Mobility vendors seek to replace field workers’ clipboards

TORONTO — An Ottawa-based company has partnered with three industry and communications technology heavyweights to deliver a mobile platform to small and medium businesses that will help them automate their business processes and increase productivity.

TrueContext Corp., a privately-held firm founded in 2001, has developed a software application designed for mobile devices called the TrueContext mExperience that allows companies to replace paper- and voice-based systems such as work orders with a wireless electronic product. Rogers Communications Inc. said it will exclusively carry mForms, which is based on mExperience, over its wireless GPRS/EDGE network across Canada at a press briefing Wednesday. There, it demoed the application, which will run on Microsoft’s Windows Mobile operating system and is supported by Hewlett-Packard’s iPaq handheld device.

mForms is currently only being offered through Rogers GBM direct channel but Rogers said on Wednesday that it will be available through the value added reseller and independent software channels by the second quarter of next year. Aimed at the SMB market, the mobility capabilities of mForms will help small businesses compete with larger rivals in the same way the Internet did a decade ago, said TrueContext president and CEO Alvaro Pombo.

“The Internet has helped level the playing field between small and large companies,” said Pombo, adding that mobility and on demand services are the fastest-growing areas in the enterprise today. “The technology is so simple even Rogers, HP and Microsoft can leverage it.”

mForms features secure data transmission that can be encrypted and/or “wiped” from the device in the event an employee loses his or her device and supports connectors for a variety of business application platforms, including Microsoft’s Great Plains Division CRM product.

Connecting applications to people is a key challenge that needs to be addressed in the SMB market, said Mansell Nelson, vice-president of planning and business development, Rogers Business Solutions.

“Businesses need to mobilize key applications,” said Nelson. “Leveraging mobile and wireless solutions allows SMBs to become competitive.”

The launch of mForms is the first step in delivering mobile services to the market, said Reg Schade, vice-president and general manager, HP Services, Hewlett-Packard (Canada) Co.

“We can take what we do in the small and medium business market and scale that into larger accounts,” said Schade. This includes, for example, government workers, he added.

With Wednesday’s launch, Rogers is hoping to tap into what it believes is an underserved market of some three million service workers in Canada, according to Statistics Canada. Pombo, who has experience with service workers as CIO of communications solutions provider Newbridge/Alcatel, said a common pain point for companies looking to adopt mobile wireless solutions is often that they aren’t cost effective enough to justify a business case.

“I thought someone has to come up with a software solution to make mobilization of information easier,” he said.

To that end, mForms features pre-filled customer and job information, helping SMBs to reduce errors and eliminate the need to re-enter data in back office systems. These benefits help companies, in turn, cut costs and increase productivity — something Canada is dragging behind other countries, namely the U.S., in.

According to a recent IDC Canada study, 32.5 per cent of businesses indicated plans to mobilize applications like desktop automation and enterprise resource planning.

“We’re at the tip of the iceberg as we transition from converged devices to mobile computing,” said IDC Canada mobile analyst Eddie Chan. “This will enable businesses to achieve profitability.”

Rogers will offer mForms at a cost of $124.90 per month per user.

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