trusted platform module) 1.2 chip. The TPM provides for the secure generation and storage of cryptographic keys, and it also provides a hardware pseudo-random number generator.
If pocket sized is required then you should get a full functional smartphone or handheld PDA, but if looking at drawings and maps are part of your job, then an Ultra mobile computer is your answer.

Visibility & Accountability in Field Services with Handheld PDAs

I must confess that I am much more of a people person than a numbers person. However, in my role as CEO of MobileDataforce I am accountable for understanding and using a large amount of numerical data. My responsibilities include:
  • Collecting the important business data

  • Analyzing the meaning of the data

  • Reporting the data to my managers, my board and financial institutions

  • Forecasting future growth and business performance based upon the data

  • Improving my business processes to enable better performance in the future

  • Investing in future products and services that will reap rewards in the future

My responsibilities are very similar to many officers and managers of small to medium sized businesses. The key to effective management is having accurate and timely data, understanding the data and making effective business decisions based upon the data.

Let's take a moment to ponder the process of collecting data in the world of field services (mobile service technicians). The field service manager often finds it difficult to collect the data from the point of work in a timely manner. Often the paper forms stay in the truck or van for hours, days or weeks before the data is entered into a computer system. This means the data is unusable for that period of time. The manager has no way of analyzing it. If the entire system is paper based and filed, then the information that is contained on the paper forms is not available for analysis, reporting or quick business decisions.

Mobilizing and automating the field services operations with handheld PDAs enables managers to have near real-time access to business data from work done remotely in the field. 75 service technicians can be synchronzing data throughout the day from a large geographic area and the data can be instantly viewed and analyzed. Decisions can be quickly made about issues such as:

  • Equipment location
  • Service Technician location
  • Job status, job delays
  • Equipment break downs
  • Problem issues
  • Change in schedules
  • Personnel changes
  • Customer issues
  • Payment issues
  • Unforseen technical challenges
  • Unexpected costs
  • Changes in inventory
  • Much more

This is the kind of near real-time data/information that allows a manager to make good decisions that benefit the business TODAY. If managers are always working from data that is days old, they are too late to impact the quality of business today.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Quality Audits & Quality Assurance Using Mobile Handheld PDAs

My team at MobileDataforce is working on a mobile software development project with one of the world's largest consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies. The mobile application is designed to run on handheld PDAs and help the Q&A department improve their visibility into the manufacturing being done in hundreds of different locations around the world. The Q&A department is responsible for the quality and safety of both their employees and customers around the world.

The mobile application allows internal company quality auditors to inspect an operation and synchronize the data to the corporate Q&A database in near-real time. This allows the data from thousands of inspections around the world to be quickly analyzed for trends and problems.

Once the data is collected on mobile devices and synchronized to the corporate Q&A database, business analytic software can be used to understand the data and its impact on quality. Issues can be identified, policies implemented and problems resolved before they grow larger and become a public issue.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Visibility - Mobile Software on PDAs & Handheld Computers

My PSO (professional services organization) team has been assisting several organizations around the world this month on mobile software projects for handheld PDAs with a common theme - visibility. Let me explain:

Managers are often responsible for field work in locations where they are not physically present. They are personally accountable for the work delivered, but often have limited visibility into it. This is ALWAYS a challenge and a big risk.

In the last few days we have been working on mobile solutions that provide the following benefits:
  • Help a large Paintless Dent Repair franchiser track the quality of work through mobile and onsite customer surveys, work orders and inspections
  • Track the shipping and delivery of medicine throughout Africa and South America using mobile handheld computers that synchronize to a central database
  • Help a construction manager document construction projects with inspection software and other applications that help manage many projects in different geographies, log each issue, assign a contractor to fix the work, reinspect and document
  • Help a pharmaceutical company monitor their customers and any change of conditions in the USA and Canada
  • Help a service company track their work orders, the time each service ticket takes to resolve, and the location of every service technician
  • Help a shuttle service dispatch vans and track pick-ups and deliveries

Each of these examples demonstrate how companies that have work locations distributed over wide geographic areas can have better visibility into the work being done in the field.

Here are some of the tools that mobile handheld computers provide to help remote managers better track the work:

  • GPS - vehicle and technician tracking
  • Date and time stamps integrated with GPS to show the time a vehicle or technician was at a specific location
  • GPS/Date & Time Stamp/Connected to Work Order or service ticket to provide evidence of work completed at a location and time
  • Onsite customer survey - get real-time customer feedback on the quality of work performed so issues can be resolved immediately
  • Digital images of before, during and after work performed. Photographic evidence associated with digital signatures, customer feedback and GPS coordinates are powerful tools for remote managers
  • Inspections - upload and synchronize inspection data to the remote manager. The remote manager can then assign people/organizations to fix issues discovered on the inspection and monitor the repairs. This enables remote managers to effectively have "eyes and ears" at the jobsite and manage resolutions.

