Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mobile Software SDKs and Toolkits for Handheld PDAs and Smart Phones

In the recent article by Peter Wayner of InfoWorld called iPhone development tools that work the way you do, he describes the value of using a mobile application SDK or framework. He lists 4 new toolkits to help mobile application developers develop applications faster for use on handheld PDAs and Smart phones. This is a market in which I am intimately familiar.

The challenge with the market for mobile application frameworks and SDKs is that very few developers want to spend money on an SDK from a small vendor, and even fewer companies want SDKs or are willing to fund long term custom development and support projects internally. Companies want a finished product that works with their ERPs, database and accounting applications. They don't want to invest in a non-standard mobile framework. They want mobile extensions to their enterprise applications. SAP is addressing this with their NetWeaver based mobile infrastructure. This provides SAP users with a standardized method for extending their applications out to mobile devices, but it does not address how to develop the mobile application code. This theoretically creates an opportunity for mobile SDK vendors.

Appforge and Dexterra are two very BIG examples of how challenging it is to be a successful vendor of mobile application frameworks and SDKs. It is yet to be proven that there can be a successful business model as the author of these mobile application frameworks, unless you are a giant like Microsoft or Apple. Dexterra bet the house that Microsoft would acquire them and they lost.

Now, it is true that to make these finished mobile software applications, there is a need for powerful mobile SDKs, but these SDKs are very costly to development and there is yet to be a good and proven business model for small independent vendors of such.

Some vendors of mobile application frameworks want to sell you a toolkit and then charge you a license fee for every mobile device you deploy on. This is not a good model, unless the application is an off-the-shelf mobile application. It makes sense to pay for syncing technology and mobile databases, but a per deployment model for code that you create is hard to swallow.

The biggest challenge vendors of mobile application frameworks and mobile SDKs face is getting the economies of scale that all software companies seek. Who is the real market? Developers? They seek to work in the sexy high profile technologies from the big name companies so they can pad their resumes. They do not want to take a chance on learning an SDK from a very small company that no one knows and they are unlikely able to leverage in the future. They may use an SDK to deliver their cool mobile application, but there is simply not enough of these developers willing to buy your SDK for significant amounts of money to be profitable.

Does the IT department in a company want to buy your SDK, a few but not enough to build a profitable long term software business as an SDK vendor. Again, companies will always seek a finished mobile application that extends their internal IT investment. If SAP has a mobile framework, they want that. If SAP didn't have the mobile extension, then the company would want a finished mobile application that is already integrated with SAP.

In summary, there are many examples of companies developing very cool mobile SDKs and mobile frameworks, but very few with successful business models. Companies want to extend internal applications with mobile extensions developed by the owner of their internal applications. In the event there are no mobile extensions from their key vendor, then they want a finished mobile application that is pre-integrated with their ERP or back-office applications. SDKs are cool, but a successful business model remains elusive.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hosted or Non-hosted Mobile Software Applications for Handheld PDAs and Smart Phones

Many companies have asked whether a hosted or non-hosted enterprise mobile software application would be best for them. The answer may be best determined by the following questions:
  1. Is the enterprise software application in the office that you want to communicate with, via mobile handhelds, an off-the-shelf application like SAP, SAGE, MS Dynamics or Quickbooks?
  2. Is the mobile software application simply a mobile front end (GUI) to the back-office application? Does it do basically the same thing you would do on the office application, but in a mobile environment?

If the answer is NO to any of the above, then you are into a custom development environment that is difficult to support in a hosted model. Companies that host applications need volume and reusability. Custom projects may be uploaded to a hosted data center, but there is no business case for the software vendor/developer to pursue this as a business model. However, if the mobile software application is custom, but the database application that it synchronizes with is sold as an off-the-shelf application, then there may be a business case.

Here is a real life scenario. SAP ERP does not handle work orders or service tickets well if they are not associated with a pre-approved purchase order. This is a problem in the oil fields as contractors and service technicians are often called to perform unanticipated work to fix or repair items. Since SAP does not like to receive unexpected invoices, Field Service software vendors have responded to this need by developing applications that convert these unexpected invoices into acceptable SAP formats that are integrated with SAP using standard integrations. These same vendors have created mobile work order applications that synchronize with their work order management systems. They have a standardized model that can be sold in a hosted environment.

Since the work order management application was an off-the-shelf software package, with a standardized integration to SAP, it could be offered in a hosted environment with a good business model.

If the work order management system was custom, and the back-office application or ERP was custom, then the mobile software application would need to be custom and there is no efficiencies in this scenario for a hosted solution.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Technology Blogger Kevin Benedict Receives Top Contributor Award from SAP

Boise, ID (OPENPRESS) August 21, 2009 -- It was announced today that prolific technology blogger, Kevin Benedict was awarded the rank of Top Contributor by SAP SCN. This award was for the "contest year" which ran from August 1st to July 31st and was based on the participants rank within one of the specific categories on the SAP Community Network (forums, blogs, wikis, eLearning, downloads, etc.).

