Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mobile Software, PDAs, Rugged Handhelds and SAP

SAP is one of the largest software company in the world, and yet, SAP cannot easily process a simple work order or field service ticket. Think about it! Millions of people use SAP and it has difficulty processing an invoice from a plumber that fixed your office toilet. Let's explore this more.

The poor plumber completes his work, pulls out his rugged handheld PDA and fills out the electronic work order. Once it is completed he has the customer sign the screen and prints an invoice on his mobile printer. The customer (SAP user) takes the invoice and gives it to the Accounts Payable department. The Accounts Payable department looks to see what purchase order the invoice is associated with and finds none. There is now an invoice dispute.

I see this challenge with companies receiving invoices from law firms and in the Oil industry (Upstream). Both industries submit many invoices to firms using SAP and these invoices are rarely associated with a PO. What's the answer? I invite your thoughts.

Even though the world of mobile applications and rugged handheld computers may permit faster invoicing for services, there still needs to be business process improve on the customer side in order for efficiencies to be realized.

Friday, January 09, 2009

New Trimble Nomad 800 Handheld PDA

Timble announced today the release of three new models of their rugged handheld PDA called the Nomad™ 800X Series. It is designed for use in the rain, snow and mud. It would be nice if all of us worked in comfortable, safe and warm environments, but that just doesn't happen in the real world. Construction projects, law enforcement, inspections, engineering and maintenance and many service industries spend nearly all of their time in the wilds.
These rugged handhelds are larger than a consumer grade handheld PDA or smartphone, but are the perfect size for an industrial use where the ruggedized protection is required.

Why are Mobile Applications for Handheld PDAs So Hard to Develop?

Mobile software applications for businesses are getting better and more advanced today, but they are still very difficult and expensive to develop on your own. Why? Let's talk about some of the challenges.
The mobile handheld PDA industry is divided up among, Microsoft Windows Mobile, Apple iPhones, Palm, RIM Blackberry and many other unique operating systems. This means that a software developer must either invest in many different development tools and training classes, or choose to be only a niche player.

If a developer chooses to be a niche player and develop only for Windows Mobile or the iPhone, they are reducing their overall use potential and betting that the devices supported by these operating system will continue to be popular long enough to deliver a positive ROI for the original development effort.

Once a developer chooses the operating system they will support, they have the next challenge which is how to decide how to support the specific features in many different kinds of mobile handheld devices and PDAs. Many devices have different buttons, screen sizes, operating speeds, memory, and other add-on accessories. The developer must decide which subset of features and hardware configurations they will support.

If you are a software developer in a large enterprise that had thousands of employees and a global distribution, then how do you get a consensus on which mobile handheld devices and smart phones you will support? This is a big challenge.

So far we have just listed a few of the challenges related to the mobile software application. These applications have very little value unless they can synchronize and share data with the enterprise database applications in the office. Each operating system and database vendor will have their own kind of synchronization technologies. What mobile database will you develop on? How does it synchronize with your specific office database application?

Does the software in your office have a mobile client, or do you have to develop a custom mobile application? How do you synchronize and share data between your mobile device and your office software if it is not defined by your vendor?
Who will update the software everytime there is a new mobile operating system released? Windows Mobile seems to come up with a new version every year, and Apple about every 3-6 months. Once new OS versions are released, it is very difficult to find mobile handhelds that support the older versions. Therefore to keep your mobile application useful and relevant you must either stockpile lots of mobile devices that support the older versions, or keep you mobile application updated to the latest OS. It is not easy to convince your business manager to support the current development project plus all future update projects. They want to pay once and be done with it. Mobile technology changes to quickly to support this model. Often mobile application development projects are not completed before the next mobile OS is released. Ouch!

These are just some of the challenges IT developers face on a daily basis when working with mobile applications. The right strategy for many of these issues is to find a good RAD (rapid application development) environment for developing a wide range of mobile applications. Many of these issues have been resolved by these vendors. It would rarely make sense for an IT developer to try to figure out all of these issues on their own as IT budgets would rarely afford the time and resources to get through the learning curve.
MobileDataforce is one of many vendors that help developers and businesses work with these issues.