Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Questions to Ponder before Starting a Mobile Software Development Project for Handheld PDAs, iPhones and Smartphones

This article identifies some basic questions that should be asked and pondered by the business user and software development teams before starting on a mobile software development project:
  1. Do you anticipate needing one mobile software application, or many? Can you start with a mobile software development platform that supports all of your mobile application needs, or will each mobile application be a separate IT project and use different development technologies and infrastructures (e.g. Windows Mobile, Google Android, RIM Blackberry, Symbian, iPhone, etc.)?
  2. Do you know your exact solution and data requirements in advance? Do you anticipate needing to edit and adjust your mobile application as you learn from your field users and their experiences? Can it be hard coded, or does it need to be flexible and easily edited? The answers to these questions will impact both design and schedules.
  3. Do you have an in-house software development capability, budget and helpdesk infrastructure to enable you to develop and support your own mobile application(s)?
  4. Are you going to outsourcing the development of your mobile software application's 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? How will you do this? Are you using a middleware solution in this process?
  6. Do you know how to integrate field data to your database applications? Do you have your own DBA that can do this? Are they involved in the data synchronization discussions. How can you ensure valid data is synchronized from the field?
  7. How secure does the mobile data synchronization need to be? The more security that is added and layered the slower the data synchronization. Does only a small part need to be secure or all of the data?
  8. Will the user always need and have internet connectivity, or will the application run equally well disconnected? Does you design take this issue into consideration?
  9. Mobile solutions are often used on laptops, Tablet PCs, Smartphones, PDAs, and rugged handhelds. Do you know your hardware requirements and user environmental requirements? Is the user environment hot, cold, dry, wet, dusty, flammable or frozen?
  10. Will you be supporting just one mobile device, or many different kinds and sizes? Is the screen size an issue? What size is the screen on your chosen devices? Is it sufficient for the work done in the field. Does the mobile worker need to read manuals, maps, images, blueprints and drawings, or just click on a few buttons?
  11. What mobile device operating system(s) will you be supporting?
  12. How will the mobile handhelds or mobile devices be carried and stored. Is the user wearing a suit, or wearing overalls in the rain. Does the environment require a rugged case, or a suit pocket? The answers to these questions impact your choice of mobile devices, operating systems and screen sizes.
  13. If your internal IT staff are developing your mobile solution, do they know how to do the following: integrate with and support GPS, Barcode scanners, RFID radios, Digital Signatures, digital cameras and synchronize data bi-directionally across multiple databases?
  14. What mobile database will you use? Does it have its own synchronization technology? If not, what mobile middleware are you going to use? Does the mobile database vendor support the operating systems you have chosen?
  15. 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?
  16. Have you considered the implementation, training and support effort required to manage large mobile software deployments? Do you have project management and helpdesk software in place to manage it?
  17. Have you made sure that your mobile software application's database and screen design will include the data fields required by the office database application you will sync with?
  18. Does the mobile software application need to support a specific business process in SAP or other ERP? Have you designed the mobile software application to do so?
  19. One of the most challenging and complex parts of 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 and additional modules in future versions. Is your database model designed to easily support additional components?

These are a few of the questions you will want to discuss with both the business and the technical team before you begin this effort. For more questions and possibly some answers you may want to visit this Google Knol called Mobile Software & Handheld PDA Business Strategies.


Monday, February 23, 2009

Google Latitude for Handheld PDAs, Smartphones and Work Orders

Google recently announced a new application in the world of cloud computing called Google Latitude. This is a very interesting application in that it allows friends to see where friends are located, or managers to see where his or her work teams, vehicles and job sites are located.

In the past, this functionality has only been available to companies for tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars (or name your currency). You could find these features on enterprise quality work order management solutions or proof-of-delivery solutions for handheld PDAs and Smartphones. Google has a way of shaking the industry up by making mobile applications free.

Today, for free, a manager can implement Google Latitude on his company issued handheld PDAs and Smartphones and see where his workers are at all times. The manager, from his desktop, can view a map of the location of all of these mobile handhelds.

In a previous article I wrote about the inefficiencies caused by a lack of management visibility and knowledge on the location of their employees, job sites and inventory. Here is an excerpt on how to waste time and money:

  1. Waste 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. Waste 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. Sit 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. Send service technicians to a distant location, when another service technician is closer and available. 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. Miss opportunities to sell more services, parts and equipment to the customer at the time of work and at the point-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. 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. Drive 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. Implement poor cash management and collection 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. 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.
Google Latitude would allow an Operations Manager to dispatch and route his service technicians or delivery vans based upon current locations of his employees and vehicles.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Google and Cloud Computing Comes to Mobile Handheld PDAs and Smartphone Users

Google has just announced they will be offering synchronization and support for Cloud computing for mobile and wireless handheld PDAs and smartphones users including those using the:

Nokia S60
Nokia standard
Sony Ericsson
Windows Mobile

Why is this important? It demonstrates a trend that people are moving away from the view that their desktops or laptops are the center of the universe, to a view that Cloud Computing - their online Google or Yahoo Accounts are the center.