As a result of this award, Benedict joins a select group of alumnus in the greatest contributors "Community Hall of Fame" which includes a dedicated "wiki profile" on SAP's SCN. In addition, Benedict is invited to join the "Top Contributor" forum, a place for alumni to provide feedback and suggestions for making SCN a better and stronger community.

Benedict will also be receiving the "Top Contributor Quarterly" a newsletter reserved for Top Contributors that will provide advanced notices of new technologies and programs.

As a Top Contributor, Benedict has also been invited to SAP TechEd Phoenix and Vienna, and to attend an invitation-only get-together for SAP TechEd Speakers, SAP Mentors, SAP Community Top Contributors, Bloggers, SAP Executives and ASUG Leadership.

Benedict has also been invited, as a member of a select group of technical gurus and business process thought leaders at SAP TechEd, to host a meeting at the Experts Networking Lounge in Phoenix & Vienna. He will also be awarded preferred seating in the Keynote Theater and recognition onstage during the popular Demo Jam.

Benedict is an industry thought leader in the areas of EDI, B2B, mobile computing and business process automation and maintains a popular enterprise technology blog at He is the Business Development and SAP Relationship Manager at Crossgate, an SAP-centric and SAP co-owned EDI and B2B exchange. Benedict works closely with SAP customers and SAP sales teams to architect world class EDI and B2B strategies.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Rugged iPhone Cases for Mobile Workers

The iPhone is a beautiful mobile device. The recent software announcement by TomTom turns the iPhone into a turn-by-turn navigational device. Barcode software that utilizes the camera in the iPhone converts it into a barcode reader. Mobile software applications are being uploaded to iTunes weekly for the iPhone that provide companies with an increasing number of business applications. However, none of these cool software applications help the iPhone survive in the rugged outdoor working environment.

Last week I went into a store that specializes in Apple products. It is the closest thing to an Apple store that we have in downtown Boise. On the rack I saw a ruggedized case for an iPhone from Otterbox. I got excited!

I have been working with Otterbox cases for years in the context of PDAs and mobile handhelds and have always very impressed with how they can engineer rugged cases so precisely. Most are water resistance, padded and dust proof. These are all great steps in the right direction. The Otterbox case provides a flexible soft plastic screen to protect the iPhone but still allows the touch screen to work well.

If you can't leave home without your iPhone, but you either work in rugged locations or enjoy rugged outdoor activities, you may want to make the investment to protect your precious.


Monday, August 17, 2009

TomTom and the iPhone Turn by Turn Navigation Application

Today, TomTom announced the released, to Apple's iTunes online mobile application store, of a $100 iPhone software application that provides turn by turn voice navigation for iPhones using OS 3.0.

The car kit will be available to order later this month and will include a charger and add hands-free calling to the iPhone.

This is significant. The iPhone operating system and the iPhone itself are powerful enough to run applications which in the past were reserved for specialized GPS devices. This is one of those Tipping Point moments where entire industries (dedicated GPS devices) can be impacted.

In the past I have written about the convergence of different applications and mobile devices. This is another giant leap forward in this area.

It is also very interesting to me that a company, TomTom, that manufacturers dedicated GPS devices had the courage to release a software application to a convergent device like the iPhone that is bound to take business away from their dedicated GPS device area. This shows courage and I commend the executive team willing to make this bold step to face the inevitable.


SAP and Cronacle Mobile Alerting Service

The following press release was issued today concerning Redwood Software's announcement of a mobile application for IT staff to receive and respond to real time alert notifications on their mobile devices. This software application works with SAP and other ERP systems. This announcement follows an earlier one that is stated to be the first iPhone business application for enterprise process automation. I am a strong believer that the future of enterprise mobile applications must include a business process automation component as discussed in this article.

MORRISVILLE, NC -- 08/17/09 -- Redwood Software, an industry leader in delivering enterprise and mobile software, today announced immediate availability of the Cronacle Mobile(TM) Alerting Service for the iPhone(TM) and iPod® touch. The Cronacle Mobile Alerting Service enables IT staff to receive and respond to alert notifications in real time on their mobile device. With Redwood's new service, customers' IT departments using SAP® solutions gain unprecedented portability, visibility and control of business processes and the enterprise systems that underlie them.

Today's announcement of the Cronacle Mobile Alerting Service follows Redwood's recent launch of Cronacle Mobile, the first iPhone business application for enterprise process automation and job scheduling. The Cronacle Mobile Alerting Service extends the capabilities of Cronacle Mobile by taking advantage of the new Apple Push Notification Service (APNS) to deliver time-critical system information immediately to the iPhone or iPod touch.

