AT&T adds hosted apps to enterprise mobile suite

New applications for BlackBerry and Windows will serve the merchandising and hospitality sectors

AT&T on Monday made another grab for business mobile users, introducing two more hosted applications built on its Mobile Enterprise Applications Platform.

Like other mobile operators and vendors, the second-largest wireless carrier in the U.S. is targeting enterprises as a growth opportunity. Along with paving the way for machine-to-machine applications that could provide a steady stream of data usage for years to come, AT&T and others are trying to get businesses to integrate smartphones more deeply in their business operations. Last week, Samsung Electronics America introduced a cloud-based service that can adapt Oracle databases and other applications within enterprises for use on mobile phones.

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AT&T introduced MEAP in September 2008 as a platform on which enterprises could develop, deploy, and manage applications that extended back-end systems to mobile devices. It uses middleware from Antenna Software that lets enterprises configure an application once to work with BlackBerries, Windows Mobile devices and iPhones, minimizing the work involved in reaching all the devices, said Igor Glubochansky, a director in AT&T's mobility product management organization. MEAP includes three basic types of capabilities -- sales force and field force automation and IT support -- as building blocks for other services. The back-end systems it can support include Oracle, SAP and custom in-house applications.

In addition to the applications created by individual enterprises, which can be run in-house or hosted by AT&T, the carrier has identified certain vertical-market uses for mobile that are fairly similar from one organization to the next, Glubochansky said. For these "repeatable" use cases, AT&T can build ready-made applications, he said. A MEAP pharmaceutical sales application has been available for several months already.

On Monday, the carrier introduced AT&T MEAP: Merchandising for the Consumer Goods Industry and AT&T MEAP: Maintenance and Repair for Hospitality. Both are hosted by AT&T and designed to run on Windows Mobile and BlackBerry devices. The iPhone isn't often used by workers in these fields, Glubochansky said.

The merchandising application is designed for workers who deliver products, especially foods and beverages, and monitor how those goods are selling and are displayed and promoted in each store. The mobile software lets them submit forms and reports instantly on a smartphone instead of filling out paper forms and turning them in at the end of the day, so supplies can be replenished and billed for more quickly, Glubochansky said.

The mobile application for hospitality is designed to help maintenance workers at large hotels and other facilities communicate quickly about their ongoing tasks and urgent situations that require a response. It allows them to access and update work orders and service requests in real time, automatically escalate incidents and receive alerts when staff members don't respond. Although some of AT&T's smartphones include push-to-talk capability, the application doesn't make use of it, Glubochansky said.

The hosted applications are available now. Because it sells them to each business customer on a case-by-case basis, the carrier doesn't have listed prices for the offerings. AT&T has identified other common applications for certain industries and is planning more of such prepared applications, according to Glubochansky. Manufacturing is one area with some potential, he said.

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