Enterprises prep content, apps for wireless

As e-business begins to migrate from the desktop to a wide range of wireless devices, organizations must start to consider ways to carve paths from both legacy and Web data to emerging wireless environments.

However, a mishmash of wireless networks, markup languages, protocols, and device types means transforming organizational content and resources to wireless formats is no easy chore.

Whether setting out to arm its legions of corporate sales workers with tools that allow them to conduct essential business transactions on the fly or to offer customers and partners mobile access to company data, enterprises need to begin considering wireless as a cornerstone of e-business strategy development, analysts say.

Additionally, the numbers forecasting a booming market for wireless data make it difficult for companies to put mobile strategies on the back burner.

According to market-watchers Cahners In-Stat Group, in Newton, Mass., the number of worldwide wireless data users will surge from 271 million in 2000 to 1.3 billion by 2004.

Analysts say that a starting point for companies seeking to tap in to this wireless data bounty should be the aligning of priorities and the setting of clear business objectives.

“Companies planning a [mobile strategy] have to figure what business advantage they [get] from mobilizing the workforce and content,” says Darcy Fowkes, research director at Aberdeen Group Inc., in Palo Alto, Calif.

“It is not just about convenience,” Fowkes says. “Being efficient with business-critical operations clearly saves a company money because you are automating activities that make the workforce more efficient.”

With an eye on the wireless path on which many enterprises will be embarking, vendors are readying products designed to extend the power of corporate applications and Web content to mobile workers and customers.

IBM Corp. officials recently announced enhancements to software that translates enterprise Web content to a variety of devices. Added features for the WebSphere Transcoding Publisher Version 3.5 include support for additional devices, expanded format and language translation, and improved functions, including centralized storage of administration information in an LDAP directory, according to officials in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Built on a Java-based architecture, the software converts data and applications written in Web markup languages, such as HTML and XML, to wireless formats, such as WML (Wireless Markup Language), HDML (Handheld Device Markup Language), and Japan’s iMode, to bring Web content to employees, suppliers, and customers via handheld devices.

Mobilize Inc., another vendor helping enterprises step into wireless, rolled out its Mobilize Commerce application that enables sales and service workers to wirelessly access corporate applications and systems and place and confirm orders remotely.

Mobilize Commerce leverages XML to convert applications for display in wireless devices, including laptops, PDAs (personal digital assistants), wireless phones, Web phones and two-way pagers.

Interfacing with enterprise information systems, such as ERP (enterprise resource planning) and SFA (sales-force automation) systems, Mobilize Commerce integrates price, inventory, order-entry, credit, and shipping information.

This back-end link is the main stumbling block that enterprises face in mobilizing e-business applications, according to Bob Pinna, CEO of Mobilize, based in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“For companies today, mobile business applications are primarily a back-end integration challenge,” Pinna says. “Companies have become dependent on their e-business infrastructure. The question is, how do you extend e-business to the mobile environment?”

Dallas-based JP Systems Inc., another vendor, earlier this month introduced its SureWave platform designed to wirelessly enable legacy data and Web content.

Taking enterprise security concerns to heart, the SureWave platform consists of three components for security, officials say.

Built from scalable modules, the protocol gateway communicates to multiple wireless networks via protocols such as CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access), GSM (Global System for Mobile communications), and CDPD (Cellular Digital Packet Data). The transaction engine provides broadcasting, synchronization, caching, and encryption features. The third component, JP Systems’ transcoding engine, supports Palm Query Application, WAP (Wireless Application Protocol), HTML 4.0, and XML. Working together, these systems enable the wireless adaptation of content from enterprise applications, e-mail, and corporate data, JP Systems officials say.

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