Sybase iAnywhere Mobile Office makes road warriors more effective

Mobile professionals don’t want to fiddle with fancy-looking application interfaces and brag about how many unique productivity tools they’ve got loaded on their handheld device – they want to get work done. Now.

And the Sybase Information Anywhere suite looks to deliver just that capability.

Specifically, the iAnywhere Mobile Office product is part of that suite and promises to foster real productivity through either a Lotus Notes Domino or Microsoft Exchange server.

Created by Waterloo, Ont.-based Sybase iAnywhere (a subsidiary of Dublin, Calif.-based Sybase Inc.) the product is billed as a “mobile Inbox of the future”, with mobile security and organizing features to boot.

The value proposition of iAnywhere Mobile Office is it delivers its capabilities through native applications on any given mobile device.

This means users can still enjoy their customary interface for finding contacts, reading e-mail, and scheduling their calendar.

But in addition, users are given access to a range of enhanced features that help keep in touch with the office and help them get work done without cracking open a laptop.

The product can be run on a wide range of common enterprise mobile devices, including Windows Mobile smart phones, Palm devices, and yes – the Apple iPhone.

But it is not available for download. Enterprises can deploy the software with either the IBM Lotus Domino or OneBridge Mobile Groupware infrastructure.

That wide device support and server-side flexibility won high marks from analyst firm Gartner Inc. The Stamford, Conn.-based research firm included the application in its “Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Wireless E-mail Software Market” in May.

The more enterprise applications a company uses, the better the experience it will have with iAnywhere, Gartner says. That’s because the application’s productivity is based on delivering proprietary applications through wireless e-mail.

Much like opening a standard attachment, users can complete such tasks as approving reports, completing purchase orders, or interacting with a relationship manager utility.

“Our product is about a lot more than just using e-mail,” says Senthil Krishnapillai, director of product management, Sybase iAnywhere. “While the information looks like e-mail, you’ll open it up and see it’s something different.”

‘Inbox of the future’

The iAnywhere Office e-mail client is the centerpiece of this software, serving as the channel for the promised productivity apps.

Sybase arranged a couple of samples to send me to show off this feature. Here’s how it worked for me.

Using the e-mail interface is intuitive, I click a button on the HTC device provided with the software and the iAnywhere client pops up. I see that Krishnapillai has sent me some messages.

There are the typical text e-mails, illustrated with the familiar closed envelope icon. But there are also two other messages with different logos – one a shopping cart, the other a notepad and pencil icon.

Opening the shopping cart message with the subject header “PO System” brings me to a purchase request form from Krishnapillai. There are some basic text headers and editable text regions that tell me he would like to buy an Apple iPhone for the price of US$199.

I am given the option to respond with an approval or rejection. (I reject the request.)

The pencil and pad icon message has the subject header “Mobile Surveys.” Clicking this takes me to a survey template that includes drop-down menus, check boxes, and the option to submit the form when I’m done.

Contacts and calendar

Sybase’s product also does the job of keeping your calendar in sync and giving you access to corporate contacts. The corporate directory feature can be accessed right out of the e-mail client.

After creating a new message, I can click on the menu option to access this “Corporate Directory” feature. Then it’s just a matter of searching for the name I want, and that person is added to the list of recipients. Or I can place a call to the contact.

The calendar feature works as usual, and from the user’s end there’s really not much of a change made to the native application. The syncing is done transparently, and meeting invites can be made out of the calendar with this feature as well.

Security

The software’s security features run as they should – behind the scenes. Users can rest assured their data is kept safe while using the enhanced e-mail client because Sybase has included Afaria-powered security.

“We’ve taken the Afaria technology and bolted it together with the e-mail component,” Krishnapillai says. “We encrypt all of the data delivered to the device with an encryption standard good enough for the Department of Defence.”

Data encryption ensures that even if the device falls into the wrong hands, it will be difficult to get at confidential information. A “data-ageing” feature – when enabled – automatically wipes data from the device if it hasn’t been connected to the network within a specified time period, further assuring data safety.

Administrators can also put password access on the software as the first line of defence. The device can be locked down if the password entry repeatedly fails. Devices connected to the network can also be wiped remotely.

Conclusion

iAnywhere’s enhancing of native apps on a mobile device is something that appealed to me – and I believe this capability will enable mobile workers to accomplish so much more on the go.

The e-mail approach makes sense, because corporate workers are already used to interacting with the office through this application.

The speed of e-mail download is near instant. The extra features have a simple layout that is easy to understand and works well with the mobile format. Overall, it’s a satisfying experience.

Sybase may be hard-pressed to compete with the likes of Research In Motion and Microsoft when it comes to e-mail functionality, but large enterprises that want to support a wide-range of devices and have many enterprise applications they depend upon will want to consider it.

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