DemoMobile: Pulling mobile workers into the enterprise flow

Field force management, mobile workflow technologies make a strong showing at conference

SAN DIEGO -- Early wireless applications focused on pushing corporate data out to the mobile workforce, but did little to integrate those applications and workers into existing enterprise processes.

But the next wave of mobile applications is attempting to incorporate that mobile workforce into the larger business workflow, according to Chris Shipley, executive producer of the Demo conferences.

Several technologies being introduced here at the DemoMobile conference target mobile and field worker productivity, zeroing in on issues such as wireless workflow and data and application management.

According to analyst David Hayden, president and CEO of MobileWeek, many vendors are attacking a real challenge in enterprise wireless: Providing real solutions to decrease the headaches that IT managers deal with in deploying and managing mobile services.

"This is a necessary component, [and] one of the few areas in the mobile space that has not been saturated," Hayden said. Because of the problems in deployment, management, and workflow control, "IT has been dragging its feet on wireless deployments, but they are now running out of excuses because wireless deployments are being mandated from the top."

Addressing those challenges, Aeroprise at the show took the wraps off its Mobile Workflow Management Suite, designed to mobilize desktop applications for field force workers and mobile technicians. The software sits between wireless devices and enterprise software, providing to mobile users two-way actionable alerts, personalization capabilities, and VPN-level end-to-end wireless security, according to the company.

One usage problem for mobile field force workers is getting timely data in workers' hands. For example, a technician prints out a list of trouble tickets and then hits the road, but things happen en route that change the data, said Anand Chandrasekaran, product architect at Aeroprise.

"When you go out in the field, one-size-fits-all desktop apps become applications that fit no one," Chandrasekaran  said.

The Mobile Workflow Management real time wireless system automates the process of sending out trouble tickets to technicians. The software integrates with any field force automation, sales-force automation, and inventory applications and works with any carrier and any device, he said.

Also on hand at the show, Eleven Technology unveiled its Eleven SmartSelling system, handheld selling software designed for the consumer packaged goods and pharmaceutical industries. SmartSelling can boost field sales by improving the planning and management of merchandise. The system puts in the hands of mobile workers tools for real-time demand forecasting, merchandising and compliance assessment, and field rep performance.

The offering aims to go beyond the typical sales-force automation approach of data capture to give mobile workers real-time inventory information and recommendations for selling, according to Eleven Technology officials.

FieldRanger Software at the show introduced its Wireless Work Orders for Intuit Master Builder construction management software. Aiming to bring mobile computing out into the field, Wireless Work Orders shares data with both Intuit Master Builder and Intuit's QuickBooks financial software packages. Instead of printing out work orders, which then need to be hand collected, the system can dispatch work order information to the field where workers can then track time, materials usage, and completed work, according to FieldRanger executives. The software also lets mobile workers collect customer signatures electronically on site, which can speed the billing and collection processes.

Dynamic Mobile Data was also the show touting Heads Up, a real time business activity monitoring and notification application for customers of field service reps. The application integrates with existing field force management systems to help predict service or delivery arrival times. The Heads Up app can notify a waiting customer of delivery time on any chosen device such as PDA, cell phone, pager, e-mail, or PC. The system combines work order process flows and data, GPS locator data, and mobile messaging to calculate arrival time of a service or delivery.

Lastly, Open Terra launched its mSolve platform, which gives mobility to CRM, ERP, and other applications. mSolve is a mobile application development and deployment environment that can run on any application server and works across all wireless carries and protocols, according to the company. It aims to let mobile workers tap into enterprise applications using cell phones, PDAs, and other wireless devices. The platform works with any Java-enabled or WAP device and lets the mobile worker use any combination of devices.