"We are very excited to deliver a solution to our customers that is as mobile as they want or need to be," says Tijl Vuyk, CEO and president of Redwood Software. "With our new alerting service we extend our mobile platform so customers can monitor their systems, and receive real-time notifications wherever they are and whenever issues require their attention."

Cronacle Mobile Alerting extends the benefits of mobility and remote management to any back-end systems which run Redwood's industry leading process automation and job scheduling solutions, including Redwood Cronacle® and the SAP Central Process Scheduling application by Redwood. All SAP and Redwood customers can use Cronacle Mobile Alerting to manage their entire enterprise landscape, including both SAP and non-SAP applications.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Mobile Workflows in the Field, SAP and Other ERPs

The way business processes are designed, implemented and standardized within a company can often mean the difference between success and failure. If often takes years of trial and error, and sometimes flashes of brilliance to come up with just the right business process that will mean success and competitive advantages.

Once the perfect business process is proven it needs to be implemented and automated. Why automated? Because humans are forgetful and have even been known to be from time to time lazy. They want to cut corners and avoid that which is tiresome. Automation enforces and manages the perfect business process.

For years software vendors and ERP developers like SAP have developed applications that help design workflows and workflow engines to run them. These provide the technology infrastructure within the enterprise to automate these business processes and to ensure they are followed, however, once an employee exits the building and drives away in a company van to perform a task remotely, the automated business process breaks down. Suddenly, the business processes that you have spent years perfecting are useless. The employee has broken the "connection" and walked out the door to freedom.

Even today, most mobile field service workers leave the building with a clipboard and a stack of paper service tickets or work orders. How they perform their work, in what order and the processes they utilize in the field are now unsupervised and up for interpretation. The field service technicians often don't much care for the business processes designed by the teams of MBAs in suits at the office. They have their own preferences and opinions about how things should be done, and in remote jobsites who is going to argue?

Many large companies have up to 40% of their employees working remotely and/or in the field on jobsites. How can the SAP or other ERP Business Process Expert design and implement business processes that can be utilized and enforced in mobile and remote locations? This is a challenge worth resolving.

Think about it, a company pays tens of millions of dollars implementing SAP internally and designing business processes and workflows to operate their enterprise. Yet for many services based businesses the money is earned outside the office at remote locations. The location where the customer interaction takes place and where the money is made is often devoid of best in class business process automation.

Mobile applications that need to synchronize with ERPs, should implement mobile workflow support. This requires a client server architecture whereby the mobile client software understands that a workflow or event manager is associated with a particular process and the server also understands that it is both producing and consuming data with the mobile device that is part of an event or workflow. Let me provide a scenario.

A service technician has a ruggded PDA or other mobile device on his belt. He receives an alert that he needs to be dispatched to a jobsite. This initiates a business process with a workflow associated with it. A series of tasks that make up the dispatch and completion of a service ticket are now initiated. The tasks may include:

  1. Dispatch receives a service call

  2. This initiates a series of tasks including estimating the availability and analyzing the location of all service technicians in the area.

  3. Once the nearest available service technician is identified a service dispatch can be sent

  4. Service technician confirms availability and accepts the job

  5. Least cost and fastest routing information is sent

  6. Service technician arrives at the jobsite and pushes a button on his mobile device annoucing his arrival.

  7. Arrival message synchronizes with the server workflow or event manager notifying dispatch of his location on site.

  8. The workflow may include an inspection, detailed findings, proposed solution, repair and collection of the fee

  9. Any parts needed will be automatically deducted from the service vehicle's inventory

  10. The workflow can also include sales and marketing activities such as promoting an Annual Service plan or equipment upgrade to the customer

  11. The repair is complete, dispatch is notified

  12. The service technician is available for another job

In this scenario, the mobile client application using a workflow engine that interacts with the server side application steps the service technician through the various tasks included in the business process. These steps can be directions in the form of alerts, messages, next steps, data fields that require input, and feedback from the dispatch office. Each step of the workflow required input from the service technician to confirm that the step had been completed and this information was in turn synchronized with the server side workflow engine. This enables the best practices supported by the company to be practiced and supervised in the field.

SAP has a solution called Event Manager. It is designed to manage activities happening across a geographically dispersed supply chain. It requires data input via B2B and EDI data communications. Similarly, mobile applications can feed data into a centralized workflow or event management solution that helps support and ensure best practices across remote jobsites.

A workflow engine and a mobile client version of a mobile workflow engine is required by companies that want to standardize business processes in the field where interactions with customers take place and where revenue is earned.

If you would like to discuss this concept in more detail please email me.

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