TeleNav mobile workforce software reaches out

TeleNav Track platform includes tools for managing employees who work out of the office and for sending information from the field

Mobile navigation and software vendor TeleNav took a page from Research In Motion's book with a server that can mediate between TeleNav's software and existing enterprise applications.

The company's TeleNav Track platform includes tools for managing employees who work out of the office as well as for sending information from the field. It's based on TeleNav's navigation software for mobile phones, which can keep supervisors apprised of workers' locations via GPS as well as provide maps and turn-by-turn directions. TeleNav is available for a variety of Windows Mobile, Palm, and BlackBerry devices as well as on other types of phones through Brew and J2ME (Java 2, Micro Edition).

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Easy-to-use forms for cell phone screens are a key attribute of TeleNav Track. They can be adapted to particular types of reports required for individual enterprises, said Keith Halasy, TeleNav's senior marketing manager for business-to-business products. Data from TeleNav can be adapted to go into existing data-entry and database systems, including the homegrown applications commonly used in small businesses, he said. But so far, that has required ad-hoc development for each enterprise system, and it's been hard to handle more than one, according to Halasy.

The TeleNav Enterprise Server (TES), available starting Tuesday with the newly introduced TeleNav Track 4.1, is designed to consolidate all types of data conversions in one platform and make it easier to write software for each of those processes. With relative ease, enterprises can set up conversions to multiple formats, Halasy said. TeleNav can also do this work as an added service.

New York's Street Conditions Observation Unit (SCOUT) program uses TeleNav Track for reporting potholes, sinkholes and other conditions to various city agencies for repair. About 15 employees ride scooters around the city, covering roughly every street within a month, and send in a report via a BlackBerry handset for each problem they find. The program was launched last year on short notice, and the city scrambled to put together software that could adapt TeleNav Track data to each agency's preferred format, said Girish Chhugani, executive director of citywide technology initiatives.

Setting up the system for entering street-condition reports was relatively easy and only took about two months, Chhugani said.

"We didn't even really have to develop anything. All we had to do was create forms," Chhugani said. "If we sat down and did all that ... it would have been another ten months."

However, there was some back-end work required to send the data from those forms into all the systems that needed it, including a Siebel system for the city's 311 information service and a mainframe at the Department of Transportation, he said. The city used Visual Basic and .Net to create applications for those needs.

With the TES, Chhugani hopes to further automate that process, allowing the back-end databases to be automatically populated. Like RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise Server, the TES sits behind an enterprise firewall and acts as a broker between the mobile infrastructure and enterprise back-end systems. A single server, rather than an array of different scripts, will be easier to maintain in the long run, Chhugani said.

In addition to field reporting, TeleNav allows the SCOUT program to track employees to see whether they are covering their territories and lets employees clock in and out from the field. The city is working with TeleNav to give them GPS-controlled automated directions around their routes. The biggest problem the city has encountered has been the sometimes poor GPS coverage in areas with many tall buildings, Chhugani said.

Other new features in TeleNav Track 4.1 include Team Timecard, which lets supervisors clock entire crews in and out from a mobile device; controls to prevent users from clocking excessive overtime; and a Hot Key Alert, which lets a worker send an alert message to a supervisor quickly and discreetly with just a few keystrokes.

The TES is priced starting at $3,000 for between 25 and 50 users, with a $500 annual maintenance fee. It is also available as a managed server. TeleNav Track 4.1 starts at $12.95 per user per month and is sold through mobile operators.

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