Companies need to think about what mobility applications can do for them before they choose a device experts said Tuesday at a seminar about mobile computing for the enterprise.

David Neale, vice-president of new product development at Rogers

AT&T Wireless, said tenterprise organizations must focus on the application, not the technology.

“”Too often people buy for the device. People keep saying ‘That’s cool, we have to get it into the enterprise,'”” said Neale, speaking at a mobile computing seminar sponsored by Psion Teklogix in Richmond Hill Tuesday.

And while the majority of users claim e-mail is the killer app, it provides little to no return on investment to the enterprise.

“”It’s a function of, and dependent on e-mail servers around the world. The real application is messaging quickly. If I want information I want it now. If I’m out for lunch with a customer and they want to know the status of an order they want to know that now, not after lunch,”” said Neale.

Microsoft’s mobility business manager Jason Offet said there are 94 million Microsoft Exchange licenses in the world and research from Microsoft says 83 per cent of those users have indicated they want wireless access. And by the end of this year, Gartner predicts 60 per cent of Fortune 1,000 companies will have developed a mobile application server.

Richard Bauly, vice-president of strategy and business development at Psion said corporations must determine “”what is the low-hanging fruit”” in terms of capitalizing on what wireless can deliver to the bottom line.

“”Most of us think of mobile communication as e-mail. But it is time to think of things like inventory tracking and taking care of customers more quickly,”” he said.

Companies must also focus on getting complete solutions from solid integrators Neale said, and be sure to seek out the widest coverage possible and look for responsive after sales support.

“”Success only comes from a structured approach. Stage one is the application – what is the business driver? After that you have to consider the network: national versus regional? And then the device: you must match the device to the application, network and user needs,”” he said.

Applications getting the most return on investment to date are those that automate a paper-based process according to Offet.

Offet presented a case study in which Microsoft worked with Scotiabank’s automotive financing branch two years ago to develop an automated application that would assist field reps who do monthly audits of the cars financed by Scotiabank that sit on car dealer lots. The previous process required the paper and pen recording of vehicle identification numbers (VIN). The old method produced a 20 per cent error rate in the recording of the lengthy VIN numbers onto paper.

“”They needed a device to work intelligently even when they didn’t have a connection,”” said Offet.

Working with Microsoft, Scotiabank was able to devise an application in less than a month built for Pocket PC. The idea was to eliminate the error of recording each number by reading them into a handheld device and using voice recognition.

“”Scotiabank went from no application to a deployed prototype in 20 days,”” said Offet.

However, when it came to proceed beyond the prototype, the handheld Scotiabank had been considering from Rogers AT&T was not commercially available. The bank has since been considering the next generation of the device, said Neale.

And if the dream of the future is to have one mobile device performing all the tasks a person needs to do in a day, think again. Experts say users should be prepared to have several different machines taking care of business.

“”People are tired of all these devices coming at them. Will they converge? No, we have to design technology for the individual,”” said Ken Dulaney, vice-president research area director with Gartner.

That might mean choosing one of three devices: a data centre device such as a PDA, a voice-centred device such has a phone or an image-centred camera or game tool.

“”There will be functional convergence. People may be talking into a camera or browsing on a phone. Think physical divergence and functional convergence,”” said Dulaney,

When it comes to industrial mobile computing devices, Dulaney says they will continue to take their cues from consumer products.

Future industrial mobile devices will eliminate keypads and be replaced with pen based/touch screens, Dulaney said, as keys are deemed difficult to use in many applications. He gave the example of restaurants where order terminals have largely been replaced with touch screens to enable more information to be put on the screen providing ease of navigation.

“”The broader the task, the more people will go to touch navigation. As warehouses go forward, about 60 to 70 per cent will go to touch screens,”” he said.

The audience of VARs, partners and Psion customers were told they should no longer build systems to last, but build them to change.

“”Don’t let devices depreciate five to seven years, just like consumer technology it will be changing rapidly,”” he said.

And when it comes to operating systems, Linux-based organizations may feel left out in the cold when it comes to mobility applications as few are being created for that environment.

“”Nobody owns it and that’s the problem – there’s nobody you can grab by the neck and say ‘Do something!’ In this environment, you need the community of Windows developers,”” said Dulaney. “”Whether you like Microsoft or not the environment is there; Windows CE is there for industrial handhelds. This is not Gartner pushing it, but the reality of what you have told us.””

Dulaney said there would also be greater integration of Web delivery and messaging.

“”You will see people alerted to things such as: ‘Here’s something that has occurred, now go do something about it.””

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