Google has now enabled synchronization directly through any wireless connection to your online account(s). Your contacts and calendars and other Google Apps no longer must be synchronized through a desktop, iTunes account or laptop. This is big news! This functionality permits the concept of a truly untethered mobile computing environment for handheld PDAs and smartphones. The home or work desktop is no longer the anchor weighing you down. You are free to move around the world and have access to your valuable content and applications.

I can't emphasize enough what a monumental change this is for mobile users. The advent of the iPhone and other convergent multi-media mobile handhelds along with synchronization to the Cloud where hundreds of Google Apps exists changes everything.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

PDAs and Handhelds Used for Medical Research Projects in Peru

In this article the use of handheld PDAs on a medical research project in Peru is detailed. The handhedl PDAs provided the following benefits:

  • reduced delays
  • reduced errors
  • reduced workload
  • reduced the time it took to process medical data by 15 days
  • prevented lost data
  • patients could be monitored in a more timely manner
Here are the details of the study and the use of the handheld PDAs as was detailed in this article in the article at ITExaminer.com Patients with drug resistant tuberculosis undergo a two year regime of powerful antibiotics, including injections six days a week during the first six months, with monthly testing. The test results dictate the course of treatment. The half-month delay in getting information from the outback to the city medical facility disrupted the treatment plan.

Here is a description, as described in this article in the Hindu News, of the patient record process before the use of handheld PDAs -

Under the old patient tracking system, a team of four healthcare workers would visit more than 100 health care centers and labs twice a week to record patient test results on paper sheets. A couple of times a week, they returned to their main office to transcribe those results onto two sets of forms per patient — one for the doctors and one for the health care administrators.

From start to finish, that process took an average of more than three weeks per patient. In some extreme cases, results were temporarily misplaced and could take up to three months to be recorded. There was also greater potential for error because information was copied by hand so many times.

Collecting of data in the field and synchronizing the data to a centralized database application for immediate storage and analysis reduces the need to manually retype all of the information and eliminates time delays that may cause treatment problems. Re-typing data from paper forms introduces more errors in the data and increases the workload for clinicians, so avoiding those issues by using handheld pdas for data collection and synchronization was found to have many benefits.

Additional news articles on the use of handheld PDAs in remote locations in healthcare can be found here.

The Power of Digital Cameras on PDAs, Handhelds and Smartphones

In this morning's newspaper there was an article called, "With New Smartphones, Doctors Reinvent the House call." The article relates how a Doctor can use a smartphone, PDA or other handheld computers to quickly view x-rays and give advice remotely. Other applications mentioned were for perusing pharmaceutical libraries and for showing educating patients with anatomical drawings. Although each of these applications are useful, I believe the real power comes from the ability to remotely collaborate with other team members that can all look at the sames information, in high definition and exchange real time data and thoughts. It is amazing what can be accomplished with these new mobile devices.

Digital Cameras in handhelds, PDAs and smartphones are becoming very powerful tools. Today, Sony Ericcsson announced they have included a 12 mega pixel camera in one of their new smartphones called the Idou. In the context of the healthcare field you can image how useful 12 mega pixel photos can be to healthcare professionals where clarity of x-rays, ultra-sounds and other images are critical.

There are many other uses for powerful cameras, crystal clear images and high speed data connections. In the context of the military or field engineers, they ability to see clear satellite images of objects on the ground is very important.

Several years ago I worked on a mobile project for the state of Washington in the USA. They were doing erosion surveys around rivers and creeks. They could do in-depth studies on river erosion from satellite images, but in designated areas they wanted to look at particular events on the ground. Rugged handheld computers with excellent screens and clear photos allowed them to quickly identify objects and geological events on the ground that required a closer look. The GPS coordinates led them to the exact location and then clear photos helped them survey specific areas.

The ability to move data, in real time, from office computers and database applications to mobile devices is a complex task. The ability to quickly develop custom mobile applications that provide you with both data collection capabilities and the synchronization of data from the office takes special technology developed by companies such as MobileDataforce and others.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Ericsson Turns to Navigation for Mobile Handheld PDAs and Smartphones

In an article in today's Wall Street Journal called Ericsson Turns to Navigation it is reported that Ericsson is looking at navigation applications with voice commands as an revenue stream for their carrier partners. Everyone is getting into the act because the bigger screens on smartphones and mobile handheld PDAs like some lines from Ericsson, Blackberrys and iPhones make it easier to see maps and read directions while on the move.

Navigation applications and data for consumers will be quickly followed by applications designed for businesses. Navigation and voice directions can be integrated into delivery, work order and inspection applications on mobile handheld PDAs.

Google has already created consumer oriented applications for iPhones that let friends know where friends are on a map. It won't be long until businesses can also see the location of their employees, job sites and company vehicles via PDAs, handhelds and Smartphones. Google makes this application free. I believe applications like this will quickly become available as widgets or gadgets that any software developer can quickly add to their mobile application.

It is a fun and exciting time in the mobile handheld PDA technology world.