In summary, the collection of field data through human input on mobile handheld computers, plus technology like GPS, digital photography, mobile synchronization, digital signatures, mobile forms and shared websites to show real-time reports enable talented and experienced managers to effectively manage their areas of responsibilities remotely. This reduces risk, promotes field accountability, quality work and peace of mind for the managers and their companies. The ability to use and scale the talent and experience of your best managers over more projects located in more areas is a huge asset.

These are the kinds of mobile solutions MobileDataforce helps companies design, develop, deploy and support worldwide every day. If you would like to brainstorm about how a mobile solution might help your project or company please email us or call 208-384-1200.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Mobile Handheld PDAs for Scaffold Inspections & More

MobileDataforce has recently been working with a construction company to design a complete mobile software application for use on handheld PDAs for managing scaffolding construction and inspections. They selected a a Symbol MC9090 ruggedized handheld computer to use on the job.

I was surprised by how much work is involved with the construction, asset tracking and safety inspections on scaffolding.

Here is just an overview of the main menu of the mobile software application:

Users will choose from the six menu items:

  1. Scaffold Manager allows the user to erect, dismantle and revise scaffolds from the mobile device.
  2. Inspection Checklist allows the QA person to perform daily inspections.
  3. Work package will let users choose from predefined scaffold packages and sub-packages that include estimates of crew needed as well as duration times for erection and dismantle. Dismantle times are only an estimate and no work order will be supplied for dismantling scaffolding. (these work packages will be supplied by client prior to development of the application)
  4. Repair List is where the repair person will go to look at all the repairs for a given Tag number.
  5. Synchronize will let the user send and receive data at any time.
  6. Loss list is where the estimates of material and the actual materials are compiled to show a realistic view of the jobs.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Case Study: Underground Storage Tank Inspections Using Mobile Handheld PDAs

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is a national government agency responsible for creating and enforcing regulations that help keep the environment clean and protected. One of the responsibilities of the EPA is the inspection and auditing of underground storage tanks.

There are large numbers of underground storage tanks in nearly every community across the USA which represents a huge data collection and administration task. Regional entities throughout the country are responsible for providing underground storage tank inspections; one such entity is the Shoshone Bannock Tribe. The inspection data, traditionally collected in the field using a paper inspection form, was typed into an EPA database upon returning to the home office. The Shoshone Bannock Tribe needed a way to ensure the integrity of the data collected, speed up collection time, eliminate data entry time, and provide near real-time synchronization of the data collected.

MobileDataforce developed a mobile inspection application for use on Tablet PCs that integrates all required EPA data collection elements for underground storage tanks. The solution includes the PointSync Mobility Platform from MobileDataforce to synchronize the data from the mobile device into the central database in the office. The Tablet PC selected by the Shoshone Bannock Tribe was the Itronix GoBook Duo Touch using Microsoft’s Tablet XP operating system. At the end of an inspection, the device was placed in a USB connected wired cradle which connected to a database on a server. The data was then uploaded and submitted to the EPA.

By using a mobile application rather than paper forms, organizations can:

· Save administrative data entry time
· Wirelessly synchronize from the field
· Save fuel costs and driving time delivering paper forms
· Save shipping and storage costs for paper forms
· Provide near real-time visibility to inspections in the field
· Ensure data accuracy through the use of data validation features

MobileDataforce used an enterprise class mobile software platform called the PointSync Mobility Platform to create the mobile EPA Tank Inspection application. The application was built to their exact specifications and complies with EPA regulations for underground storage tank inspections.

PointSync Mobility Platform is an enterprise class mobile software platform used to rapidly design, develop, and deploy critical business 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.

The Shoshone Bannock Tribe was able to save time and money through the use of a custom mobile application created by MobileDataforce using the PointSync Mobility Platform. By developing a mobile application, Shoshone Bannock was able to streamline inspections, while at the same time saving paper, data entry time, and money. The EPA was able to quickly and efficiently receive data on the condition of underground storage tanks. MobileDataforce has assisted many organizations around the world design, develop and deploy mobile applications for field data collection. For additional information please visit our website at http://www.mobiledataforce.com/

Kevin Benedict

Friday, April 25, 2008

Educational Video on Enterprise Mobility and Field Services Using Handheld PDAs

This week I had an interesting experience participating in a 60 minute educational video on trends in enterprise mobility and field services. It will be available for viewing on April 30th. The video has interviews with Psion Teklogix's President of the Americas, Ron Cains and myself.


