Managing multiple mobile computing platforms is rapidly turning into a nightmare for IT organizations. One company that hopes to bring some order to the chaos is EveryPath Inc., which has developed an XML-based Enterprise Mobile Application Gateway. In an interview with InfoWorld Editor in Chief Michael Vizard, company CEO Mark Tapling and CTO Prakash Iyer explain why EveryPath thinks an XML-based gateway to enterprise applications is the most flexible, robust approach to mobile computing in the enterprise.
InfoWorld: What’s the guiding mission behind EveryPath?
Tapling: EveryPath mobilizes enterprise applications to provide an immediate return on infrastructure investment. Organizations have spent hundreds of millions or maybe even billions of dollars building out an application database, network, and server infrastructure, and the value of the infrastructure is a function of [its] reach. One of the reasons that wireless initiatives historically have been less than really stellarly successful is not because the technology couldn’t be made to work, it was because it was too darned expensive. It wasn’t practical from a business perspective because no single device rules.
InfoWorld: So what makes your approach practical?
Tapling: Historically, organizations with less mature technologies had to deploy either in an ASP fashion or with lots of services around it, but it just became too darn expensive. But as an example, we’re engaged in a negotiation right now with a large multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical firm on the East Coast, and they said to us, “We have 6,000 Siebel users that we want to mobilize on handheld devices. What’s the price?” And we said, “It’s 1 percent of your Siebel implementation. One penny for each dollar — that’s it — and you’re completely mobilized.” So we recognize [price] as an obstacle for adoption. But we have a product that is mature enough, we can make money at those price points, and the customers respond very well to that kind of thing.
InfoWorld: How do customers link to existing applications?
Tapling: We have an XML API layer, so we have the ability of building on top of connectors and toolkits. The first product we’ve released is a connector for the Siebel application, so it has the ability of selectively extracting subsets from the Business Object layer of Siebel.
Iyer: The XML API is kind of the standardized interface between your back end and our server. All you have is just read-only data that you want to display. But when you’re looking at something like Siebel, where you have to do conflict resolution, transactional applications, then the complexity is based on that. It doesn’t really matter whether you’re building in this infrastructure or any other infrastructure, you have some added costs [when building] in that transactional data integrity and conflict resolution and all of that stuff.
InfoWorld: Why is your approach better than using the mobile extensions provided by the application vendors?
Iyer: When you buy a Siebel handheld extension or an SAP handheld extension, what you’re doing is basically building silos of applications for your mobile devices. If your task is such that you need data from multiple devices, which I’m sure it will be once you start going with a small mobile device like this, you need to be able to pull data from both Siebel and SAP. That’s one thing our server does.
InfoWorld: Does this solution work with mobile devices connected to a cradle or can it synchronize via wireless links?
Tapling: We support completely disconnected mobile computing or synchronous wireless communication. It’s whatever you want. We also have the ability to synchronize multiple data sources and devices concurrently.
Iyer: We define mobility as not pure wireless or pure disconnected. Mobility is something that if you look at it from a user interaction model, it could be disconnected, it could be wireless connected, or it could be an asynchronous alert-driven application. What this supports is all those three kinds of interaction models, all in one application.
InfoWorld: What kind of impact will 802.11 networks have on mobile computing?
Tapling: If you think about it, you put in enough hot spots and pretty soon you’re gliding across hot spots with enough bandwidth that they’re all network addressable and you’re just carried. It just doesn’t make a difference. It’s almost like an expanded Bluetooth. Ultimately, these networks could become legitimate [in] much the same way the Internet got legitimized. So at the business level, all that is good for us. We do not believe that the average global 2000 enterprise is going to build out a completely redundant infrastructure to provide mobile compute support. They’re going to find a way to extend what they’ve already built to suck in these new devices.
InfoWorld: How hard is it to make that extension happen?
Iyer: We have a set of tools that allow you to build these applications rather quickly. So if you look at how you extract data and what you extract and how you kind of transport that to the device, there is something called a unique mobile logic. Somebody who understands all those three pieces can deliver the goods. We believe we have the best knowledge of that.
InfoWorld: How usable is an enterprise application on a mobile device?
Tapling: Our concept says don’t scale a bad app. If you didn’t like it the first time, you’re not going to like it any better when we squeeze it down to the handheld. As a task-automation productivity tool, we say let’s make it better than what it was.
InfoWorld: So at the end of the day, what are you trying to achieve?
Tapling: Our business strategy is that we’re providing the application capability independent of the protocol. The protocols will evolve and the infrastructure will evolve on its own course, and we’re going to remove all that complexity. We’re taking all this complexity and making it simple by putting that behind the firewall so your company can be capable in the care and feeding of the applications. Our thinking is this: that the average IT organization runs on C+ to B students. Basically the characteristic of those students is they learn the tool, they become the best at the tool, and they run the company with the tool. We build products that deploy mobile applications that companies can use every single day.