Sky Technologies have announced the launch of SkyMobile Smart Client for SAP® on Nokia Smart Phones and PDAs

Sky Technologies out of Australia seems to be spending some big money to make a push into the SAP mobile application market. In the past week I have read about their expansion to the USA with the opening of a Seattle, WA office, and the release of a new framework for mobile SAP integration. On top of all that, they state they will support the following operating systems, Windows Mobile, Blackberry platforms, iPhone and Android smart clients in 2009.

Sky Technologies has announced the released of its SkyMobile Smart Client for the Symbian OS (Series 60 3rd Edition FP1+). “This enables SAP® users to effectively deploy mobile solutions such as proof of delivery, field service and business work flow solutions onto a wide range of Symbian based handsets. This is primarily targeted at the Nokia smart phone market and is designed to be pre-cursor to the new Symbian open platform."

If Sky Technologies' information is accurate it represents tens of millions of dollars worth of investment in supporting multiple mobile device platforms and operating systems in a tough economic climate. It will be interesting to see if this shotgun approach to developing mobile software and throwing large amounts of money at growing a mobile software company in a rough market will pay off, or suffer the same results as Appforge and Dexterra.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Comparing Netbooks, Mini-Notebooks, PDAs and Handhelds in Field Services

I am a big fan of Netbooks and Mini-Notebooks. These are lightweight portable computers generally with 7-inch to 11-inch screen sizes optimized for internet connectivity. They often have exceptional battery life and can be used as a truly convergent device. Often they are optimized to run the complete Microsoft Office Suite. This article discusses them in more details.

The term Netbook refers to the fact that they are optimized to work on the internet. They are mobile internet devices that also have the power to run your standard office software applications. Doesn't most mobile handheld devices and PDAs that run Windows Mobile already provide these functions? Yes, but the 7"-11" screen is a vast improvement, especially for people needing to do real work, process and read large amounts of data and read diagrams, maps and drawings.

The Netbook, as a mobile internet device, should be set-up to access online documents, manuals and work order applications through simple internet logins. These devices can be generic enough to be shared by a complete workforce. In the morning the user can simply check out a Netbook, login and have access to all the information they need in the field.

Let's take the example of a service technician in the field. A small mobile phone is just not a good option for comprehensive work order management. It will quickly kill the eyes of the user. You need a bigger screen to work with any kind of data intensive work orders or parts catalogs. At the same time, you do not want the bulk and weight of a full size laptop. A small Netbook with a 7 inch screen can fit in the pocket or in a padded pouch easily. The screen size is big enough to show a lot of information and data fields without constant scrolling.

In situations where internet connections will be intermittent you may want to consider a work order management system that can function equally well connected or disconnected and use database synchronization in the background. Vendors like MobileDataforce specialize in these areas.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

SAP, Landis+Gyr, Electrical Utilities and Mobile Handheld PDAs

SAP, the world's leading provider of business software, announced yesterday a new partnership with Landis+Gyr, a leading provider of integrated energy management solutions. This partnership includes a software development agreement for the integration of Landis+Gyr's advanced metering infrastructure with the SAP® for Utilities solution portfolio using enterprise services.

You are seeing SAP recognize that there are many specialized business processes that are needed beyond their core ERP solutions, and outside the four walls of the office in mobile environments. SAP has been seeking partnerships that address the industry specific business process needs of companies with mobile workforces.

So far, SAP has seemed willing to give up the mobile applications market for PDAs, handhelds and rugged mobile computers to third parties, and restrict themselves to developing APIs and enterprise service integration repositories for specialized third party mobile application companies like MobileDataforce and others.


SAP Business Suite 7.0, iPhones, Blackberrys and Mobile Handheld Applications

Today SAP announced the release of Business Suite 7. Reuters reports the following mobile application news concerning SAP's Business Suite 7.0:

Unlike previous SAP products, all programs in the suite will have a common interface, making them easier to use and less cumbersome for IT staff to implement, the sources said.
It is designed to easily work on mobile devices such as the BlackBerry and iPhone, they said.
SAP already offers mobile features in a few packages, such as programs that companies use to manage sales, but has yet to offer those functions across its full line of applications.

SAP's answer to supporting mobile applications is to develop a common interface, web based, and let mobile devices access it via the web. This may work for mobile workers with 100% access to the Internet, but what about mobile workers that travel to remote locations or anywhere with intermittent connections? I have not seen SAP address this issue with an online/offline version of their applications. They seem content to leave the offline/online enablement task to third party mobile application companies like MobileDataforce.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Mobile Handheld PDAs and Mobile Software Application Resources

If you are interested in information related to mobile computing, mobile handheld PDAs and mobile software strategies for your business, you may find this Knol (Google's name for a unity of knowledge) called Mobile Software & Handheld PDA Business Strategies valuable. It contains many useful articles on mobile computing, selecting the best mobile handhelds and advice on developing mobile software applications. Here is the table of contents for your reference:

The ROI in Mobile Applications
What ROI Can I Expect?
10 Steps to Implementing a Successful Enterprise Mobile Solution
Mobilizing and Automating Business Processses During a Down Economy
Mobilized Work Orders
Designing a Mobile Solution to Automate Business Processes
Learning from Mobile Solution Deployments
The Evolution of a Mobile Solution
Buying vs. Building Mobile Applications
Supporting a Customized Mobile Software Application