It was an interesting experience. This was no amateur video. We had a crew that consisted of 2 cameramen, a sound guy, a make-up person, a producer and director. They were so professional that they even had those fluffy microphone covers.

The subject of the video is all aspects of mobile handhelds, smartphones, PDAs and mobile software applications.

Monday, April 21, 2008

World Travels and Trends in Mobile Software for Handheld PDAs

Greetings All,

I have been spending a lot of time at airports of late. Over the last few weeks I have travelled to San Francisco, England, Washington DC and today Cincinnati, Ohio. I have also learned a great deal. One of the things I have learned - The economy has not as yet negatively impacted MobileDataforce. Our sales were up 200% from first quarter 2007. The Wall Street Journal said last week that the economy does not yet seem to be significantly impacting most B2B sales. I must agree. Our customers are still buying mobile software for handheld PDAs and services in record numbers.

In England, we are working with a large number of services companies. It seems that most of our projects are related to asset management. By assets, I mean equipment, buildings and vehicles.

It may be that the reason service companies are buying from MobileDataforce in large numbers is to achieve the very efficiencies that a tough market requires.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Mobile Handheld PDA Case Study: Utility Inspections, GPS and Field Data Collection

Company Overview:

LYNN-EDWARD Professional Services, Inc. (LEPService) delivers a full range of metering, SCADA and communications services to the utility industry. Based in Covington, Georgia, LEPService has served the utility industry throughout the Southeast since 1990, and is rapidly expanding into other geographic regions.

Research Challenge:

LEPService needed a mobile software solution that could efficiently track the installation and service of load management devices. The mobile software solution would enable the utilization of GIS mapping to effectively identify switch locations. A key requirement of the project was that it be designed modularly so that additional utility inspections could be added at a future date to cover their vast service offerings.

MobileDataforce Solution:

The initial mobile handheld software application developed for LEPService was for the tracking of load management devices. The application was initially designed to work on the Itronix Tablet PC running Windows Tablet PC Edition. The Tablet PC device was chosen over a rugged handheld computer to work with Delorme’s XMAP 4.5 GIS mapping software which required larger screen dimensions for GIS maps. Additional applications were developed that did not require GIS mapping, which made the less expensive and more compact Symbol MC70 PDA a better fit.

The professional services team at MobileDataforce developed a mobile software solution that combined the strengths of Delorme XMAP mapping features with PointSync’s mobile data collection features. The mobile solution leverages Delorme’s XMAP mapping features to allow a technician to search for locations based on Atlas Page, Grid, Street Name and Account Number. The PointSync Mobile application was designed to capture and view all inspection data related to utility load management switches and equipment at those specific locations including GPS data.

By using mobile software applications rather than paper forms, LEPService was able to:

Collect field data electronically
Synchronize the data directly from the Tablet PC and handheld devices to a central database
Reduce data entry time
Verify GPS data in both the PointSync and Delorme Systems
Ensure data accuracy through the use of data validation features in PointSync
Provide a foundation to add additional mobile inspection applications

By selecting MobileDataforce’s PointSync Mobility Platform and professional services, LEPService obtained a powerful and flexible enterprise quality mobility platform. They also were provided a team of experienced mobility experts to create and support their software application. MobileDataforce enabled LEPService to build upon their first mobile application using PointSync development tools and extend the capabilities of the application over time to include many new features.

“MobileDataforce has been spectacular to work with” said Mike Aiello Jr. President of LEPService. “PointSync has enabled our company to truly offer a superior product and improve our field service inspection services to our customers”. He further added, “The exceptional reliability and stability of PointSync Server platform has been exceptional. In over two years of full deployment, we have not had a single lost day of productivity due to software systems related issues. There have literally been none.”

About PointSync Mobility Platform:

PointSync Mobility Platform is an enterprise class mobile software platform used to rapidly design, develop, and deploy critical business 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 a global leader in the development of enterprise class and business critical software solutions for use on mobile handheld computers including Smart Phones, Tablet PCs, PDAs, and laptops. MobileDataforce has offices in Europe, North America, and Australia to support their ever expanding customer base and sales channels. Privately held, MobileDataforce has been mobilizing business solutions since 2000.


