Vendors Step Up Wireless Integration Work

SAN MATEO (07/07/2000) - Users, industry analysts, and vendors foresee the integration of wireless and back-office systems via the Web as quickly becoming the preferred way for mobile workers to do business. Unfortunately, that model usually requires a case-by-case approach that entails cobbling together solutions from several different providers.

But vendors are emerging to help organizations save a few steps in their wireless-to-back-end implementations. The newcomers will be fending off ERP (enterprise resource planning) and Web transaction server vendors who are very interested in providing customization because of the significant revenue opportunities, said Carl Zetie, an analyst at Giga Information Group Inc., headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "You have a spectrum of choices to tackle," he said.

Among the latest entrants to this game are @hand Corp., based in Austin, Texas, which provides a rapid application development environment; Zimba, based in Oakland, California, which offers hosted wireless-to-Web services; and ThinkersGroup.com Inc., based in Great River, New York, maker of an HTML conversion gateway.

ThinkersGroup.com this week unveiled a gateway composed of C++ modules that sits between wireless devices and the Web, said Darren J. Cioffi, vice president of sales and marketing at ThinkersGroup. The ThinkMotion Unibrowse API will translate HTML data in real time to formats accepted by cell phones and PDAs (personal digital assistants). This approach saves the user the step of mapping various forms of data into formats for wireless devices, Cioffi said. "We're also developing an interface with Goldmine Software," Cioffi said.

The wireless link to the Goldmine CRM (customer relationship management) and SFA (sales force automation) tools will allow salespeople to remotely extract SFA information via a mobile device.

ThinkersGroup is also "speaking to a number of different carriers and phone manufacturers" that might incorporate the gateway technology, Cioffi said.

The @hand environment is already being bundled by other software providers to help users build an infrastructure that extracts the appropriate subsets of back-end information that are going to be "exposed to the workforce," said Tom Smith, vice president of business development and marketing at @hand.

"One of the key issues is that you probably don't want to design your system to be totally connection-dependent," Smith said. Many steps along the way can fall apart, such as the crashing of a Web server or a wireless service interruption.

"You want business-critical applications to continue to operate," Smith said.

The @hand environment is capable of downloading and uploading data to back-end ERP, CRM, dispatch, inventory control, problem tracking, field sales, and field automation systems, while allowing remote workers to run the program locally on a handheld PC when disconnected, he said.

Zimba offers a hosted wireless-to-Web service supported by the mProductivity server infrastructure, which provides integrated mobile workflow for wireless devices as well as voice and Web access. Users are able to navigate among calendars, routing services, corporate directories, and Yellow and White Page directories.

While these players tackle this segment, EAI (enterprise application integration) vendors are likely to enter this space, Giga's Zetie said. "I'm sure that it's only a matter of time before they do, because users need to integrate tasks from multiple systems," he said. The wireless-based requests will ultimately have to call on CRM, ERP, and collaborative systems to be able to complete an order. "It's inevitable that [EAI vendors] will want to play there," he said.

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