LEPService was able to combine the strengths of two software programs, Delorme and PointSync, to more effectively inspect and service utility switches for their clients. MobileDataforce built a mobile solution that met the current inspections needs of LEPService’s clients while providing a foundation to develop and extend additional mobile inspection components in the future. The stability of the system has allowed for rapid deployment and growth of LEPService service offerings.

MobileDataforce assists organizations around the world in mobilizing business and field data collection processes. For additional information please visit our website at: http://www.mobiledataforce.com/.

Friday, March 28, 2008

32 Questions to Ask Before Developing a Mobile Software Application

There are a lot of complexities involved with developing an enterprise class mobile software application for use on smartphones, handheld PDAs and industrial grade and rugged handhelds. At MobileDataforce, we have developed mobile software platforms and mobile application development tools to help eliminate, or at least reduce, many of these complexities. The following list will help you understand some of the issues to be prepared for the task:

1. Do you have the resources available to:
· Collect all business and technical requirements for the application?
· Design, develop, test, deploy and support a mobile software application?
2. Do you have the time and people available to:
· Review all the possible mobile handheld computers?
· Do these people have the knowledge to support the unique buttons and hardware drivers on the handheld computer?
3. Do you have experienced mobile application designers? Mobile applications cannot be designed in the same manner as a desktop application.
4. Do you have software engineers trained and available to develop a mobile application?
5. Are you going to develop for just one kind of handheld computer or many? (There are many different screen sizes, buttons, accessories, etc. If you want to support many different kinds of handhelds and their unique add-on components, you should expect to invest a couple of years in the development process.)
6. Are the available software developers experienced at developing enterprise class and mission critical mobile applications?
7. The most difficult part of mobile application development is synchronization issues. Do you have a data synchronization expert on staff?
8. Do you have helpdesk resources available to support the deployment of mobile applications?
9. Do you have a mobile device management system and support infrastructure in place?
10. Who will document the mobile application?
11. Who will train the mobile application users?
12. Do you have a sufficient budget to cover the immediate development effort and the next year’s support costs?
13. Is the business unit who is funding the project willing to cover the additional development costs if the project takes 50% longer than anticipated?
14. Is the IT development staff willing to dedicate personnel to this project for the entire project duration or will they be needed elsewhere?
15. Are your software developers mobile application security experts?
16. Do you have database integration experts available for this project?
17. What are the time-to-market requirements? Are you losing business or money by not having the mobile application done?
18. Who will support the mobile application after the original developers leave the company? Can you afford to cross-train a team of developers?
19. Mobile software solutions need custom business rules added. Is the framework and standardized methodology for implementing these business rules in place?
20. Which business unit will pay to update the mobile application next year when the available handheld devices require an OS upgrade and changes to the application? Is this in the business unit’s budget plans?
21. What database is integrated with the mobile software application? Is the DBA (database administrator) supportive of this integration? Will they cooperate with the project developers?
22. What synchronization technology will be used? Is that in the budget? Who will attend training classes to understand it? Are the training classes in the budget?
23. Do you know how to connect to the enterprise database remotely from the field?
24. Do you know how to develop mobile printing support using Bluetooth enabled mobile printers? Will you support just one kind of mobile printer or many different brands?
25. Do you know how to validate data and ensure data accuracy on the mobile application? Database Administrators demand this.
26. Do you know what ultra fast and ultra small relational database you will use on the handheld computer?
27. Do you need to develop your application to work on laptops, Tablet PCs and handheld computers? If so, how will you cater to these needs?
28. What connectivity options will you need to develop (i.e. Bluetooth, WiFi, GSM, cradle sync)? Do you have software developers that are proficient with all of these technologies?
29. Will you develop your own synchronization technology or buy from a vendor? Which vendor?
30. Do you know how to develop for and support hardware add-ons such as bar code scanners, RFID readers, GPS, digital cameras, and mobile printers? Do you know all the different hardware add-ons required in the field? Which brands and SDKs will you use?
31. How will you glue all these components together in your application so it all works and can be supported by the helpdesk? Who do you trust to create this enterprise application architecture?
32. How will you support different mobile devices, and different versions of mobile operating systems?

These issues must be considered in preparation for developing an enterprise class mobile application for use on mobile handheld PDAs, and also when preparing the project plan and budget. Enthusiastic software engineers with a passion for learning new mobile technologies will advocate the development of a mobile solution internally. These engineers do not always consider the necessary skills, experience, budget and time in development and support that are required.
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